Dec. 5, 2009

Photo Gallery 

By Carl Kotala
Special to

TAMPA – David Barden had a message for head coach Ogie Kennedy in the second half of Saturday’s NCAA Division II national championship men’s soccer game:
“I told Ogie, ‘Don’t take me off because I want this,’” the senior forward from Fort Lewis said. “… All I knew is that I had to get a goal to open the gates up for us to open the gates up and score some more.”
The Skyhawks didn’t score again. But Barden’s goal at the 77:33 mark – on a header off a cross from Kyle Wood –  was all No. 1 Fort Lewis needed as the Skyhawks claimed their second national championship with a 1-0 victory over Lees-McCrae in an intensely-fought contest at Pepin Stadium.
Barden, who had a hat trick in an 8-2 semifinal win against Le Moyne, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player. The semifinal and the final were his first two games back after missing the previous three weeks with a fractured foot.
Wood was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player.
Given the ease with which Fort Lewis (24-1) dispatched Le Moyne, it was considered a heavy favorite against a Bobcats in the final. However, Lees-McCrae, which held the No. 1 ranking during part of the regular season, pressured the Skyhawks throughout the game, seldom giving their players any room to maneuver.
In fact, Bobcats coach Christopher Whalley said there were times in the game where he thought his team was clearly better.
“I think we scouted them well, we knew what they did well,” Whalley said. “They’re a very good team. They pass the ball very, very well. But we tried to put them under pressure. When you put people  under pressure, it doesn’t matter how good they are, they’re going to make mistakes.
“I thought at times when we passed the ball, we made them look very average. But ultimately, we didn’t take our chances when they came along, and they took theirs and that’s why they’re the national champions. But I’m very proud of the way the boys played.”
Though both teams had their chances to score earlier, the one the Bobcats will be thinking about came with about 20 minutes to play in regulation. Senior forward Berin Boracic took a shot that was stopped by Fort Lewis goalkeeper Zane Wells, who had to come forward to make the play. The ball bounced toward Bobcats midfielder David Palmer who put the ball on his foot.
“When it went past the keeper, I thought it was going in,” Palmer said.
It would have, were it not for a brilliant save by junior defender Jamie Cunningham, who blocked the ball just before  it could cross the line and save the goal.
Lees-McCrae had control of the action at that point. However, the Skyhawks began to turn the game around when Byron Cephers launched a counter attack up the side. Though Fort Lewis didn’t score, it seemed to energize the Skyhawks and they took advantage a short time later when Wood lofted the ball toward Barden in the goal area.
“It floated there for a while,” Barden said. “I don’t know if I can explain it. I see it floating in there and defenders were … I don’t know if they were more concerned about me, or where the ball was going to land. I just remember cutting around a guy and I had to reach up and back as far as I could and hit the only open space in the goal. Beat the keeper the guy couldn’t slide in after it. I guess I placed  it perfectly.”
As for Barden’s request that he not be taken out, Kennedy said he only took him out in the first half because his fitness wasn’t what it normally was due to the time he had missed. But the coach had no plans to take him out in the second half.

Kennedy, who served as an assistant coach for the previous three seasons, did not get the job until after Tim Hankinson resigned in July to accept a position in India. And now he has a championship in his first season at the helm.
“These guys have broken records all season,” Kennedy said. “In the semifinal, to score eight goals like that is unheard of. I think we scored 107 goals in 24 games … this is a team that’s broken records (with) a first-year head coach. To win the national title, it’s great.
“Everything balanced out. It looked like it was our season all year. We’re just glad to finally get the reward at the end of it.”
Joining Barden and Wood on the all-tournament team from Fort Lewis were junior forward Euan Purcell, senior midfielder Jeff Jennings and sophomore defender Fabian Kling. For Lees-McCrae, goalkeeper Sean Paradise, Boracic and junior midfielder Sam Kennedy received the honor. Junior forward Angelo Reina of Le Moyne and senior forward Nestor Hernandez and junior defender Zac Bond of Lewis also made the all-tournament team.
Going into Saturday’s final, Barden and several other Fort Lewis seniors were trying to erase the feelings they had when they lost the 2006 national championship game 1-0 to Dowling. So as good as Saturday’s win felt, there was also a shot of redemption in there, too.
“Oh yeah,” Barden said. “At halftime, I was thinking about that – the difference between that game and this game –  and if I was feeling worried or not. I sat back in the locker room and felt comfortable because all the guys around me were bouncing on their knees, ready to go, giving each other support, telling each other what to do.
“And the coach hadn’t even come in the locker room yet. We knew as a team that we were going to go back out and turn it around. We had another 45 minutes, it was 0-0, and the game was ours. It was definitely redemption for us.”