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UML soccer team joins NCAA party

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

LOWELL -- The UMass Lowell men's soccer team, fresh off the Northeast-10 Conference championship, earned its first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament as the 2003 Division II pairings were announced yesterday.

The River Hawks (13-4-2) were named the No. 2 seed in the New England Region and will play No. 3 Franklin Pierce (11-5-2) Friday night at 7 at Southern Connecticut State University.

The winner meets No. 1 Southern Conn. Sunday at 1:00. The New England champion will meet the Northeast Region champion Nov. 22 or 23. The semifinals and championship will be played in Virginia Beach in December.

"This is one of the best, if not the best, regions in the country," said UML head coach Ted Priestly, in his seventh season. "It wasn't too long ago that we lost 9-0 against Franklin Pierce (1998) and we used to chase Southern Connecticut all over the field.

"Now, every time we step on the field, we believe we can win. We deserve to be here. We're not just happy to be here. We believe we can win it."

While UML is making its first appearance in the tournament, Southern Connecticut is enjoying its 27th appearance while Franklin Pierce is making its ninth showing. Southern Conn. has won the national championship six times.

Franklin Pierce won the regular season meeting over UML, 3-2, in Rindge, N.H. on Oct. 4, and lead the all-time series against UML, 14-1-1.

In other River Hawk soccer news, junior defender Jonathan Curran of Tyngsboro was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the Northeast-10 Conference while freshman Christian Figueroa of North Andover earned Freshman of the Year honors.

Junior Jason Paige of Woburn was named the NE-10 Golden Ball winner for scoring the most goals in conference play (15).

In all, seven players were named to the all-conference teams yesterday. Senior Michael Cabral joined Curran and Paige on the first team. Junior Kyle Burson was named to the second team. Freshman John O'Brien and sophomore Nurradin Abdo joined Figueroa on the third team.

Curran, a 6-foot-2 defender, helped UML allow just 19 goals this season (0.90 per game), which is on track to undermine the school record of 21, set in 2002. He added four goals and four assists.

"Jonathan represents everything that UMass Lowell soccer is about," Priestly said. "He is so dominant defensively, and he scores deceptively. He is one of those players who will run through a wall for this team."