TAMPA, Fla. - They were ranked 10th at the beginning of the 2009 season.
They returned six senior starters, 10 starters altogether and a host of experience from last year's playoff side.
The program, too, has penned itself a perennial powerhouse - a national runner-up finish in 1999, a national
championship in 2005 and another national runner-up finish in 2006.
It's no surprise that the Fort Lewis College men's soccer program has been successful this season; the surprise comes
from the program being this successful behind a 27-year-old rookie head coach.
When he started telling us about the team, we knew they were going to be good," Oige Kennedy's dad, David Kennedy, said Friday from Tampa, Fla. We knew they had good players. We knew they'd do well; we didn't really think they'd do
As a head coach, a neophyte head coach, there's so much to be done," Dave Kennedy said. It takes time to get
This has really been fantastic. We're over the moon for him."
Dave Kennedy, from Dublin, Ireland, made the trip to Tampa this weekend to help his son deliver a national title for
FLC. As did Andy McDermid. As did stalwarts David Oberholtzer, Jason Beswick, Brian Fredrick and John Cunliffe.
As a coach, you have to continue to learn," Oige Kennedy said, referring to the largess of his coaching staff. I
can benefit from all of these coaches."
As in 2005 when FLC won its national title in Wichita Falls, Texas, the head coach - the producer to McDermid's
director - is just as likely to blend in as one of the players at the back of a Final Four practice huddle than at
Jeremy Gunn deflected praise to McDermid then.
Oige Kennedy deflects praise to McDermid now.
It worked for Jeremy, hopefully it works the same for us," Kennedy said.
FLC, which has held the nation's No. 1 spot since Nov. 10, will play No. 9 Lees-McRae for the NCAA Division II Men's
Soccer Championships title at 2 p.m. (MST) today at University of Tampa Pepin-Rood Stadium. (Online, radio and
television coverage will begin at 1:30 p.m.) Lees-McRae, which was down 2-nil with less than five minutes to play in
Thursday's national semifinal, came from behind in dramatic fashion to defeat No. 20 Lewis 5-4 in penalty kicks.
We watched the whole game as a coaching staff. We made some observations," said Oige Kennedy, who, again, defers to
his team's strengths as opposed to his opponent's weaknesses.
We're not very concerned with what our opponents are going to do; we're more concerned with what we do. No opponent
can match us if we do what we do."
FLC, which has scored an NCAA-best 107 goals this year in its 23-1-0 season, defeated No. 6 Le Moyne 8-2 in its
Kieran Hall, a member of the '05 championship team, started chanting LEES-MCRAE, ARE YOU WA-TCH-ING!?" from the
bleachers at the end of Thursday's big-stage blowout. Long before that, though, this team caught the elder Kennedy's
attention when he visited Durango in September.
After working with them, training with them, they believe in themselves," said Kennedy, who coached his son up until
Oige joined the U17 Irish National Team. They're a great group of players. They're very respectful, and they look
out for each other. They're very respectful of each other."
The Kennedys are goalkeepers by trade. David taught Oige, whose professional career eventually was derailed by
He was very good," dad said. He is not 6-foot-4, but he certainly played with grace, agility. He was very strong, and he was very good at organizing the back four. A lot of keepers, they don't have the confidence to command the
defense, but he was very well respected."
While the rest of the coaching staff worked the offense and defense on the north end of the Tampa Preparatory School
practice facility during Wednesday's practice, Dave Kennedy worked goalkeepers Zane Wells and Ryan Wirth on the south
I think Zane is really an exceptional goalkeeper," Kennedy said. He is very brave. He has great spring in his step.
He is agile. He reads the game very well. Really, he has all the attributes you need in a goalkeeper."
As for Oige, whose name, like his father, is David, but has gone by Oige (Og means young in Gaelic, akin to the
English version of junior) since he was a kid, the player-turned-coach transformation transcended timelines.
He knows the game. He understands a lot," said Dave Kennedy, who recalled a postgame story from Oige's playing days
when he was about 16.
He was talking about a particular moment or moments in the game, and he just sees things that his coach or manager
probably wouldn't have seen themselves. From an early age, he was very good at organizing a team, seeing other team's
weaknesses, what to exploit. I think he's brought that to his division here at Fort Lewis."
Oige Kennedy, whose interim tag has all but been removed by the FLC brass for a more permanent title, was recruited
to play for FLC by Gunn, and after injuries forced him from Ireland's playing pitch, he finally joined Gunn as an
assistant coach in '06. Primarily the goalie guru his first three years, Kennedy's star pupil is Wells, a Durango
High School alumnus cum two-time All-American.
When the press marveled at Kennedy's first-season success at such a young age - not to mention having to follow Gunn
then Tim Hankinson, both legendary coaches in their own rights - at Thursday's postgame news conference, Wells was
quick to interject on his coach's behalf.
We actually expected to come back stronger with Oige as coach," Wells said.
Our conference might not have the respect he deserves yet, having not won the RMAC coach of the year, but everyone
here has confidence in him. He's brought us to the finals. He's proven he's the best coach in the nation."
Kennedy quickly deadpanned, I didn't pay him to say that."