With one game remaining in the 2015 regular season, Adelphi lost its starting goalkeeper to an injury. Waiting in the wings for the Panthers was junior keeper Spenser Powell and the Attleboro High alum took advantage of his chance to wear the No. 1 jersey by helping Adelphi reach the NE-10 tournament final and the NCAA tournament.
Entering his senior year, Powell knew that he would once again have to fight to keep his spot in goal. Not only did he win the starting job, but he was the backstop for a team that finished 19-1-2 overall, clinched the program’s first NE-10 tournament title (in its fourth year in the league), and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1975.
“On the back line, I think the youngest guy we had was a junior, so we all kind of knew what we were doing and that really translated well to the whole team,” said Powell a couple weeks after the season ended with a dramatic shootout against Charleston (W.Va.).
He continued, “My senior year was really the culmination of everything I’ve done from youth soccer in Attleboro to now. Everything I’ve worked for and everything I’ve ever dreamed of was going true…This is what I’ve worked on for so long and it was nice to have it pay off in the long run.”
Unlike other positions on the pitch, there is only one goalie and substitutions are rare. Teams tend to favor continuity and building a relationship between the goalie and the defense, so, barring an injury, it is difficult to usurp the man with the gloves during the season. Even so, it is imperative to stay ready and be able to step in if needed. Powell, it turned out, was ready.
“Coach just trusted me,” he explained. “He knew that I wasn’t too nervous going in and he could trust me. I had been there for three years and he knew what I could do. I just had to put everything I was working on to use.
“The practices that we have, in my opinion are tougher than the game. When we get to game day, we know that there’s something that needs to be done and we know that we’ve already been through it before. It’s just another day in the office for us really.”
Even though he felt prepared to play, jumping in for just the second start of his career in a conference tournament game brings with it plenty of pressure. Each mistake is magnified because of the stakes. With Powell in goal, Adelphi won a pair of games, both by shutout, and advanced to take on top seed Southern New Hampshire in the final.
Although the Penmen ended up claiming the title and Adelphi lost in overtime in the NCAA first round, Powell used that experience to build his confidence heading into the preseason this fall and the renewed competition for the starting spot.
“Coming in this year, the regular season was just another day in the office,” Powell said. “It was kind of nice being in a situation where I could say that I played in an NE-10 final, I had the experience of playing in an NCAA game, so there was a reason I’m out there. I think it was more just reassurance to myself.”
He continued, “Nothing comes easy, especially here. We have such a great group of goalies that anyone could start on a given day. I just think that I proved myself day-in, day-out as the No. 1 and I kind of carried myself as such.”
Coming into 2016 with an experienced lineup and motivated by the loss in the NE-10 final, Powell and the Panthers put together a remarkable season, finishing with the NE-10 regular season title, a final ranking of No. 5 in the country, and setting a program record with 14 clean sheets.
Powell was named NE-10 Goalkeeper of the Week four times in the regular season and was named second team all-conference. He credited the training he received from Attleboro coach Peter Pereira and former Attleboro and Lafayette goalie Phil Nelson for the footwork he displays in goal. He also grew as a leader on the pitch.
“I was always the one screaming my head off and yelling and that’s how I was known,” said Powell. “When I was in high school I was always focused a lot on can I keep talking and staying engaged in game, where now I’m more about am I giving out the proper information.”
When asked what he enjoys about playing goalie, Powell answered, “I used to love scoring goals, but now I get more satisfaction from pissing other people off and just robbing their goals. It’s always a great feeling when they walk away just a little more upset than when they came in.”
In the NE-10 final, Powell did just that to Le Moyne, making five saves, including four in the final 25 minutes, as Adelphi pulled out a come from behind 2-1 victory to bring home the title and set off celebrations on the pitch.
“Being that we had a lot of older guys,” Powell said, “we all knew that we had unfinished business from making it to the final last year and falling short by one goal. Everybody was just hungry to get back there and get the championship this year.”
The Panthers added another impressive win in the NCAA tournament, beating crosstown rival LIU-Post for the first time since 1989. Adelphi rolled to a 4-0 victory that sent it to the Elite Eight.
In the quarterfinal, Charleston jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Adelphi battled back in the final 10 minutes of regulation to force overtime. Powell got the comeback started with an assist. His long ball forward to NE-10 Player of the Year Federico De Oliveira, who settled it and cut the lead to one. A penalty tied the game at 2-2, which is where it stood until Charleston got the edged in a shootout.
Despite the loss, Powell insisted that the Charleston game was indicative of the spirit within the Adelphi team this season. He remarked, “We never gave up, never backed down, and that was the culmination of our season. It was just the identity of this team that we’re not going to let you win this game; you’re not going to win it without a fight.”
Powell explained that every day he passes a plaque honoring the 1975 team that won the national title. After helping the program to a record-breaking season and its deepest NCAA tournament run since that title-winning season, the senior is hopeful that he has added to a long legacy of success at Adelphi.
“There’s always been a great legacy of goalkeepers at Adelphi,” Powell said, “and I just tried to add what I could to that. I wanted to live up to their high expectations.”