Former Attleboro Keeper Makes His Mark at Adelphi

Spenser Powell
Former Attleboro keeper Spenser Powell too the starting job at Adekphi this season and the senior helped the Panthers win the NE-10 title and reach the NCAA tournament Elite Eight. (Adelphi Athletics)

Josh PerryFollowJoshPerry


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.”

Former Rocketeer Has Brandeis Heading to Final Four

Josh Ocel
Former North Attleboro player Josh Ocel (17) will lead the Brandeis University men’s soccer team to the Div. III Final Four this weekend in Virginia. (Brandeis Athletics)

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Seven games into the season, the Brandeis University men’s soccer team was in an unfamiliar position. The Judges started the season with three straight wins but followed it with two overtime losses and a draw; they then watched a 4-1 lead slip away against Wheaton College, eventually losing 5-4, again in overtime.

Head coach Mike Coven (in his 44th season at the helm) took the players to the back field with every intention of forcing his team to run off a bad loss. Instead, according to senior midfielder Josh Ocel, the longtime coach simply looked at his team with disgust and sent the players home.

Ocel explained, “[He}was just going to run us and was just like, ‘you know what, I don’t even want to see you guys anymore.’ That hurt a lot because our coach means a lot to us.”

In the following game, Brandeis drew 1-1 with Carnegie Mellon (Ocel had the lone goal for the Judges) dropping its record to an uncharacteristic 3-3-2. The players held a team meeting after the draw to iron out the problems, right the ship, and turn things around. Since that game, Brandeis has gone 10-2-2 and with a 4-2 victory over Rutgers University – Newark has now booked a place in the Div. III Final Four for the fourth time in program history.

“I think all that adversity we went through…we just want to win so badly,” said Ocel about the Judges postseason run. “I think that’s the strength of our team, we just play for each other. I know the kid next to me is always going to be battling for me and that makes me work so much harder too.”

When asked if those early season defeats have played a part in Brandeis reaching the Final Four, Ocel replied, “This year we’ve been knocked on the chin a few more times and during the tournament it’s helped us because we know what it feels like to lose.”

The turn around in the team’s fortunes culminated with a thrilling road win at Amherst College on Nov. 19. The Judges defeated the defending national champions 3-1 on penalties after the teams finished two overtimes tied at 1-1. The following day, Ocel had a goal and two assists in a comprehensive Elite Eight win to book a place in this weekend’s Final Four in Salem, Va.

“Walking off the Amherst field, I felt I was still in a dream for a while,” said Ocel. “My brother ended his career there, some of my best friends who were seniors ended their careers there. I didn’t want the kids this year to walk off the field feeling the same way.”

Ocel was speaking on Tuesday night, shortly after the Judges’ final practice in Waltham before the ride down to Virginia. Reaching the Final Four started off as surreal but it was starting to become more tangible with the trip right around the corner. “Since we’re leaving tomorrow it’s starting to feel like it’s really happening,” he said. “We have a chance to win a national championship.”

It was always the goal for Ocel to try and bring the elusive trophy to Brandeis. After two years at North Attleboro, he transferred to Worcester Academy to further his education. He was playing for the NEFC team in the summer and decided to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Sam, a former Rocketeer as well, by playing at Brandeis.
He would also follow his brother by being a success on the pitch for the Judges. The brothers are only the second pair of siblings in school history to be named All-Americans (Sam as a third team selection in 2013 and Josh as a second team selection last season) and Josh is well on his way to a third straight NSCAA Div. III All-New England honor as well.

With his four-point game against Rutgers – Newark, Ocel notched his 15th assist of the season, which moves him one away from the single season school record of 16 that was set by Tibor Kobolak in 1986. In addition, he moved into second place with his 34th career assist, which is 10 behind the record set by Rob Muller in 1977.

“I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” Ocel said. “They’re always by my side and I’ve played with great players my whole career. The coaches put me in a position to be successful and as a soccer player that’s so important.”

He was quick to point out that the individual achievements have been dwarfed by the team’s success. “I’ve had a lot of individual success in my career,” Ocel reflected, “but winning that Elite Eight game….nothing has felt so good in my life. That was the best moment of my soccer career by far.”

There may be even bigger moments to come this weekend. Brandeis will face Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Mich.) on Friday afternoon at 1:30. Win that game and the Judges would play for the national title the following day with a possible rematch against rival (and 2014 national champion) Tufts.

Ocel admitted that he relishes the potential of playing the Jumbos again, but he is not looking past Calvin. He said, “We’ve watched a little bit of film on them and I know they like to keep the ball on the ground. They’re a really good team.”

Asked how the Judges are preparing for the matchup, Ocel said, “As a team, we try to focus on ourselves and trying to put a performance together. We know if we go out and play the way we can that we’ll come off with the result.”

In order to succeed on Friday afternoon, Brandeis will have to ignore the distractions of a busy weekend. The players will take part in community service and a banquet in the two days leading up the semifinal. Ocel shrugged off concerns about the schedule and believed his team would stay focused on the task at hand – trying to win the program’s first national title since 1976,

Even in the midst of all the pressure of playing on such a big stage, Ocel is also having fun extending his collegiate career as long as possible.

“We know we’re one of only four teams in Div. III still playing and practicing every day and I’m definitely taking advantage of it,” he said. “It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I’m going to make sure to take lots of pictures and cherish the moment.”

A live stream of the national semifinal between Brandeis and Calvin will be available at http://www.ncaa.com/sports/soccer-men/d3.

In addition to Josh Ocel, former King Philip standout Andrew Allen is also on the Brandeis roster. The sophomore forward has started 17 of the 22 games he has played this season, scoring four goals (including two game-winners) and recording three assists. He has started each of the Judges’ games in the tournament.