By Mackensey O'Hara CONTRIBUTING WRITER
---- — After a year of elite play at the Empire Revolution Academy in Rochester, former Cooperstown standout Michael Rowley is taking his soccer prowess to the college field.
The field in question is an impressive one, to say the least.
Rowley will be attending Southern New Hampshire University in the fall and will join a team that won the NCAA Division II national championship title in men’s soccer last season.
“They have a great tradition of soccer there and they are a very soccer oriented school,” said Rowley, a 2013 CCS graduate who is for another month or so the reigning two-time Daily Star Player of the Year in soccer. “I got along really well with the coach and players, and I really felt comfortable on the campus.”
“It seems like a place that will push me to reach my potential,” he continued.
Cooperstown coach Frank Miosek said he is equally confident that Rowley has made a good decision.
“He’s always been a good planner for the future,” said Miosek. “Between the coach and discussing it with his parents, he’s made the right choice. I think it is going to be a good fit for him.”
Rowley, who finished his senior season at Cooperstown with an area-best 27 goals and 11 assists in 2012, originally had his sights set on playing Division I soccer, but SNHU is an elite-level Division II program. The Penmen just wrapped up their spring season with a record of 4-0-2, with five of those games against Division I programs. Over the past three years, they have a 7-1-5 record against D-I opponents.
“We stack up really well with most D-I teams that we play,” said Southern New Hampshire head soccer coach Marc Hubbard. “We have definitely developed a good reputation for guys who are looking D-I.”
“The competition within our program is also very good in terms of depth on our team,” he continued.
Added Miosek, “There are even D-III schools out there that can compete with D-I schools. The level is not indicative of the program, it is the program itself.”
Rowley said it was still a difficult choice.
“It was a really long process,” said Rowley. “I discussed it a lot with my parents and I really had to consider a lot.”
Rowley, who said the University of Albany was another top consideration, mentioned that he would be receiving a partial athletic scholarship from SNHU.
“That was a big part of it as well,” he continued. “I didn’t want to have to take out a ton of loans.”
Hubbard said Rowley seemed very comfortable when he came to visit the school.
“He visited campus and fit right in with the coaches and the team,” said Hubbard.
“Michael is a really good person,” he continued. “He’s bubbly, he can banter, and he is going to be a really fun kid to coach over the next four years.”
Hubbard, who said his assistants first saw Rowley play at the academy early on this past season, watched him play a few weeks ago and liked what he saw.
“He is a very blue collar type of player,” said Hubbard. “He is a battler, a warrior player and very competitive.”
“Michael is very hardworking and he is relentless,” continued Hubbard.
Hubbard commented that he was impressed with Rowley’s game in the air.
“He is very good in the air, he has a good header,” said Hubbard
Added Miosek, “He has an innate passion for the game and he always wanted to be a part of the team and be a part of that team approach.
“There are three categories of kids, I think,” Miosek continued. “Kids that have a passion, recreational players and social athletes. Michael is in that elite five percent of kids that have passion.”
That passion was definitely evident in his decision to take a year after high school to play with one of the top youth soccer programs in the country. Rowley said they played soccer four nights a week, and after a showcase in Florida, the team traveled around playing against other teams.
“It was definitely more of a professional atmosphere,” said Rowley. “It was cool to play on a team so focused in on the tactics and strategies of the game.
“It furthered my understanding of the game a lot,” he continued. “My touches are better and I got another year of maturity.”
Rowley was also a full-time student at Monroe Community College.
“He’s had the year of experience to transition to the college level,” said Hubbard. “He has also had that year of being away from home, going to school and playing at a high level, which can be a hard transition (for incoming freshmen).”
While this extra year may seem to be a big advantage for a college athlete, Rowley said he is keeping it in perspective.
“(Playing with the Rochester league) definitely will help with the transition to college, but the majority of the kids at SNHU have played in similar leagues, plus they have two or three years of college experience on me,” he said.
As to where Rowley might end up on the field and for how long during his freshmen season, they are yet to be determined. Rowley was a striker the majority of last year in Rochester, but Hubbard is not sure that is where he will land at the college level.
“It is hard to say yet,” said Hubbard. “I think Michael is versatile and that will give him a more of a chance to play.
“As a striker, he needs to get better at finishing. I would describe him as more of a spinal player (center forward, center mid, center back),” he continued. “It might be that he starts out as a striker and then ends up being somewhere else on the field for the rest of his career.”
Rowley’s time on the field may be limited his freshmen season, as the Penmen are only losing four players from the national championship team.
“Michael’s sophomore year, we will be losing six or seven players and that will really be when his freshmen class will have to contribute right away,” said Hubbard.
“He really understands our program and how competitive it is,” Hubbard continued. “He doesn’t overrate himself.”
Hubbard said that this humble quality is something that he has seen in his past and present players that end up being the most successful in his program.
Added Miosek, “I think it will be a challenge, but I think he is up to the challenge. He always makes those around him better. I think he will contribute to the program in a positive way.”
“It will be interesting to see how he stacks up,” said Hubbard. “See how he does over the summer and coming into preseason. He is very coachable and has a great attitude.”
With preseason a little over two months away, Rowley has a lot to look forward to, on and off the field.
“I love meeting new people,” said Rowley. “I don’t know how many teams I’ve played on in the past years, but it has been a lot.”
“There are a number of players (on the SNHU team) that are from other countries, so I think it will be really neat to play with them and learn about their different cultures and their languages,” he continued.
Rowley said he is planning on studying political science in the fall.