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Concordia honors its champions

SELMA — Brent Dukhie tells his players stories.

“The team knows I love to tell stories,” Dukhie told a crowd of Concordia College students and supporters Tuesday during a pep rally and reception.

This weekend’s story is one he’ll be telling for a long time.

Ten years after joining Concordia College as one of the first seven soccer players in school history, Dukhie led his team to the school’s first national championship Sunday in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association men’s tournament.

During the celebration Tuesday, Dukhie told the crowd about how the 19 players had fought through adversity — up to choosing between school and family — to become national champions.

“These guys came back as different men,” said Dukhie, a native of Trinidad and Tobago.” I have never so proud of a group of players.”

The Hornets have learned to endure throughout the season. The games are played on Bloch Park’s baseball field, with practices in practically any open area.

Dukhie also read a “mission statement” the team used to build a common strength before the tournament in Burlington, Vt. Among the items were:

— The ability to create relationships among 19 players.

— The display of a positive attitude both on and off the field.

— The belief in the strength of the team.

The Hornets endured a 31-hour bus ride to Vermont for the tournament. A flat tire on the opening day of the tournament put the Concordia squad seven hours late.

“It was the first time we had ever played in the snow,” said Dukhie of Friday’s 1:30 p.m. game. “On Saturday, we played at 8:30 (p.m.), when it was 19 degrees.”

Concordia, which was seeded sixth in the eight-team tournament, defeated No. 3 seed Penn State York (Pa.) 1-0 on a goal by Brent Pierre. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Rochester (Minn.) College came on goals from Pierre and Hyron Brown-Baptiste.

Concordia took the lead in the championship game with Brown-Baptiste’s second-half goal. But Briarcliffe’s Jabneel Springer scored off a corner kick to tie the game.

“It was 30 degrees when the game started, and the temperature kept dropping as the game went on,” Dukhie said. “Then our starters started dropping (to injury) during the game.”

After two overtimes, Concordia scored their first four shots of the shootout for a 4-1 victory and the national title. Hornets goalkeeper Akil Benjamin was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

“It was designed by fate,” Dukhie said. “We were keeping our identity. We had one player with a torn hamstring who couldn’t run anymore. But he wanted to play.

“We never stopped believing,” Dukhie said.

Named to the All-American first team were Brown-Baptiste and Bryan Constantine. Honorable mentions were Emery Joyeau and Pierre.

The makeup of the team includes players from Nigeria, Senegal, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and the United States.

“A lot of these guys are not from the United States,” Dukhie said. “Some lost family members after they came here. One player had to decide between school and family, and he decided to come to school.

“This not about soccer,” he said. “This is about life, this is about school.”

Dukhie thanked the school and the players for finding the money to go the tournament.

“The financial sacrifice they had to make and the school had to make was tremendous,” he said. “They held fundraisers and came up with over half of the expenses in one week.”

For Dukhie and his team of underclassmen (Constantine is the only senior), the story continues.

“It’s not how the story begins, it’s how it ends,” Dukhie said. “We have to write our own stories.”