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South Kent Coach Owen Finberg Reflects on NSCAA Coach of the Year Award

Coach Owen Finberg just earned the NSCAA 2015 National Coach of the Year Award in the High School Boys Private/Parochial Category. The competition for this honor spanned every private school in the USA. It was awarded by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America; the largest coaching association in the world. Finberg captured the prestigious award by once again leading the Prep Soccer team at South Kent School to the TopDrawerSoccer National Title after an undefeated season. Not only did they defeat a collection of talented teams to make it to the final but the Cardinals, with the guidance of Finberg, beat Lawrence Academy in the final match. Lawrence and South Kent have met in the finals 3 years running and with the win this year the boys broke the tie and now own a 2-1 record in championship games against what seems to be their annual rivals. To read more about the details of their outstanding season, see our recap of their year here.

The awards ceremony was held on January 15th in Baltimore, Maryland as part of the NSCAA Convention, which hosts over ten-thousand attendees. Coach Finberg is only the second New England Prep School Coach to ever win the award. Bob Andrian, who coached Loomis Chaffee for over 30 years won the award in 1996. Finberg, despite deservedly attaining the award after such an outstanding season, couldn’t help but selflessly think of the other people who made the win possible for him. He reflected on not only his award but all the people in his life that made such an accomplishment possible. His thoughts on the event are below, in his own words.

"When I found out that I was going to receive this prestigious award I started thinking about all the inspiration, support and hard work from so many that enabled me to be honored in this way.  I wanted to be able to at least offer some thanks, although I certainly won’t be able to thank everyone, for helping me to this point.

First of all, I’m so thankful to God for the talent and passion He has given me in educating and mentoring young men through the game of soccer.  When I started playing as a five year old or even when I started coaching in my twenties, I could have never imagined that I would have this type of success, travel the world, and be an important part of so many players lives.  I have been immeasurably blessed.

While I had many good coaches along the way there were two that truly helped me mold my career and life.  My coach at Margaretville Central School, Pete Palen, is still on the list for most wins and best winning percentage of all time for high school coaches.  However, his program was built on building lasting relationships and the guiding principle that no matter what happens on the field there is, “no substitute for class.”  Our Cardinals that take these life lessons with them are certainly set up for success beyond soccer.  Liam Behrens was my coach at Guilford College and was a great example of what one can accomplish with  passion and hard work.  The tireless recruiting he did, the daily and long term planning and the discipline he brought to our program set a blueprint for the structure of my program.

All my assistant coaches have had a huge hand in our success through the years.  Lou Pereira was a major force in building the varsity team into a quality feeder program for the prep level.  He had tremendous success with his teams but, more importantly, he helped recruit and develop several players for the prep team before handing over the reigns to Jesse Brennan this year.  The last several years our prep team staff has had a strong nucleus with Carlos Almeida, Hank McWhinnie, both volunteers like Lou, and Walter Moore. Carlos is our goalkeeper coach and drives an hour each way to training.  One of my most special moments was seeing Carlos and his son Marc ’14 share a magical moment after winning the 2013 New England title.  I met Hank by chance when he attended one of the prep basketball games when I was still coach.  We figured out that I played high school soccer with his nephew, and the rest, as they say, is history.  He holds a special place in so many of our player’s hearts because of his status as the elder statesmen of the staff.  I love to watch the video of Fabio de Azeredo and teammates running to the sideline to celebrate his game-winning goal in the 2010 New England championship with Coach McWhinnie.  Walter is the only of full-time employee on the prep staff and has been my right hand man for the last several seasons.  He is the consummate professional and is always willing and able to do anything needed to help the team.  His unwavering commitment to hold our boys to the high standards we have outlined helps our players to achieve their best on and off the field, at South Kent and beyond.

I feel strongly that the community, structure and values of South Kent have had a huge hand in our success as well.  While we may lack a little bit in facilities, we more than make up for it in the curriculum and support we offer our students.  Andy Vadnais and Nancy Lyon have been the driving force behind the renaissance on the Hillside over the last two decades.  I truly appreciate their support and the opportunity Mr. Vadnais gave me to lead the soccer program and athletic department twelve years ago.  There has been tremendous support and inspiration from my colleagues through the years.  From John Funk biking dozens of miles to watch us play or running lines at games, Father Klots’s tremendous example of completing more work than seems humanly possible, to Paul Abbott’s example of dedication to the school through thick and thin.  I will always remember the late Ken Brown, who kept the clock at our first New England title, for his ability to connect with even the toughest kids and for being the great mentor that he was to me.  Certainly Phil Darrin, who started together with me in 2004, and Gonzalo Garcia-Pedroso, who has directed a great AMG and publications team that trumpeted our successes, have become great friends.  They have continually encouraged and helped me and it has been wonderful to share our successes together.  I appreciate each and every one of the faculty and staff that I have worked with on the Hillside over the years, they make South Kent a one of a kind place.

I’d like to make special mention of three men who have been remarkable from both near and far.  Duane Stone ’68 has been a fervent fan of South Kent soccer and everything else South Kent since the day I met him.  His love for his alma mater and proximity to campus means he’s here on the sidelines any day he can sneak out of work.  In this competitive day in age, it is not often that a rival coach would be a big supporter but that is the case with Scotty McCarty, AD and soccer coach at Forman School.  Due to our parallel roles, Scotty was tasked with being my mentor when I arrived in NEPSAC.  He has become a great friend, helped me gain leadership roles in the CSCA and WNEPSSA, and worked to give South Kent soccer the recognition we deserve.  I was so fortunate to meet Tim Doran through a mutual friend a few years ago and his generosity and commitment to helping young men improve their lives through soccer is incredible.  Tim has been a father figure, mentor, and support system for several South Kent boys from Florida over the last four years. I’m so glad that he appreciates and values the work that we all do at South Kent.

For sure I wouldn’t have had any success without my wonderful family.  My mother and father have always encouraged me and there is no doubt that our year on a family exchange in England when I was five sparked my love for football.  My father was a teacher and I know that those genes were inherited.  Sometimes I didn’t like when he was in teacher mode with my two brothers and me but I certainly appreciate it now, as I hope my players will down the line with the things I ask of them.  Being the middle of three boys I had very different experiences with my two brothers but whether following a great example or seeing my brother follow in my footsteps I always felt their love and support.  My extended family has been wonderfully supportive as well but, by far, my wife has been the most amazing.  I can’t thank her enough for her words of inspiration and support.  She has allowed me to put in the long hours in the office and on the road to make our program successful, all while being my biggest fan and keeping our family going. Thank you for your love.

Last but certainly not least, a huge thank you to all the players who put the work in throughout the years and the parents that trusted me to help make their boys better players and, most importantly, better people.  None of this could have been possible without you.  The double sessions, ice baths, spoons tournaments, long bus rides, ropes courses, 6am trainings, beep tests, community service, and hard fought matches are all worth it.  This award is validation for all the things that you have done through all the years to make South Kent Soccer the best!

It was a wonderful weekend receiving this award around family, friends, and former coaches and players.  Although everyone that made it possible could not be there, I was thinking of you all and thank you from the bottom of my heart."

To see a list of Coach Owen Finberg's "Top 12" SKS Soccer players that he compiled after receiving the award click HERE.