The sixth Keene State College coach to be inducted into the Alumni-Athletic Hall of Fame, Dave Lombardo was the early architect of an Owl women's soccer team that would go on to prominence at both the regional and national levels.
During his seven-year career at Keene State (1981-87), Lombardo's coaching resume included a 78-35-8 (.672 pet.) record, seven post-season appearances, including the team's first NCAA Tournament berth, and regional and national coach of the year honors. But his contribution went well beyond records and other documented accomplishments. It was also about his players, the pioneers of the program, who thrived on their underdog role.
"Although we had players with special talents, the common thread between them was their competitiveness," said Lombardo. "They knew they were underdogs and relished the role. They were never afraid of Division I teams. To them, the bigger they are the harder they fall."
The first coach of the women soccer Owls, Lombardo planted the seed for what was to become the Keene State team shortly after his arrival on campus in the fall of 1978. Hired as a residence director at Carle Hall, Lombardo, a native of Newington, Conn., and a former player at Southern Connecticut, knew he wanted to continue his involvement with the sport. Little did he know at the time that his work as a part-time volunteer coach with the women's club team would lead to a job as head coach of the varsity program three years later.
Lombardo and the Owls didn't have to wait long to get their first taste of success. Posting winning records in a schedule with teams from all divisions and earning post-season invitations in their first two seasons, Keene State earned its first NCAA Tournament berth in 1983 after upsetting Brown and Harvard and finishing with a 12-2-1 record.
"The 1983 team put us on the map," said Lornbardo, who was named NEIWSA regional and Metropolitan Life national coach of the year after the season. "It was a validation that what we were doing was not a fluke."
Although Keene State captured ECAC championships in his final two seasons in 1986 and 1987, Lombardo was finding it very difficult to balance a schedule that included increasing responsibilities as admissions director and time for his growing family. Not ready to step away from coaching, Lombardo left Keene State to take over the women's program at James Madison University in Virginia. To this day, Lombardo looks back fondly on his years at Keene State.
"Keene State was my training ground. It was my opportunity to grow and develop my coaching philosophy," Lombardo said. "Keene State made me take a look at myself and say, 'What are you good at; what do you want to do when you grow up?' It made me make decisions. And I don't regret a single minute of it."