A changing of the guard for Newtown soccer
Newtown was at the top of his list.
Fortunately for Kenney, he was at the top of Newtown's short list of potential candidates, as well.
Kenney, of Waterbury, was hired Friday to replace Rupert de los Reyes as Newtown's new girls soccer coach.
"I'm walking into an outstanding situation," Kenney said. "Newtown is a championship-caliber team with an established youth program. Rupert has done an outstanding job here. I couldn't ask for more."
De los Reyes left Newtown and became an assistant for the Manhattan College women's team. He compiled a 91-23-5 record in seven years at Newtown and led the Nighthawks to a Class LL state championship in 2004.
The Nighthawks are confident they have a found a capable replacement.
The 33-year-old Kenney was selected by a committee consisting of Newtown athletic director Gregg Simon, Newtown girls junior varsity coach Laura McLean and the Nighthawks' four captains: juniors Colleen Thornberg, Gabbi Nastri Megan Hansen and sophomore Tania Domingos.
The committee interviewed four candidates for the position, but Kenney clearly emerged as the man for the job.
"He has a tremendous personality and really seemed to connect with the girls," Simon said. "He was both very approachable and professional."
Kenney is an English teacher and assistant boys soccer coach at Newington High School. Simon and Kenney both expressed interest in him teaching at Newtown, should a position become available.
"The fact that Mark was willing to make the trip from Newington every day was a sign to us how much he wanted to be here," Simon said. "That kind of dedication is something that can't be overlooked or undervalued."
The committee was also extremely impressed with Kenney's experience at the collegiate level.
Kenney played at Central Connecticut State University and was the head coach at Division II Post University in Waterbury from 1998-99.
In his first season at Post, Kenney doubled the Eagles' win total and was named the 1998 Central Athletic Collegiate Conference Coach of the Year.
In 1999, Kenney left Post and joined Jim O'Brien as an assistant at Southern Connecticut State University.
Kenney headed up much of the recruiting effort at SCSU and took an expansive role in the development of the Owls' training sessions.
And when Kenney left the program in 2002 to concentrate on his teaching job at Newington, O'Brien begged his assistant to come back.
"Let's just say I strongly urged him to return," O'Brien said jokingly. "I relied on him to do so much."
He returned and stayed with the Owls until the 2005 season when O'Brien left to become the head coach at Division I Fairfield University, where former Newtown High All-American and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year Casey Frobey currently plays.
Under O'Brien and Kenney, the Owls reached the East Coast Athletic Conference tournament and NCAA tournament twice and began the 2001 season ranked No. 7 in the country.
According to both O'Brien and Simon, de los Reyes, who could not be reached for comment, has said Kenney was an excellent choice for the position.
"Newtown is a top-level program and they deserve a coach of Mark's caliber," O'Brien said. "Mark is meticulous and hard working with a real attention to detail.
"He's demanding, but he's not an in-your-face type of guy. He always has a plan, but is really a players' coach and I think kids respond to that."
Kenney is confident his new team will as he plans to make the program's transition as smooth as possible.
"I'd be crazy to overhaul this program," Kenney said. "I will bring my own personality to this team.
"I'm big on chemistry and on having an open and honest environment. These girls will know they will be getting the truth from me, even if it's not always what they want to hear."
Kenney backed up his words by bringing back McLean as the junior varsity coach and Trent Harrison at the freshman level.
Kenney plans to hold his first team meeting Wednesday.
"I'm not coming in with any preconceived notions about these girls," Kenney said. "I will start evaluating these girls on Wednesday and I'll be looking for the best kids, not necessarily the best players."
Kenney hopes that philosophy will help Newtown nab another state championship and the elusive South-West Conference championship.
"I'm not guaranteeing anything," Kenney said. "But I'm very aware of the tradition and that Newtown has yet to win an SWC crown.
"A conference and state championship are always the goals, especially at Newtown."