The Fall Tourny Trail had thrills, spills and chills

Staff photo by TOM KING The Campbell boys soccer players stand together during the penalty kicks in their 1-0 win over Belmont in the Division III semifinals at Laconia, certainly a tense few minutes. The Cougars went on to win the state title in penalty kicks as well.

It began with a bitter cold day at Stellos Stadium and ended with a cold, icy day at the University of New Hampshire.

The Fall Tourney Trail shouldn’t be like this. We’re not supposed to have December in October and January in November.

But that’s how it was to wrap up this fall season. Drama? Certainly. The Trail begain with a double sudden death overtime field hockey game winning goal and ended with a last second game-winning field goal.

In between, lots of joy and lots of disappointment. We had two titles and a few title game disappointements.

But lots of interesting things along the way. So sit back and let’s take the trail together.

THURSDAY, OCT. 18

Stellos Stadium, Nashua

A lot of people don’t understand or like field hockey with its frequent whistles, but the rules seem to be more relaxed now and the game is a bit more wide open – especially in sudden death overtime, when they reduce things to 7 on 7.

Bishop Guertin’s Brooke Yabroudy made the most of it, with a great goal 4:08 into the second sudden death overtime as the Cards advanced in the Division I prelims with a 2-1 win over Manchester Memorial. “One touch and in,” said Yabroudy, who ironically had emailed yours truly a week earlier to ask for a photo. Now she has an even better memory.

Of course the thing about this game was the unseasonable cold, temps in the high 30s at Stellos and a blustery wind. This was actually the first game of a tripleheader at Motta Field, as Nashua South and BG were set to tangle in a girl-boy soccer doubleheader. A long, cold day that turned into night.

As for the tourney, the Cards unfortunately fell to Winnacunnet in the quarterfinals on the road.

TUESDAY, OCT. 23

Campbell High School

At first, it looked like the Campbell Cougars girls soccer team would finish as one of the top two teams in Divsion III and get a first round bye. But they ended up seeded third, and their 7-0 prelim round win over Inter-Lakes with freshman Josephine Oberto scoring three goals. But venturing up to the nice new Campbell press box later in the game, caught up with old friend Jeff Cloos, the former Alvirne High School multi sport athlete who has been the athletic director for a few years now at Inter-Lakes. You stick around long enough, you cover them as athletes and then as administrators.

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 24

Stellos Stadium

Heartbreaker. The Nashua High School South boys soccer team certainly looked like it would win its first tourney game under coach Joe Morgan and advance to the quarterfinals as they led 1-0 against Salem in the waning moments. But no. Salem’s Lucas Moreno headed in the game-tying goal inside of 10 seconds left. “On my clock, it said four seconds when he tapped that (tying goal) in,” Morgan said of when the tying goal was scored. “It stings, it stings.” Ouch. The Panthers, clearly deflated, went on to lose in the penalty kick phase, with a Blue Devil goal the difference in the fifth and final frame. Double ouch. South deserved better.

THURSDAY, OCT. 25

Stellos Stadium

A different story than the previous day for the Panthers girls soccer team, who bested a dangerous Portsmouth team 3-0 with Camille Michon scoring two goals. It was the second straight year the Panthers got past the first round at home. The irony in this one? Michon is the younger sister of Alexa Michon, who was dubbed “Mama Michon” a year ago for her leadership skills when she was a senior and scored the game-winner in a 2-1 preliminary round win at Stellos over Keene. From Mama to Mama-in-Waiting, right?

Nashua South’s Belanger Gym

Soccer done, with no overtime, then it was just down Rivierside Drive a quarter mile to the Belanger Gym, where the Panthers girls volleyball team topped Londonderry 3-1 in the preliminary round. Seeded No. 2 at 17-1, the win was expected, but the surprise was it took four sets as South had commanding leads of 12-2 and 18-10 in the third game but lost it 25-23 before getting a clinching 25-17 in in the fourth set behind the play of Brianna Henderson, who had six kills and nine digs for the match. Afterward Panthers coach Wayne Siejkowski admitted he subbed in during the third game because he needed “all 15 girls on the team to be committed.” Couldn’t argue with that, given the situation. On to a home quarterfinal, South’s first one in a while. Meanwhile, Londonderry AD Howard Sobolov was at the match and talking about possible alternate locations for Sunday’s quarterfinal girls soccer game with South due to expected heavy all day/night rain for that Saturday. “Hey Nate, is Stellos available?” he asked South athletics coordinator Nate Mazerolle.

SATURDAY, Oct. 27

Nashua South’s Belanger Gym

Yes, back to the Belanger for one of the most dramatci volleyball matches of the season, with the Panthers nipping Dover in the fifth set, 15-12, behind the serving of Paige Garland, who had two aces and 13 service points. But it was tough. Meanwhile, a couple of other things were going on: Nashua Superintendent Dr. Jahmal Mosely posted on social media that he was watching the live broadcast on Nashua ETV. Then, um, well, errr…the internet at the Belanger went down, and so did the broadcast (shown on tape delay). Dr. Mosely, you’ve got to work on that timing a little bit. Meanwhile, after the game, give Siejkowski credit, as he said “I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.”

The Panthers were back to the semis, but Siejkowski had a bigger goal. “We want HB,” he said, referring to three-time defending champ and top seed Hollis Brookline, which would have to take place in the finals. South never got there, as Bedford upset them 3-0 in the semis. The Cavs in turn blanked Bedford 3-0 in the finals for a fourpeat.

SUNDAY, OCT. 28

Presentation of Mary Academy, Hudson

An interesting, out-of-the-way stop on the Trail. The Nashua South girls soccer team fell 4-0 to Londonderry in the Division I quarterfinals, and really, it wasn’t unexpected. No, the game was not at Stellos, but at PMA’s nice field turf facility, as the field at Londonderry was in bad shape after torrential rains the day before. The Lancers had used PMA’s turf facility for lacrosse practices in the past so the call went out. And who was there to greet the teams when they arrived? None other than former Daniel Webster College assistant athletic director/sports information director Ken Belbin, who is now the AD at PMA. Adding to the blasts from the past for yours truly was seeing, for the first time in almost 30 years, former Londonderry gymnastics coach Tony DeFrancesco, who ran the clock for the Lancers. The sad part of the day? It turned out to be South soccer standout Angie Suaza’s last game for South, and she was emotional after. But Lancers coach Derek Dane told her, “You know what, this isn’t the end of your career. Keep your head up. Keep your head up and play.” Three weeks later Suaza’s head was held high as she signed her letter of intent to attend Providence College next fall and play soccer. The Lancers? Surprisingly, they fell 5-0 in the tourney finals to Manchester Central.

MONDAY, OCT. 29

Souhegan High School’s Saber Field

Welcome to a neutral site for the Division II girls soccer quarterfinals, another move thanks to the previous weekend’s rain. It was supposed to be Hollis Brookline’s home game Sunday, was moved to Monday but another grass field casualty was declared and the game was shifted to the turf field in Amherst. The Cavs and rival Milford put on quite a show, and the Spartans rallied down 1-0 in the second half to pull out a thrilling 2-1 win, knocking off the No. 3 seed. HB has had trouble getting over that quarterfinal hump, while Milford was beyond that round for the first time since the Morgan Andrews days.

TUESDAY, OCT 30

Laconia High School

Bank of New Hampshire Stadium

Ah, the Lakes Region is lovely in late October, right? Would’ve been a better ride without the construction approaching downtown Laconia, but such is life. This was the Campbell girls soccer team’s return to the semis after missing them last year. Unfortunately, despite numerous chances, the Cougars fell short, 2-1 at the hands of Stevens, ending a still successful 14-3-2 season under first-year head coach Kevin Brassard. His team pummeled Stevens keeper Kaitlyn Chambers, but to no avail.

As Stevens coach Tom Belaire said, “We were in survive mode.” Hopkinton won the title game.

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 31

Laconia High School

Bank of New Hampshire Stadium

What’s better than one trip in late October to Laconia? Try two. Yes, back to back days as on Halloween it was the Campbell boys Division III semifinals turn, facing Belmont. The two teams played 100 minutes of scoreless soccer before the game went to penalty kicks. You can tell who was more prepared for the situation, as the Cougars went 4 for 4 and won the contest en route to the Division III championship. It was incredible drama.

It was really an amazing story. Aaron Miller wore the title of head coach, but it was really a family affair with his father Bill, former DWC and Fitchburg State head coach helping out along with other family members. What was amazing? They didn’t take over the program until the second day of practice.

Meanwhile, while Bank of New Hampshire Stadium is a nice facility, can the good folks in Laconia sink a little bit more to fix up the press box? It’s got a cement backing and was colder inside than outside. Can’t imagine how toasty it was for the Division IV football title game at night 10 days later. There are whispers the Division III soccer semis won’t be there next year.

Also: Soccer needs help. The Cougars won a state title with zero goals in 200 minutes of end-to-end soccer. It harkens back an old NHIAA rule in which if a title game finished scoreless at end of the overtimes, the game would need to be replayed from the start at a later date. That’s not great, either.

THURSDAY, NOV. 1

Nashua’s Stellos Stadium

Ah, repeat after me, there’s no place like home. It was a happy day for the Milford girls soccer team, which advanced to the finals with a 2-0 win over Pembroke in a Battle of the Spartans. The Spartans got a huge goal and assist from Syd Thibault. But what stood out about this was how stunned Pembroke was. The teams had tied 1-1 during the regular season, and Pembroke had lost just one previous game all season. “I can’t believe it happened,” Pembroke coach Jess Kaufman said. It did. Milford, though, didn’t achieve title glory, falling in penalty kicks to No. 5 Hanover in the finals three days later at Stellos.

SATURDAY, NOV. 3

Merrimack High School

Student Memorial Field

Welcome to football as it oughta be, played on natural grass in a muddy mess. That was the case with the Divsion I quarterfinal between West Conference rivals Merrimack and Nashua North, and the two were scoreless through four quarters. North had the best sniff of the end zone in regulation, with a Brian Montminy carry getting the Titans to within a yard-and-a-half of the end zone in the first half. But a penalty pushed North back, they missed a field goal, and also a fourth down play in the waning moments of regulation just 15 yards from the end zone. Merrimack’s Tristan Wood blocked a field goal in overtime and Ben Eichman scored from 4 yards out.

But you want to know when this game was really won? Try Friday afternoon, around 2:30, when it was decided by Merrimack school officials and the Tomahawk players and coaches that, despite heavy rain expected overnight, they would not accept North’s invitation to switch the game to Stellos. The Titans, with dynamic back Curtis Harris, thrive on that, but couldn’t navigate the mud on Saturday. “We felt our community deserved a home playoff game,” Merrimack coach Kip Jackson said, and after the Tomahawks had beaten the Titans two weeks earlier to earn that home game, who could blame them?

SATURDAY, NOV. 10

Bedford High School’s Bulldog Stadium

Yes, the wind must blow, and it did. Was it a big factor in Bedford’s 30-8 Division I football semifinal win? Probably not. More so the fact the eventual state champion Bulldogs were just darn good, led by their quarterback, Thomas Morgan. Morgan either ran or threw for eight touchdowns in two meetings with Merrimack this season. After the game, Jackson was emotional. Why? This was his first four-year group as Merrimack’s head coach, and saying good-bye was not easy. Plus, it was a tremendous character group that does not come around that often. “I’ve been doing this for 21 years,” Jackson, the former South assistant said, fighting back tears. “And this was my favorite team.”

SATURDAY, NOV. 17

University of New Hampshire

Wildcat Stadium

The end of what became a frozen trail. UNH was clearly not prepared – really, nobody was – for the early November snow. Snow in November melts and then refreezes, and the football all around campus, especially around Wildcat Stadium, was treacherous. But at least the field was cleared.

And the Division III title game between Campbell and Monadnock was fantastic, with the Huskies’ Issac Jasinksi having his Adam Vinatieri moment with a 27-yard game-winning field goal, 15-12, with one second remaining. It spoiled an exceptional underdog effort by Cougar coach Glenn Costello’s crew. He was the typical soccer player who also kicked for the football team, rushing from soccer games to kick for the Huskies on the gridiron. He never believed he’d ever have a game-winning boot, let alone in a championship game. “It came across my mind,” he said, “but I never actually thought I would actually do it.”

The two have now played back-to-back finals, with each winning one. Let’s get the rubber match next November. Without any snow around. Sound good?

And why do we think that when this winter’s tourney trail ends, the temperature will be warmer than it was for Thanksgiving?

Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, tking@nashuatelegraph.com., or @Telegraph_TomK.