Battle of the Bridge continues with volleyball tonight
The Battle continues.
The Nashua High School North-South rivalry, otherwise known as the Battle of the Bridge, has taken center stage locally this week in high school circles.
Of course there’s the big football matchup on Friday night, and field hockey began the week with a overtime thriller won by Nashua South 1-0 at Stellos Stadium.
Golf and cross country have already had their meetings in previous weeks, but there’s still girls volleyball tonight at Nashua North at 6:30 and then a girls/boys soccer doubleheader Saturday afternoon at Stellos Stadium. The girls game is at 1:30 p.m. and the boys follow at 3:45. Normally it’s a tripleheader with field hockey, but it was moved to this past Monday because there are SAT exams Saturday morning.
And as always, there are some interesting aspects with the three non-football varsity encounters left to play. Here’s a look:
The Panthers are at center stage here, but this is going to be a tough undertaking simply for the reason they are coming off Wednesday night’s battle of unbeatens with Pinkerton Academy, which they entered at 9-0.
“It will be tough going from a big match with no time in between,” Panthers coach Wayne Siejkowski said earlier this week. “Especially since both games will no doubt be emotionally charged games.”
Indeed, as last year’s match vs. the Titans shows the impact the rivalry can have. South took the first two sets handily, 25-16, 25-15, but lost the third 25-20 and were trailing 21-12 in the fourth set, but rallied to pull out the win, staring down what would have been a tough fifth set.
Back for the Panthers to make life tough for the Titans is Kara Kelliher, who last year had a big decisive 10-point service run. She and fellow senior Catherine Covert have been Panther mainstays.
Meanwhile, North comes into this having snapped a four-match losing streak the other night, and last night were hosting Goffstown. North has been paced by players such as Haley Stanton, Jamie Parker and Alexis Miranda.
The other interesting aspect of this rivalry is that at one point, North was the more successful team. Now the Panthers, who have reached the semis the last two years, are the favorites. Siejkowski has really helped turned things around.
“I remember back to the nights when South had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he said. “It can provide a team with a certain amount of latitude to be more aggressive with their play. I just hope we answer the challenge.
“We take one game at a time, we keep trying to have strong fundamentals and improve the level of our play. I think every year the team that has had the edge carries with them more pressure.”
Some of that is created by the fact tonight’s match should be lively, as it’s always a great fan participation event.
“It’s always a fun rivalry,” Titans coach Nicole Fitzgibbons said. “We’re hoping for another great turnout from the fans.”
After tonight and Friday night, fans will be treated to a soccer doubleheader, and the girls match has an intriguing coaching angle. You have a former Panther coaching the Titans in Jaqueline Thompson, and, for the first time, a former Titan coaching the Panthers in first-year coach Lauren Keating.
This is old hat for Thompson, in her third year at the North helm. But it’s the first time as a coach for Keating, who remembers the intensity as a player.
“I actually feel really lucky to be able to coach against my old school,” Keating said. “I still remember playing in the first North/South game in 2004 and how big of a deal it was to the players then.
“Just seeing how much the rivalry has grown makes me so excited for Saturday to be able to be back on the field as a coach.”
Both teams are playing well right now. North has had an overwhelming amount of injuries, but has perservered to the point that it’s had just one loss (2-1-1) in three of its last four. South (5-3) has won three of its last four.
The Titans have to be glad they don’t have to deal with the graduated Angie Suaza, who personally outscored the Titans 5-1 in the last two years. South has a more rounded attack, paced by players like Kendra Santoro, Julianna Martin and Kourtney Lopez.
North’s injury bug has been outrageous, so bad that a stretch of four JV games had to be cancelled last month because the players were needed to fill in on varsity.
But the Titans remain highly competitive, paced by mainstays such as Emily Deleo, Ariana Dumaine and Carly Morse, and some of the younger players who have had to fill in. Freshman Natalee McInerney scored for them the other day.
“They have rose to the occasion,” Thompson said of her younger players from the Titan JV. “The varsity has taken them in as well. The program has really become one. There’s no divide any more.”
“Just like today, many of us had grown up playing with each other and only became opponents during high school,” Keating said, which sums up the North-South theme for just about every sport. “Now that the schools have been split for 15 or so years, the rivalry has just intensified.
It’s cool to see how Nashua has turned the games into the Battle of the Bridge competition … I’m actually really excited to get the chance to coach against my old school in such a big rivalry. I love the atmosphere of the these types of games and I think being a North alum makes it that much more motivating to come away with a win.”
This game has always been intense. The twist here is that Panthers coach Tom Bellen moves over to the boys end of the rivalry after coaching the girls end of the rivalry for several seasons.
South blanked the Titans 2-0 last season, but of all the matchups sans football, this is a joust of solid contenders. South is 7-2, having had a five-game win streak snapped Tuesday in a 2-0 loss to Londonderry. North is 5-3-1, having gone 4-1-1 in its last five, including Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Salem.
Joey Morse and Colin McMahon have been solid for the Titans, while South, whose only other loss was to Manchester Central, has had good play from veterans such as Jacob Dukeshire and Emmanuel Orozco Alvarez. This promises to be a battle royal, for sure.
The New Hampshire Basketball Coaches Organization (NHBCO) will be inducting its first ever class into its newly established Hall of Fame, and quite fittingly, former longtime – and legendary – Nashua High School girls basketball coach John Fagula will be one of its six inductees.
Fagula won 11 titles in 20 seasons in Nashua, including a historic 108-game winning streak and his Panthers USA Today No. 1 national ranking in 1987. His record in Nashua was an incredible 432-72. He went on to coach Nashua’s biggest rival, Londonderry, for 12 seasons, winning his 12th Division I/Class L in his final season back in 2014. That title game, a 57-56 upset of Bedford in the finals, was career win No. 624, his final game.
Also being inducted are late Winnacunnet boys coach Jack Ford, former longtime Portsmouth/St. Thomas coach Dan Parr, former Farmington coach Mike Lee, former Lebanon coach Lang Metcalf, and Gary Jeness (Groveton and White Mountains).
The ceremony wil be on Sunday, Oct. 13 at the Red Blazer Restaurant in Concord, beginning at 1:30 p.m.
It coincides with the NHBCO’s annual fall coaches clinic being held that morning at Concord High School.
The North-South football game will be one of the local games during which fans may leave food donations for the program New Hampshire Tackles Hunger. The other remaining games are
Merrimack at Bishop Guerton on Saturday night, Pelham at Souhegan on Oct. 11; John Stark at Alvirne on Oct. 18, and Monadnock at Campbell on Oct. 26….
Speaking of halls of fame, a reminder that Monday is the final date to receive nominations for the Nashua Hall of Fame. Nomination forms are on the athletic websites for both Nashua North and South.