Cougars once again have what it takes for a title win
They stood out in the cold on Sunday night at Laconia’s Bank of New Hampshire Stadium the same as they were in 2018 at Southern New Hampshire University – champions.
Really, what common theme ties the 2019 and 2018 Division III Campbell High School boys soccer champions together?
Perhaps sheer determination – and ability to be coached.
“Campbell students are respectful, caring, well raised, and one would say ‘Coachable’,” Cougars coach Bill Miller said. “Perhaps their youthfulness permitted each to not question my strategies?”
Miller coached last year’s team with sons Aaron and Zachary. But Aaron Miller left for a college job in Wyoming and Zachary had the flu. So Miller and assistant Jay Holder guided a team of youth and fairly limited experience – just a handful of seniors – to a thrilling 3-2 overtime title win over Mascenic. And it was a freshman, Sam Gomes, who scored his 22nd goal – the golden goal, if you will, to cap off their 18-0-2 season for the ages. After a final game for the ages.
“In my 50 years of coaching hoop or soccer,” Miller said, “I have never experienced such a game in its completeness.”
In any event, the Cougars would have to be considered the favorite next year, as Gomes and many others are back.
On the girls side locally, Bishop Guertin in Division I loses just a couple of senior starters, and the Cards benefited from a strong freshman group to be just two goals from the finals.
Let’s take a local look:
Nashua South locally had the best Division I team, and the Panthers fell victim in the quarterfinals to a Windham team that covers the entire field, well enough to take them to penalty kicks. The Panthers lose some key seniors, especially Jake Dukeshire, but the Panthers have some talented underclassmen returning, led by Ethan Emata and Manny Orozco Alvarez. They should have a chance to contend.
Nashua North loses a ton of seniors, but the Titans’ younger players developed, too, paced by junior defender Stephen Norris.
Alvirne (5-11) was young, and the Broncos were probably too young to sustain their 4-0 start. Merrimack had s super season making the tourney but the Tomahawks lose a dozen seniors so coach Mark Papp will have to reload somehow. Bishop Guertin is still feeling its way under Valdimir “Rocky” Roque, but the Cardinals have numbers on their side, a program with a full sub-varsity team. Their biggest hole to fill will be senior goalie Michael Poublon.
Hollis Brookline has been knocking on the door, this year falling in the quarterfinals, but this may have been their best shot as they lose 12 seniors, including longtime goalie Ryan Coutu.
Milford may be the team to watch locally here, making the tournament under new coach Olf Mouyaka after a few tough seasons and may be able to sustain the loss of nine seniors as he – like Roque at BG – works to beef up the program and numbers. Souhegan has suffered through its second straight non-tourney year, but longtime coah Dave Saxe went into this season looking for development and chemistry, and has a junior nucleus that shoud spell a look up.
Hail the Cougars. Remember, they had a ton of underclassmen who got the experience of their lives playing in four elimination games in the last two weeks – including a title game to remember.
Sophomoe goalie Jack Noury had a great final and solidifies that position for the next two years. Gomes had 22 goals. Sophomore Ryan Latsha has a great throw. They’ll miss the clutch play of senior Joaquin Heller, who hung in there Sunday night despite being kicked in the shin. Remember, Heller’s versatility – he played more defense than offense in the semis during which he had a goal – is hard to replace.
But Miller, who showed up to the rescue on the Cougars doorstep just as tryouts were about to start in August of 2018, seems to get the best out of these kids.
Wilton-Lyndeborough had a fine showing this season, but probably expected to go further than the first round (1-0 loss to Lin-Wood).
Keep an eye on this team, as they lose just three seniors and have athletes – remember Sean and Troy Brennan from baseball? The future should be bright.
The Cardinals made it to the semis, losing to runnerup Londonderry 1-0. Now they need to get over that hump.
Remember, their talent was more freshman-laden, with scorers Katie Boudreau and Brooke Paquette, and they were also buoyed by the return of junior Caitlyn Toom from knee surgery.
They also had a lot of sophomores, led by the strong foot of Hannah Lord and the goaltending of Erin Morris. There’s a window here, but the Cards could use a bit more speed.
“Obviously we’re really young, which is nice,” Cards coach Pat Mulcahy said. “But we had a lot of great senior leadership. We always say there’s time, but you never know when you’re going to be back in this situaiton.”
What about ousted first round teams Alvirne, Nashua South and Merrimack?
Alvirne has a lot of youth, but there will be coaching consistency as Jerry Ruigrok expects to return. Eight seniors, though, will go.
“We kind of changed the way we play,” Ruigrok said. “We’ve been kind of a kick and chase team in the past, but we played more possession this year. We had a lot of seniors, but we have a lot of young players – five freshmen were key players this year. We have a lot to build on.”
Nashua South also had a first year coach in Lauren Keating, and they suffered a tough first round upset loss. The Panthers had a top scorer in Mailee McDermott – 19 goals – so, as when they lost Angie Suaza to graduation a year ago, they’ll have to come up with scoring (junior Kourtney Lopez?). The good news is besides McDermott, they lose just three other seniors.
Merrimack, which also lost a heartbreaker in the first round, and the Tomahawks lose nine seniors. But they had a large roster, so expect them to keep building into a contender.
Nashua North had an injury riddled year that the Titans should definitely recover from. They have solid building blocks in Emilee Delao and Ashley Dumaine, lose just three seniors, and just imagine the valuable experience the JV players gained who had to fill in for half a season. It should be a great, competitive Divison I season next fall locally.
That’s what it’s been in Division II the last three years, with two runnerups and this year two semifinalists (Hollis Brookline and Milford).
Let’s start with Divivision II second seed Hollis Brookline, which won 14 games. The Cavs lose a big piece in striker Tasha White among their seven seniors, but they’ll try to build around freshman forward Renee LeBlanc, who had 11 goals, and sophomore Rachel Brackett (eight goals, eight assists), among others.
Milford loses five seniors, but next year will be trying to squeeze the last ounces of talent out of what three years ago was the highly touted Syd Thibault freshman class. Ah, and then there are the Souhegan Sabers, who went one step further (quarters) than a year ago but lose nine seniors, including the talented Savannah Behn. They’re solid in goal as Hunter Stonebreaker (junior) has one more year. We’ll see what other younger talent surfaces.
Campbell suffered a tough, stunning first round loss, but here’s the good news: The Cougars graduate just two seniors. Led by junior midfielder Karleigh Schultz, they will be heard from in 2020, and one can see them back in the semis,which they reached in 2018.
In Division IV, Wilton-Lyndeborough started the season off on fire, 5-0 and outscoring the opposition 42-5. But Warriors coach Dan Ayotte warned that when the schedule toughened up there could be some bumps, and he was right. But they likely didn’t expect to lose in the first round at home to a Concord Christian team they beat twice. Chalk it up to experience, as they lose just two seniors and have a young nucleus led by current sophomore forward Elisabeth Jacob. They should be strong next season and beyond.