August 22. 2017 11:15PM

NHIAA Girls' Soccer Preview: Traditional powers strong again

New Hampshire Union Leader

The Scoop: Girls' soccer

Players to watch: Olivia Hilger, Bishop Guertin, junior, back; Shayna Salis, Bedford, junior, midfield; Angie Suaza, Nashua South, junior, forward; Paige LaBerge, Manchester Central, junior, forward; Sabrynna Pearson, Manchester Central, junior, back; Halle Hamilton, Londonderry, senior, back; Maddie Cannon, Dover, senior, back; Emily Doucette, Salem, junior, back; Caroline Meuse, Winnacunnet, senior, back; Reagan Kolinski, Pinkerton, junior, goalie; Hannah McGrath, Manchester Central, junior midfield; Kyla MacLaughlin, Exeter, junior, back; Chloe Lemire, Merrimack, junior, back; Britney Johnson, Pinkerton, senior, midfield; Olivia Stowell, Londonderry, sophomore, midfield; Mollie Simpson, Manchester Memorial, senior, midfield; Victoria Reynolds, Keene, senior, midfield; Emily Lizotte, Alvirne, junior, forward; Grace Devanny, Concord, junior, forward; Maddie Flagg, Timberlane, junior, forward; Mackenzie MacEachern, Bedford, sophomore, forward; Cara Easter, John Stark, senior, midfield; Eleanor Zwart, Oyster River, senior, forward; Meg Blanchette, John Stark, senior, back; Lilly Proulx, Goffstown, junior, midfield; Kayla Paquin, Pembroke, junior, forward; Xiana Twombly, Oyster River, senior, forward; Maddie Parrott, Fall Mountain, senior, back; Hannah Stark, Newport, senior, midfield; Anna Harmon, Raymond, senior, forward; Ella Stewart, Fall Mountain, junior, midfield; Ally Monty, Fall Mountain, senior, midfield; Erin Douglas, Campbell, senior, forward; Becky Velie, Moultonborough, senior, back; Maddie Austin, Sunapee, senior, midfield; Casey Needham, Epping, junior, midfield; Marie Hoehner, Newmarket, junior, forward; Hayley Hodgdon, Profile, junior, forward; Taylor Sieweirski, Colebrook, senior, midfield; Lindsay Towle, Portsmouth Christian, senior, midfield; Lexi Walker, Littleton, junior, midfield; Molly Clough, Woodsville, senior, forward; Karyssa Lachance, Gorham, senior, forward; Suzanne Rickard, Sunapee, junior, goalie

Key games: Bedford at Manchester Central, Aug. 26; Pinkerton at Bedford, Sept. 12; Hopkinton at Fall Mountain, Oct. 12; Fall Mountain at Campbell, Sept. 15; Newmarket at Epping, Sept. 27; Bedford at Exeter, Sept. 28; Londonderry at Bedford, Oct. 3; Manchester Central at Londonderry, Oct. 6; Hopkinton at Derryfield, Oct. 10; Raymond at Campbell, Oct. 10; Bow at John Stark, Oct. 12; Sunapee at Newmarket, Oct. 14; John Stark at Pembroke, Oct. 16; Pinkerton at Concord, Oct. 17; Hollis/Brookline at Oyster River, Oct. 17; Epping at Sunapee, Oct. 18; Pinkerton at Exeter, Oct. 20; Hanover at Hollis/Brookline, Oct. 20

There’s a bit of a paradox developing within the Division I girls’ soccer ranks as the 2017 season begins on Friday.

While it appears the list of contenders heading into this season has gone unchanged from a year ago, there isn’t one club among those top teams that stands out from the rest.

“It doesn’t feel like there is a team to beat this year,” Bedford coach Michelle Winning said. “There is a lot of history with some teams, though. There’s going to be a lot of who beats who on a given day and it’ll probably come down to one game, like it usually does, for those final seedings.”

According to Winning, those teams with “history” are the Bulldogs, Manchester Central, Pinkerton and Exeter. All four clubs were semifinalists a year ago but giving one club an edge has become difficult considering changes that each team has undergone. Bedford and Manchester Central are dealing with youth movements and the graduation of key scorers like Bedford’s Saylor Clark and Central’s Katya Levasseur. Exeter has much of its roster intact but enters the year untested on the back line with sweeper Becca Jackson and goalie Sophie Hughes gone. Pinkerton of Derry, the defending D-I champion, not only lost eight seniors — many were starters — but they’ll also have a new coach for the first time in six years with Danielle Rappa taking over for Steve Gundrum.

While Winning doesn’t know which of her Bulldogs will step up to fill the offensive void left by Clark, she doesn’t expect it to be just one player.

“We’re small this year and really lack that big target up top,” Winning said. “Saylor is a tough player to replace; we definitely relied on her. Now when you don’t have that player, it opens up opportunities for others to contribute.”

Mia Roy, Kiyomi Okamoto and Shayna Salis are all players Winning expects will contribute offensively, while sisters Olivia and Brianna CoCo return to fortify the Bedford defense. Winning added that the Bulldogs will employ a new style of play this season to not only match their new personnel, but to avoid becoming predictable with their movements.

Central might find itself playing this season like Bedford did last season. The Little Green lack go-to options up front, which may leave them leaning on junior Paige LaBerge’s production to start the season.

“... More teams were paying attention to her (last season) and I don’t expect that to change,” Central coach Peter Lally said. “The workload is going to have to be distributed because if they key on Paige, that’s just one player.

“We had teams that prepared specifically for Katya last season, so you can only assume teams will follow suit with Paige. But Paige is a lot stronger than Katya physically and has about eight inches on her.”

With just three seniors in the fold and many first-time varsity players, Lally’s expectations for his Little Green are tempered. Having little to lose as a young squad finding their bearings might help Central, according to Lally.

“They’re fearless. Kind of like ‘The Little Engine That Could,’” Lally said. “They don’t realize that they’re that small and they don’t back down to anyone or even each other. You can’t teach that. You either have it inside of you or you don’t.”

For Pinkerton, Rappa has a tough act to follow with Gundrum’s 85-21-4 mark and two titles during his time guiding the Astros. The first-year head coach, who was Gundrum’s assistant last season, will try to blaze her own trail with the help of returners like forward Nicole Alves, midfielder Britney Johnson and goalie Reagan Kolinski.

Among teams looking to jump into the conversation of contenders are Concord and Londonderry, which both made playoff appearances a year ago. The Crimson Tide are the darkhorse, according to Winning and Lally, with forward Grace Devanny leading the charge along with Emma Pope and Allison Silverstein. The Lancers’ hopes will be led by Olivia Stowell, Sammy LeClair and Erin Barnes.

Division II

Following a strong run to a title in 2016, John Stark of Weare is under new leadership heading into this season. Chris Pike has taken over on the Generals’ sideline, replacing Heather Doucette. Pike is no stranger to the John Stark program, serving as the junior varsity coach the last three years and the assistant varsity coach for three years prior to that.

“I’ve coached and lived in the community, so it’s not like these girls are new to me,” Pike said. “I’ve see them develop, go through feeder programs and make their way back again. After losing eight seniors, there’s actually a lot of girls who have worked with me before on JV that were either up here last year or down with me. It just means a lot of kids know my style.”

Pike added that his style of play is based on quick decisive touches that will allow his club to flip the field when necessary. The coaching philosophy also includes utilizing the full complement of the Generals’ roster while setting each player in a position of strength.

“I’ve got the physical abilities and the skills with these kids now to a point where I can play them in multiple spots and put different groupings out there,” Pike said. “I really could sub out an entire team. My expectation with that is that the games will be a lot faster because no one will be trying to save themselves, knowing they’ll be coming off.”

Despite the roster turnover, the Generals have veterans in place to bring the youth around them along quickly. Cara Easter, the only New Hampshire girls’ soccer player on the 2017 High School All-American Game watch list, has made a name for herself up front over recent seasons just as Meg Blanchette has done out back. Seniors Abi Brandt and Cade Loos are two offensive threats Pike sees teaming up well with Easter up front while Hannah Marquis will pair well with Blanchette.

Bow and Oyster River of Durham, which both lost to John Stark in last year’s playoffs, will be gunning for the Generals again this season.

Defense will be Bow’s calling card again this season with goalie Bridget Ehrenberg back for her third season in net and Lea Crompton, Emma Gagne and Gwen Molind among those who will protect the net. Lauren Goyette, Miah Munro and Danielle DesRuisseaux are key cogs to watch up front.

Oyster River graduated just a handful of seniors and will bring back the majority of its goal scorers from 2016’s runner-up club.

Division III

Good vibes following a perfect season by defending champion Fall Mountain of Langdon are dampened by personnel losses heading into this season. In addition to graduating five seniors, the Wildcats lost Ella Stewart to prep school while Maddie DiBernardo relocated out of state. Seniors Maddie Parrott, Zoey Luopa, Ali Monty and Allie Stoddart offer experience and leadership for the Wildcats, but the team will play with the burden of a target on their back.

Among those chasing Fall Mountain is Campbell of Litchfield, which boasts six returning starters, of which several will slot back into D-III’s top defense in 2016.

Defensive standouts Emma Rousseau, Autumn Thompson and Kate Stoncius will anchor the team defense and provide protection for new starting goalie Sierra Reinitzer, who coach Gary Karibian said has shown very well in the preseason. Goals will be at a premium at times for Campbell; striker Erin Douglas will be counted on for scoring once again. Karibian added that Thompson, Caitlyn Rossi and Maddie Greenhalgh will be other sources for goals.

Derryfield of Manchester’s first run through Division III last season paled in comparison to its dominance in Division IV. But with all but four players slated to return, Peter Miller’s Cougars should be ready to contend in his second season at the helm. Hopkinton and Raymond, both regular fixtures atop the D-III standings, mirror Derryfield with experience as their greatest strength, respectively, as the season begins.

Division IV

Sunapee High has dominated many of the girls’ sports they participated in, including soccer, over the last three seasons with help of players like Katie Frederick, Sydney Clark, Faith Larpenter and Mary Grzanna. The graduation of that core signals a change of the guard for all Lakers teams, starting with soccer this fall.

“The biggest thing is defining a new identity and chemistry,” Sunapee coach Myles Cooney said. “We have some strong players that are coming up through the ranks now that have waited their time and are going to develop into a pretty good squad.”

The defending champion Lakers didn’t lose everything, as Maddie Austin is back in the fold after a 38-goal campaign and goalie Suzanne Rickard returns between the pipes. Ellie Frederick, Hannah Cooney and Kalleigh Durkee are other familiar faces that will contribute. The big void comes with midfield play, which Cooney believes is “the most important piece with connecting the defense and the offense.”

While coach Cooney sees potential in his club, he expects Epping and Newmarket to be the cream of the crop in the division.

Epping coach Will Titus will live the dream of any high school coach this season as he’ll have potentially all but one player back from a team that bowed out in the quarterfinals. Among the returners is Evelyn Carleton, who is returning from injury and is one of the top players in the division with her speed and ballhandling. Goalie Becky Millbury, midfielders Casey Needham and Meghan Gallante, and backs Megan Marasca and Emma Coolidge will be contributors as well.