September 25. 2017 11:50PM

Joe Duball's H.S. Soccer: Windham boys learn from losing

New Hampshire Union Leader

It's common for playoff losses to become fuel for a team’s fire the following year. As an example, look at this year’s Windham High boys’ soccer team.

The Jaguars fell to Lebanon in the semifinals of last year’s Division II tournament, ending a run inspired by a setback in the 2015 semifinals against Portsmouth. Doubling the motivation has served Windham well this season, though, as the Jags have outscored opponents 41-2 while running out to an 8-0 record.

“You don’t know what the league is like or what everyone else is losing or returning, but I was confident we were bringing a solid team back,” Windham coach Mike Hachey said. “There’s a large group of seniors that have been through all the heartache (from the last two seasons). Their focus is why we’re seeing this success and that focus stems from really not believing we’ve played our best ball yet.”

The Jaguars have seen solid results despite integrating new faces into their system and finding the right combinations with the new and old personnel, according to Hachey. Leaning on the likes of senior striker Kyle Cocciardi and back line stalwarts Brian Sheahan, Vinnie Marino and Noah Rust have helped mask the few deficiencies the team has shown.

Cocciardi is the feature player in Windham’s offense, leading the team in goals (14) and assists (eight). The senior may well be the difference in Windham’s title hopes this season, as he missed parts of the last two seasons with a nagging foot injury that never allowed him to play at full strength upon his return in either season.

“He’s just a beast now,” Hachey said. “Kyle is a blend of someone who is opportunistic but really creates things, including a lot out of nothing. When there is a lull in the game, he’ll show a moment of brilliance, put one away and then it becomes demoralizing for a team.”

A healthy Cocciardi is one factor in Windham’s multi-faceted offense. Senior forward Jake Morgan returned from the Seacoast United’s Academy Soccer program, which consists of Division I college-bound talent, after last playing with Windham as a sophomore. Other reliable pieces to Windham’s offense include seniors Cam Chrissis, who has started every game since his freshman year, and Zac Colvin.

The options and varying styles of Windham’s offense have shown in lopsided scoring efforts. The Jaguars’ whopping goal total features a stretch of five consecutive games in which they scored at least five goals, including three games with seven strikes.

“We’ve been in some closer games for a bit, but then the goals start to come in bunches,” Hachey said. “Teams have done a nice job of holding us back to a certain extent and then we’ve won the other 20 minutes in each half. You’ll see us get two goals over the last 20 in the first half and then go without one a bit before putting up three more over the final 20 again.”

The elite play up front suggests the Jaguars control possession and rarely need their defense, but Hachey said that is hardly the case. Sheahan, Marino and Rust have shown they can play one-on-one, clean up attacks through the midfield and rebuild possession from the back. Goalie Ben Wentworth has made saves when he needed to, but the defensive trio has shielded him from seeing many shots.

“They’re fantastic as individuals and then you bring them together as a core to get something special,” said Hachey of the fullbacks. “You wouldn’t know how in-tune they are because they’re all very quiet and the communication isn’t them yelling at each other. They’ve played together since they were very young, so they each know what type of player is around them, which leaves them knowing when to help or when one has everything under control.”

Hachey said that he waits until eight to 10 games into a season before really gauging his club against the rest of the league. Now being at that point, Hachey sees plenty of challenge left in his schedule, including Wednesday’s match against Oyster River of Durham. However, the opponent Windham is most focused on going forward is itself.

“My approach is that I won’t be satisfied until we play what I consider is our best and play to our potential,” Hachey said. “These guys know we haven’t done that yet. We’ve had several conversations about giving up a goal and letting down when you’re up 6-0, and they know that’s not acceptable because it can’t happen in the playoffs.

“It’s a team mindset now that we don’t want to allow goals or be down in games and we will not accept anything but the best from each other. That demand doesn’t mean we’re at each other’s throats when things go wrong, but instead we try to rise to the expectation.”

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THOSE UPDATING their list of Division II girls’ soccer contenders can safely add 7-1 Milford to the mix. Except for a 1-0 loss to Souhegan, which scored on a corner kick five minutes into that win, Milford would be undefeated. Regardless, the strong start for Milford is notable.

“It’s kind of been building here,” Milford coach Russ Matthews said. “We’ve always played good soccer, but the final-third has always been our problem area. There are people here now that are putting the ball in the back of the net.”

The Spartans have scored 31 goals this season and have spread that scoring up and down the roster. Matthews cited depth as a strength, which is evidenced by the spread scoring, but it goes deeper.

“We have a lot of soccer players, whereas in the past we had good athletes that just play,” Matthews said. “The trend now is soccer comes first for the athletes we have. The focus gives us better skill sets and soccer IQs to work with.”

Among the most valued players on Milford’s roster are seniors Breanna deGroot, Emma Gray, Riley Matthews and Avery Martin. That quartet and the rest of the Spartans are looking forward to playoff previews over the rest of their schedule, which includes a rematch with Souhegan on Oct. 10.

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THE DIVISION I boys’ soccer ranks has no perfect records left after a couple of surprise setbacks over the last week. Salem, Timberlane of Plaistow and Londonderry each suffered a first loss while Manchester Central’s perfect season is over after a tie against rival Manchester Memorial.

Central is one team taking the high road after being held out of the win column for the first time this season. Blowing a 2-0 to Memorial certainly isn’t something Central coach Chris LaBerge wants to make a habit of, but LaBerge couldn’t deny that his team probably needed to go through that.

“It hits home for us that we really just can’t make mistakes,” said LaBerge after Friday’s tie. “We’re good on the ball and teams just want to counter-attack us so they sit and wait for that mistake. We’re trying to learn how to play together and pressing for goals all the time while we try to play playoff-caliber soccer. These are the games you need in order to get there.”

The Little Green will indeed continue to force the issue up top with playmakers like Joshue Assantha and Max Kalampalikis shining and others like Nidal Almaree beginning to raise their game.

On the other end of the spectrum, Londonderry was disappointed with Saturday’s loss to Pinkerton of Derry. Lancers coach Todd Ellis wasn’t necessarily down on his club’s play in the loss, but he realized the team needed the win before embarking on its toughest stretch of the season. Londonderry’s next four games are against Salem, Timberlane, Bedford and Central.

“The results that we have gotten so far this year have been better than we expected in some ways,” Ellis said. “We’re coming up against a stretch that is going to give us a better judge of what we’re going to do. The kids have been working hard and we have a group of 14 seniors that know what we need to do. Sometimes they need to be reminded that our talent doesn’t mean we can just step on the field. It means the effort has to be there as well.”

High School Soccer appears Tuesdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader during the season. To reach Joe Duball, e-mail