NHIAA boys' soccer preview: Changes everywhere
First, several schools have switched divisions. The most intriguing move involves moves by Bedford and Hanover from Division II to I. The Bulldogs upended the Marauders' bid for a sixth straight crown in a thrilling 2011 semifinal, en route to their first title. Both programs become instant contenders in an already competitive league.
Second, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, an organization of 80 programs focused on developing the next generation of national soccer team members, recently implemented a 10-month season and will not allow participants to play high school soccer.
Basically, scores of talented Granite State players were forced to choose between playing for their high school or on an elite team competing at a national level. Seacoast United of Hampton and the FC of Greater Boston and New England Revolution in Massachusetts are the closest academy teams.
Ramiro Osario, last season's New Hampshire Union Leader Player of the Year, opted to play with the Revolution and will forgo his senior season with Manchester Central, the defending Division I champion.
'I think it was a good move for Ramiro. He's got a good shot at playing Division I college soccer and playing for the Revolution might help his cause,' said Central coach Chris LaBerge. Osario set the Little Green scoring record in his third season of varsity soccer last season.
Central graduated 12 from last year's team, but returns plenty of talented veterans and an eager crew of speedy and intuitive youngsters who were biding time on the junior varsity team.
Bedford's Mitchell Marchand made a decision similar to Osario's, though Eric Martel and Casey Schehl opted for high school rather than academy soccer.
'We'll miss Mitchell,' said Bedford coach Stuart Pepper. 'The other two came back because they didn't want to let go of the high school experience and felt comfortable about future college connections. They liked playing for their school in front of big crowds, especially Friday night games against high-caliber competition.'
Like Central, Bedford graduated some talent but has plenty of strong players ready to leave the understudy role behind. The Bulldogs play a possession-oriented style that pressures and stresses the opposition.
Academy decisions and graduation took big bites out of the rosters of longstanding title-contending Concord and Exeter. Blue Hawks coach Jim Tufts, who has high expectations for goalkeeper Tom Wolters, midfielder Matt Vlasich and forward Sam Young, thinks academy defections could hurt his club's depth.
Newcomer Hanover will be one of the smallest schools in the division, yet figures to be a top contender. Hanover graduates 12 seniors, but has talent waiting in the wings. Each season a new senior class takes the driver's seat. The Class of 2013 is led by Ian Strohbehn, last season's leading scorer, four-year varsity veteran Brendan Barth and keeper Duncan Piper.
Five Marauders played with the Seacoast Academy, but opted to play for Hanover this autumn.
Perennial power Pinkerton of Derry graduated 10 key members from a 2011 final four team, but returns five players with prior starting experience. Defender Brian Kling, forwards Owen Murray and Josh Johnston, along with midfielder Ryan Williams look ready to assume leadership.
Londonderry, which lost to Central in the 2011 title game with a junior-dominated roster, will be a contender again this season.
With Hanover and Bedford departed, the landscape has changed in Division II.
Lebanon should be in the hunt despite graduating nine starters and 14 players overall from last season's Division II runner-up. The Raiders play a team-oriented style. Eighteen players scored last season, including returning veteran starters Ryan White, G.W. Wells-Bogue, Jeff Purdy and forward Evan O'Reilly, who started a handful of games.
'I am excited about the season. A challenge to be sure, but I love the way the guys seem willing to dig in and battle to try and live up to the standard that's been set by the teams before them,' said Raiders skipper Rob Johnstone. The Lebanon standard is eight straight seasons with at least 10 wins.
Hollis/Brookline returns plenty of speed from its semifinal team, and looks to be a contender. Goffstown's roster includes 11 seniors, including four-year veterans Ryan Sharby and Riley Ellis, each of whom stepped away from academy teams to remain Grizzlies.
Souhegan of Amherst returns five starters with enough talent and savvy to contend. Trinity of Manchester has seven starters back, including Jacob Zimmerman, who netted 10 goals. Sophomore midfielder Ian Brenner, a transfer from Londonderry, should make an immediate impact.
Though many believe undefeated 2011 champion Bow has a good chance to repeat, the Falcons, who lost three players to academy teams, will dress 14 varsity rookies on opening day. Senior scorers Dan Crisman, who tallied 33 goals last year, is back along with junior keeper Jordan Birtz, who surrendered just three goals over the final 15 games last season, Kearsarge of Sutton keeper Casey Laughinghouse stopped two penalty kicks in a quarterfinal loss to Bow last fall, should keep the Cougars in a lot of games.
Belmont basically returns everyone from a tourney-tested team.
Campbell of Litchfield owns great scoring potential with tops scorers Ian Hutchinson and Ben Billings back.
Of course Gilford and Hopkinton are always in the mix. Fall Mountain of Langdon, runner-up Raymond, Somersworth, Pelham and Laconia should contend.
Two-time defending champ Wilton-Lyndeborough graduated seven players.
Runner-up Sunapee looks poised to make another run. Senior back Everett Simon leads a strong and deep Derryfield of Manchester squad looking to get back to the title game. Up north, Gorham lost its backfield but retained second-year keeper Tyler Sanschagrin. Twenty-goal scorer Hunter Lamberston is back for his senior season.
Littleton and Profile return plenty of key players and Lisbon is always in the running.
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Eric Emmerling may be reached at email@example.com.