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October 22. 2012 9:58PM

NHIAA soccer tournament: Who will rise to the top?


Bedford's Abby Kokkinos, left, and Exeter's Casey Scott go for the ball during the first half of their match up hosted by Bedford High School Tuesday. (MARK BOLTON/UNION LEADER)
It's only fitting Bedford, Londonderry, Hanover and Manchester Central earned one of the top four soccer boys' playoff berths in Division I this season.

“If you look at the recent past, Londonderry and Central played for the state title last season,” said Exeter head coach Jim Tufts. “Over in Division II, Bedford won the state title last year and Hanover won the previous six state titles. Those four teams are highly skilled, well coached and the cream of the crop this season. It's very realistic to think one of them will be holding the winning trophy.”

The boys' soccer tournament in Divisions I, II and IV begin Thursday at the sites of the higher seeds. There are four prelim games today in Division III beginning at 3 p.m.

Bow returns as the Division III defending state champ while Wilton-Lyndeborough will be trying to nail down its third straight Division IV state title.

The girls' soccer tournament in all four divisions begins Wednesday at 3 p.m.

Exeter shows no signs of relinquishing its hold on the Division I title in girls' soccer. The four-time defending state champion Blue Hawks are undefeated at 16-0 and have outscored their opponents by an overwhelming 80-14 margin.

They did get a scare on Sept. 13, beating fifth-ranked Pinkerton Academy of Derry, 1-0, in Exeter.

Can anyone beat Exeter?

In 2003 fourth-seeded Manchester Central, under head coach Peter Lally, knocked off undefeated Manchester West in the semifinals and went on to win the state title.

“Crazy things can happen in the tournament,” said Lally. “Make no mistake about it. Exeter has a terrific program. To beat them, you have to play a near-perfect game and hope at the same time that Exeter has a hiccup or two along the way. If you happen to take a lead on Exeter, you can't suddenly play not to lose. You have to play to win and some teams with little or no tournament experience tend to play not to lose.”

Lally said tournament games tend to be tighter because it's a one-game elimination format.

Lally said if Exeter wins the state title this year, giving the Blue Hawks six in seven years, people can start making the comparisons to Manchester West, which won 15 state titles, including eight in nine seasons under former mentor Jack Amero.

“West is still tops with 15 Division I titles and five runner-up plaques, but Exeter would be in the discussion,” said Lally.

Souhegan looks to defend its title this season in Division II. Bow is the returning champ in Division III and Sunapee, which snapped Derryfield's three-year reign last season, is the reigning champ in Division IV.

jhabib@unionleader.com

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