MILFORD -- IT’S BEEN a series of challenges for new Milford girls’ soccer coach Russ Matthews.
The defending Division II champions graduated Gatorade National High School Athlete of the year Morgan Andrews (now making waves as a freshman at Notre Dame) and standout defensive player Dina Pitsas (who heads into her freshman year of basketball at Springfield College).
Those losses were going to be tough to overcome. What Matthews and the Spartans did not expect in his first year at the helm was the other bumps in the road that have Milford out to a 1-6-0 record to open the year.
“It’s huge,” Matthews said of the challenge so far. “Our starting keeper (Casey Phelps) is out for the season with a torn labrum. One of our fullbacks who would have been one of our captains (daughter Kaitlyn Matthews) is out with a torn ACL. We lost a lot of good players that graduated last year, injuries have happened, we brought up some JV players. We’re juggling people around. We have six freshmen on the varsity squad. There’s a lot of challenges.”
And with the defending state champion label still firmly applied, opponents aren’t going to feel bad for Milford.
“I think it’s hard because they know who we are and what we’re capable of but then they don’t think about us losing all of our seniors and not having any seniors this year,” said junior captain Morgan Stephens. “The oldest players on our team are still 16 and we’re playing against 18-year-olds. It’s hard, but we fight as hard as we can.”
Matthews said he doesn’t feel like the team has been out of many games. The 5-1 loss to Goffstown and 5-0 loss to Hollis-Brookline that opened the season gave way to closer games, including a 2-0 win over John Stark of Weare.
“In the beginning, those first two games especially, we made some simple mistakes. I think the girls are really getting it (now),” Matthews said. “I don’t feel like we’ve been run out of any games. We’ve been right there. It’s just young mistakes.”
Junior Becca Cleary has stepped up in goal, making the move from a field player to goalkeeper.
“She has no formal goalie training at all,” Matthews said. “She comes in and says she’ll do it and she’s come a long way.”
The good news for Milford is that the toughest part of the schedule appears to be behind the Spartans. Putting together a run is not out of the question. And even if the season is labeled one for rebuilding, the renovation shouldn’t be a long one with a strong core of underclassmen ready to step in as seniors next year.Games to watch: A big boys’ battle is on the schedule today as Hanover (7-0, six shutouts) hosts Salem (5-1) at 6 p.m. Senior Daniel Hazlett of Hanover has eight goals this season and 34 in his career, seventh all-time at the school and moving up the charts.
Mark your calendars for Tuesday when a major girls’ clash will take place when Exeter hosts Bedford. Not only are the four-time defending champion Blue Hawks undefeated (6-0) and winners of 30 in a row, they are also ranked No. 2 in the nation by the National Soccer Coaches of America. Bedford is off to a 6-0-1 start.
Girls’ top five: 1. Exeter (see above). 2. Bow (7-0-0 and has yet to be scored on). 3. Portsmouth (7-0-0). 4. Belmont (8-0-0, best record in the state). 5. Pinkerton (6-0-0). Honorable mentions: Windham (6-0-0), Bedford (6-0-1), Alvirne (6-0-1), Derryfield (5-0-0), Woodsville (5-0-0).
Boys’ top five: 1. Hanover (last year’s Division I runner-up is 7-0-0 with a 26-2 scoring edge). 2. Derryfield (6-0-0). 3. Stevens (5-1-0, only loss coming at the hands of DII Lebanon). 4. Hopkinton (6-0-0). 5. Bow (7-1-0). Honorable mentions: Salem (5-1-0), Pinkerton (5-1-0), Portsmouth (5-1-1), Colebrook (5-0-0). Hollis/Brookline (6-1-0), Wilton-Lyndeborough (7-1-0).
Ian Clark’s Corner Kicks appears every Thursday in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Coaches with stats, news and notes to share can email firstname.lastname@example.org.