MANCHESTER — You can make the case Derryfield School of Manchester is a scoring machine with 286 goals this season. But if you ask head coach Melissa Catenza, it’s still all about defense.
“Offense sets the tempo, but defense always sets the tone,” said Catenza who watched her undefeated top-ranked squad squelch fourth-ranked Laconia 13-6 in the semifinals of the NHIAA Division III Girls’ Lacrosse Tournament at Southern New Hampshire University Monday.
Something has to give at SNHU Thursday in the finals at 7 p.m. when the 17-0 Cougars meet second-ranked John Stark of Weare, a 9-7 victor over third-ranked Kearsarge of North Sutton in the other semifinal contest Monday. The Cougars and Generals (14-2) have never won a state title in girls’ lacrosse. Derryfield is making its first title appearance since 2005 and third overall. John Stark is playing in its first state title game.
“To me, it all comes down to hunger,” said Catenza. “Whoever is hungrier on Thursday will certainly have an edge.”
During the regular season, Laconia came the closest to toppling Derryfield, a 13-12 winner in the Lake City on May 21.
But with 15 minutes left in Monday’s game, Derryfield’s defense had held Laconia to just three goals.
“I can’t say enough about our defense,” said Catenza. “Our goalie, Cat Green (eight saves), was terrific as well as all our defenders. On offense, we were prepared for the triple and double teams and it just came down to us playing with patience. We never underestimated Laconia, never felt like we had control of this game until it was very late. They’re a talented, strong and quick team. We were just prepared for them and executed well on both ends of the field.”
Polly Carter set the tempo in the first half, scoring three of her game-high five goals in the first half. Brynn Polgrean tallied two of her four goals in the first half and Emma Garfield added one more for a 6-3 intermission lead.
Two goals from Helen Tautkus and one from Danielle Cote accounted for Laconia’s three first-half goals. After that, it was all Derryfield, which scored the first five goals of the second half for a commanding 11-3 bulge.
Garfield had two goals during that spree and Polgrean, Madison Kochanek and Carter contributed to that mini run.
Catenza noted that the senior leadership of Polgrean and Hannah Menakaya have proven to be instrumental this season.
“They’re the rock of our team,” said Catenza. “They’re always upbeat and their passion rubs off on everyone.”
On Thursday, Derryfield’s defense will be tested by John Stark junior Casey Poirier, who scored five goals and supported senior goalie Clarissa Foote’s 17-save effort against Kearsarge.
Kearsarge took the early 2-0 lead, thanks to goals from Eleanor Angus and Elizabeth Brooks. The Generals responded with four straight goals, two from Poirier and one each from Gianna Pezzulo and Elizabeth Brandt. Just 58 seconds before halftime, Brooks connected again, closing Kearsarge’s deficit to 4-3.
“It’s always about possession and early on, Kearsarge was winning the draws and ground balls,” said John Stark coach John Warner. “Casey had a very good game, but the difference today was our goalie, Clarissa. She made some key stops when we needed them the most.”
The Generals extended their halftime lead to 7-3 in the early moments of the second half. Danielle Galli, Poirier and Samantha Valcourt each scored an unassisted goal in a span of 57 seconds.
Kearsarge answered with three straight goals, but Poirier regained the momentum for John Stark, scoring the next two goals for a 9-6 lead with 8:23 to play.