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August 28. 2014 10:07PM

NHIAA Girls' Soccer Preview: All eyes on Bedford, Exeter

Bedford's Asha Steele in action against Pinkerton last fall. (BRUCE PRESTON/UNION LEADER FILE)

The Scoop/Girls' Soccer

Division I -- 2013 champion: Bedford. Contenders: Exeter, Bedford, Pinkerton, Manchester Central, Londonderry, Bishop Guertin

Division II -- 2013 champion: Souhegan. Contenders: Souhegan, Portsmouth, Pembroke, Oyster River

Division III -- 2013 champion: Bow. Contenders: Belmont, Campbell, Hopkinton, Raymond

Division IV -- 2013 champion: Sunapee. Contenders: Woodsville, Derryfield, Wilton-Lyndeborough

Players to Watch: Casey Estey (Exeter), Katie Day (Exeter), Asha Steele (Bedford), Christina Campbell (Bedford), Alyssa Zajac (BG), Grace Tauriello (OR), Lennon Dobben-Annis (Portsmouth).

With eight starters returning from the squad that knocked off the No. 1 team in the nation last fall, the Bedford High School girls’ soccer team will be one of the favorites to win the Division I title this year.

Of course perennial power Exeter, which had won four straight titles, 42 games in a row and was ranked No. 1 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America before its 1-0 loss to Bedford in the championship last November, will be gunning to get back on top as well.

Those two teams don’t meet until the last game of the regular season on Oct. 23. It’s a long season until then and both have their work cut out for them as they are the top dogs everybody will be looking to take down.

“I think so,” Bedford coach Michelle Winning said when asked if she thinks her team will be a target for others this season. “I think we would have that even if we didn’t have eight starters back.”

One of those eight starters back for the Bulldogs is senior midfielder Asha Steele, who scored the only goal in the win over the Blue Hawks.

She is part of a good balance at every position returning for Bedford. On defense it has senior fullback Christina Campbell and in goal there is Brooke Barrett.

Entering the season with a talented squad as well as a title will bring out the best in all of the Bulldogs’ opponents.

“I think every game is going to be a tough game,” Winning said.

Exeter also returns a group that will be looking to regain its throne. Leading that list are Katie Day and All-American Casey Estey, who had 38 goals in 19 games.

The Blue Hawks also have good balance returning in their lineup with Korynne Provenzano and Day on defense, Megan Defeo in net, Elise Leavitt and Taylor O’Donnell in the midfield, as well as Anna Vogt up front with Estey.

Other teams to watch in Division I are Pinkerton Academy of Derry, Londonderry, Manchester Central and Bishop Guertin of Nashua, which lost to Exeter in the semifinals last year.

The Cardinals have reloaded and are hoping to make it a little further this year. They are led by Alyssa Zajac (Senior, defense), Kiley Deignan (Junior, midfield), Marie LaPlante (junior, forward), Marissa Burns (sophomore, defense), Grace Linnehan (junior, forward), Meg Kerutis (senior, defense) and Mykalia Elliott (senior, forward).

Division II

With two seniors returning from ACL injuries and a group of seven talented sophomores, Oyster River of Durham will look to rebound from a 7-8-2 season.

The Bobcats will look to challenge the likes of defending champ Souhegan and runner-up Pembroke, as well as Seacoast rivals Portsmouth and St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover.

“The young defense has incredible speed, intense passion, and hard tackling,” said veteran coach Lynda Nelson, now in her 20th season with the team. “Our midfield is strong this season with several key returning players fulfilling the same roles as last year with one more season under them.”

The three seniors leading the way for OR are goalie Kristen Walker, midfielder Grace Tauriello and utility player Desiree LaPanne.

Just down the road from Durham, the Clippers are hoping to build off last year’s success.

Portsmouth finished the regular season 15-1 but lost in the quarterfinals to Pembroke.

They have a strong core of seniors back including Lennon Dobben-Annis (forward), Lizzy Rice (defense), Ashleigh LaPorta (midfield), Charley Prevost (forward), Marika Nawrock (midfield), Claudia Waddingham (defense), Alexx Nawrocki (defense), Maggie Getman (midfield) and Julie Mcnabb (defense).

Division III, IV

Bow is the reigning state champ in Division III and will be one of the elite teams in the league again.

After a 20-0 season last year, the Falcons reload with a strong group looking to keep the winning ways going. Included in that group are Brie Achorn, Leeanna Cmar, Janna Corsetti, Taylor Morrison, Lilly Naimie, Maddie Preston, Lauren Scarpetti, Maddie Cheney, Julia Currier, Caitlyn Keenan, Gianna Celenza and Maggie Vogt.

Some of the other teams who should make a run deep into the playoffs are Belmont, Campbell of Litchfield, Hopkinton and Raymond.

In Division IV, the champion is Sunapee, which beat Woodsville on penalty kicks in the title game last year. Look for both teams to be competitive once again this year along with Derryfield of Manchester and Wilton-Lyndeborough.

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