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September 01. 2014 8:32PM

NHIAA Field Hockey Preview: Exeter, Pinkerton girls thinking big

Pinkerton's Kaylie Decosmo, right, will be among the leaders of the Astros as they seek a return to the top in Division I. (Bruce Taylor/Union Leader File)

The Scoop

Defending champs: Exeter (Division I), Windham (Division II) and Berlin (Division III).

Teams to watch: There are always new challengers ready to rise, but the top teams from last season should all be back in the hunt again.
-- Division I: Exeter, Pinkerton, Bishop Guertin, Londonderry.
-- Division II: Windham, Merrimack Valley, Lebanon, Milford.
-- Division III: Derryfield, Berlin, Hopkinton, Gilford.

Players to watch: Jordan Teixeira (Exeter), Kaylie DeCosmo (Pinkerton), Julie Downs (Berlin goalie), Cassidy Huckins (Merrimack Valley), Emily Perryman (Lebanon).

The 2013 NHIAA field hockey season was all about a changing of the guard. So what will 2014 bring?

The answer will begin to take shape today when the season opens with action in all three divisions.

Last season featured two first-time champions in Exeter in Division I and Windham in Division II and the ousting of a three-time defending champion in Division III when Berlin upset Derryfield School of Manchester.

Pinkerton Academy of Derry was the 2012 champion and returned to the title game in 2013, falling by a 2-1 score to Exeter.

The defending champion Blue Hawks have just two seniors on the team this season, Jordan Teixeira (forward) and Kelly Moran (midfield), who will act as team captains.

Exeter returns a solid core in junior forward Emma Brown, junior midfielders Olivia Linehan and Katrina Pietz and sophomore goalie Kate Pigsley.

“We have a strong underclassmen group, including freshmen, we are very excited about,” said Exeter head coach Deb Grott. “This entire program I have sitting in front of me wants to play field hockey.”

Meanwhile, the runner-up Astros have three senior captains, forward Kaylie DeCosmo, defender Erin Johnston and goaltender Jordan Dudley and all three were on the 2012 championship team.

“They know how it is to win. There are only four or five players from that championship team, so the kids from last year only know the feeling of losing the last game,” Pinkerton coach Jen Resmini said. “They’re all hungry, but they know it’s an uphill battle to get there.”

Resmini said she likes the work ethic of her team.

“This is a very hard-working group. They take the information and turn it into progress,” she said. “We’re building every practice.”

Resmini said she expects Bishop Guertin of Nashua and Londonderry to challenge Exeter at the top of the division.

Grott pointed to the Astros as a team to watch among others.

“Winnacunnet, Pinkerton, Timberlane, they’re always strong programs who produce very strong teams,” Grott said. “But you can never push aside the rest of the Division I contingent. They all play strong and on any given day, anything can happen.”

The race in Division II might be the most wide open of the three leagues.

Defending champion Windham remains the favorite, according coach Kim Kenney, whose Merrimack Valley squad was the DII runner-up in 2013.

“Windham is going to be very strong even though they lost their goalie (Kelsey Federico),” Kenney said. “They have a lot of depth and they return a lot of key players.”

Windham coach Amanda Ward says her team has a quiet confidence about it that she likes.

“There’s a buzz on the team. Their goal is to repeat and I think we have the means to do it,” she said. “But they’re humble and there’s an unassuming way about them. We know we have a big target on our backs but we’ll be up to the challenge.”

Kenney’s MV squad is expected to contend once again along with Lebanon, a team that Keeney agreed would be in the mix.

“Merrimack Valley and Lebanon are historically very good programs,” Ward said. “The thing I love about Division II is the feeling that on any given day, any team can win. That’s why I love being a DII team. It makes for great field hockey.”

Division III, the biggest of the three leagues with 22 teams, also had the biggest upset in 2013.

Len McCaigue’s Derryfield squad entered the championship game having won the previous three DIII titles and was undefeated at 17-0.

Not only that, but the Cougars and goalie Kate Johnson had not allowed a goal all season. Berlin went on to not only upset Derryfield, but did so by a 4-0 score.

Derryfield lost key players Lainee Shaughnessy, Berklee Vaillancourt, Theo O’Leary, Colbi Vaillancourt, Zoe PiSierra and Johnson to graduation, but the Cougars should be right back at the top of the heap once again thanks to a deep and experienced roster.

Nicole Arguin’s Berlin team will also be one to watch, backstopped by goaltender Julie Downs, who was just a freshman last year when she beat Derryfield and claimed her 12th shutout of the season.

The other two semifinalist teams from last year, Hopkinton and Gilford, are also expected to field strong teams once again this year.

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