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NHIAA: Field hockey tournaments look wide open

Special to the Union Leader

October 16. 2017 10:15PM

Pinkerton Academy of Derry is the top seed. Timberlane of Plaistow is the defending champ.

Let the NHIAA state Division I field hockey tournament begin.

“We’re in good spirits,” said Astros coach Katie Van Nostrand, whose club is 13-1. “The girls feel good going in. We ended the year with good momentum.”

Astros goalie Khaliyah Ellis has 11 shutouts to lead the state, and Emma Davis has 11 goals to lead the defense-first team.

Timberlane (12-2) returns a lot of last year’s squad. Kylie Fitzpatrick brings in 21 goals and junior Sarah Padellaro has 10 for the Owls, whose two losses came to the other top teams in Division I, second seed Winnacunnet of Hampton (12-2) and Pinkerton.

“We’re in a good spot,” said Owls coach Mim Ryan. “We’ve prepared nicely, and I think the girls have peaked at the right time.”

Pinkerton, Winnacunnet, Timberlane and No. 4 Bishop Guertin all have first-round byes before hosting quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon. First-round games are set for Wednesday.

With 57 goals this season, the Owls offense is ready to face stronger competition. But, Ryan notes, it’s a wide-open playoff field this season. After winning the state title as the sixth seed last season, Timberlane would know.

“It’s an open tourney,” she said. “Our last four games were against some really tough teams. It’s good later in the season, not as much getting a look at those teams, but facing that competition.”

Manchester Central, the sixth seed, looks like a possible dark horse. The Little Green were inconsistent at times this season, but have knocked off good teams such as Keene and Merrimack, and tied Winnacunnet at the end of the season.

“Look at how many ties and one- and two-goal games there have been in this division,” said Central coach Bill Larkins, whose club hosts No. 11 Exeter on Wednesday. “What does that tell you?”

Dover can be seen as a wild card, having beaten Pinkerton and playing to 1-0 losses against Timberlane, Winnacunnet, and Guertin, and tying Central. The Green Wave were inconsistent all season, and barely made the postseason with losses in three of their last four games.

Division II

If Division I is wide open, Division II might be even more so.

Souhegan of Amherst is primed at the top seed, but Windham and Derryfield of Manchester are also ridiculously competitive. The Jaguars and Sabers split in the regular season, but if they see each other again, it would be in the title game.

“Having that loss, and knowing how it felt, we know we don’t want to feel that again,” said Sabers coach Kelli Braley. “We want to stay focused and control what we can. One game at a time, and if we play well, the rest will take care of itself.”

Senior Abby Cranney has had a strong campaign with 20 goals, and goalie Izzy Anton has played every minute of every game, and allowed just eight goals all season.

The Jaguars and Derryfield tied at the end of the season, and that deadlock is a nice metaphor for the parity of the division.

Hanover and Kingswood of Wolfeboro in the No. 4-5 battle might be the most intriguing of the quarterfinals. Both teams have had inconsistencies, but have played well overall. Hanover especially, at 10-2-2, has quietly been playing excellent.

Sixth-seeded Kennett could make some noise as well, facing an 11th-seeded Hollis/Brookline team that barely got in. Kennett, with a win, would face Derryfield in the quarters, and that could be competitive; the Eagles lost twice to Derryfield, 2-1. A third match will have plenty of familiarity.