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Joe Duball's H.S. Soccer: Lancers are on the rise

September 19. 2018 8:52PM

THIS YEAR’S Division I girls’ soccer chatter seems to circle back to Manchester Central, Bedford and Exeter, and there’s no reason not to start or end any title talk with them. One or two of those three clubs made it to the D-I championship game nine of the last 10 years.

That kind of pedigree is quite the hurdle when it comes to any other team’s title aspirations, but it’s yet to stop Londonderry. The Lancers have a track record of their own, having won at least 10 games in each of the last six seasons, and are living up to standards so far again this season at 6-0.

While Londonderry has yet to win a title in girls’ soccer, the club’s sustained success year after year ranks it among the models of consistency in the state. Lancers coach Derek Dane, now in his 11th season, is conscious how fortunate he’s been.

“A large number of our girls play at a high level throughout the year,” Dane said. “The system of play we use makes it easy to slot players in and out of different roles. Once players can understand a role, we can get going forward with things pretty quickly.”

Dane’s best current example of a player making her way through Londonderry’s ranks is junior fullback Lea Baum, whom Dane now entrusts to manage the Lancers’ back line.

“As a freshman, she played alongside a senior and was exposed to what we do next to someone with experience,” Dane said. “Last year she played with a senior again and here Lea is as a junior now and we expect her to be in charge like those seniors next to her were. That’s just one part of a really easy transition we’ve had here with this group.”

Given the strong system and having 12 returning varsity players back in the fold, the Lancers’ undefeated roll so far this season is no real surprise.

What’s opened Dane’s eyes is his team’s improved play late in games. Londonderry finished 10-6 last season, but Dane cited each of his team’s losses came at the hands of its own errors at the end of games.

“We did not know how to close out or finish a game, and we talked a lot about it last year, too,” Dane said. “You have a clock on the field and know how much time is left. It shouldn’t be a surprise and girls needed to know how to manage it. I believe this group understands we need to finish, and so far we’ve actually even done it before halftime.”

Half of Londonderry’s games have been over by intermission this season as it’s led by four goals or more in those contests. Scoring is of no issue for the Lancers, who have scored at least five goals in all but one game and even hung 14 goals in a win over Spaulding of Rochester on Sept. 13.

Dane credited the strong attack to his front four, which features juniors Olivia Stowell, Alyssa Anderson, Darby Dupuis and freshman Ashley Manor. The first three names have played varsity soccer since they were freshmen while Manor has jumped into varsity soccer headfirst, but Dane said Manor is playing above her age due to her own skills and the veteran trio she’s working with. The quartet’s success hinges on the athleticism they all share.

“Our front four are very mobile and very fast,” Dane said. “All of them are playing in attacking roles, which means they’re constantly moving and changing position. That’s an annoyance for a defense, having a player you’re marking just run across the field so fast. Now think about us having four players doing that at the same time. … If you pause for a second to let one of those players run at you then they’re going to run by you.”

Dane also mentioned Sammy Leclair and Bella Cossette as keys to Londonderry’s success as the pair has done well playing a two-way soccer out of the midfield.

Despite the all the positive results, the greatest challenges still await Londonderry in its remaining schedule. The Lancers were set to play fellow undefeated Bedford on Tuesday before rain pushed that game to this Monday. The rescheduling creates a six-day gauntlet that features a rivalry game with Pinkerton on Saturday, Bedford on Monday and Manchester Central on Thursday.

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NASHUA NORTH boys’ soccer coach Josh Downing admitted he didn’t imagine the Titans starting 5-0 as they have this season, but wouldn’t go as far as saying he didn’t know they were capable of it. The third-year coach knew there was potential not by the combined eight wins for North over the last two seasons, but from the 21-1 mark Downing strung together over two years with the majority of Nashua North’s juniors and seniors while he coached them at Pennichuck Middle School.

“Almost every one of those kids from those two years came up to North,” Downing said. “After I took over here (following Pennichuck’s 2015 season), I knew those were going to be some of our strong players down the line.”

The job opening at North prior to 2016 came at a perfect time for Downing, whose sons, Tyler and Ryan, were just beginning their high school soccer careers as a sophomore and freshman. There have been plenty of instances in NHIAA soccer of parents coaching their children, but Downing is happy he’s made it this far with his sons.

“I’ve told them ever since coaching in middle school that if there was ever a moment that it wasn’t working, then I’d immediately step back,” Downing said. “As much as I enjoy coaching, I want them to have a good playing experience. But there’s never once been an issue. I have high expectations for them, but I can’t say I don’t hold the same for all these kids.”

North has already matched its win total for all of last year and has done so by the skin of its teeth. Three of North’s wins this season have come by one goal and the Titans have scored more than two goals in a game just once.

Downing believed his offense would be the strength heading into the season, but it is North’s defense that has found its bearings first.

“It’s funny because that was the part of this team that I went in saying ‘Well, I don’t know. We’ll see,’” said Downing, who added that Ryan Downing was the only returning fullback this season. “Stephen Norris has been great since jumping in goal and the defensive line we’ve had has been meshing well since our first game.

“I’ve always had the philosophy of preventing a goal is as good as scoring one. I just hold all our guys accountable for playing both sides of the ball.”

Fullbacks Ryan Downing, Tony Jones, Mark Flaherty and Quinn Hilger have stymied opposing offenses while none of them has left the pitch for more than few minutes this season. Maybe the biggest boost has come from sophomore goalie Norris, who has seized a starting role and played exceptionally well since taking over after an injury to North’s original starting keeper.

North’s lack of offense out of the chute stems from hesitancy, which Josh Downing is looking for his players to rid themselves of sooner rather than later.

“We’ve had opportunities at quality scoring bids that we just haven’t pulled the trigger on,” Josh Downing said. “We need to realize that those are shots we need to get off and then follow to the net. We don’t have that one kid to rely on for goals, but instead really just work with good possession.”

Sami Dieu Merci and Colin McMahon have keyed what the Titans have produced offensively, but Josh Downing hopes to see Tyler Downing, Joey Morse and Thiago Ferreira add more from the midfield going forward.

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HOOKSETT ATHLETES are spread out between NHIAA schools without a high school in town. That separation is not stopping Hooksett soccer players from continuing to share a common thread.

Three Hooksett natives are captaining their respective high school teams this fall. The trio is Londonderry’s Tyler Van Avery, Manchester Central’s Max Kalampalikis and Pinkerton’s Alex Rust. They not only represent Hooksett on their high school teams, but the trio also plays for Hooksett Alliance, the town’s club soccer team.

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WINDHAM BOYS’ soccer has locked itself in as my sleeper pick this season. Many will ask ‘How is an 0-6 club a sleeper?” Well, folks, it’s all in the numbers.

The Jaguars have opened up their inaugural Division I campaign with four one-goal losses and a pair of two-goal defeats. That’s tough luck, but fortunes get tougher when you see Windham has scored just one goal through six games.

I can’t imagine a Mike Hachey-coached team not figuring out a way to get the ball in the back of the net here sooner rather than later. Add that to the top-notch play of goalie Preston Neal and the Jaguars defense thus far and you have a team that no one will be happy to see in the postseason or in regular-season games with playoff seeding on the line.

High School Soccer appears Thursday in the New Hampshire Union Leader during the season. To reach Joe Duball, e-mail