NHIAA Boys' Soccer Preview
Central, Bow boys seek third straight soccer crowns
From left are Keegan LaBerge, Head Coach Chris LaBerge, and Sam Binogono, during Manchester Central soccer practice on Thursday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
'The Scoop': Boys' soccerTrends: The continued defection of players from the high school ranks to academy soccer programs means some teams are playing without their best players. Pinkerton Academy was hit especially hard, losing five players to academy clubs.
Players to watch: Hanover senior Daniel Hazlett (13 goals, 10 assists last year) will lead a strong Marauders team in Division I. In the DIII ranks, Derryfield School of Manchester has Austin Hammer as a top scoring threat.
Teams on the rise: Winnacunnet (led by four senior captains with three years experience each) in Division I. John Stark of Weare in Division II.
The boys' soccer schedule kicks off on Friday with 30 games.
In Division I and III, two-time champions are in search of No. 3 as Manchester Central and Bow begin title defenses. Division II champ Windham and Division IV winner Derryfield of Manchester enter the season as defending champs.
"Soccer has come a long way. Teams are loaded with just soccer players now. The days of just putting athletes out there is long past," said Manchester Central head coach Chris LaBerge. "Now kids play year-round and there are some really good soccer players. It's a little more interesting now with the talent level so high."
Central knocked off Hanover 2-1 in the state championship and a repeat of that matchup wouldn't be a surprise to many.
"Central and Hanover (are favorites) by far," said Pinkerton head coach Kerry Boles. "Central just seems to reload. Hanover stepped into Division I last year and held their own and I don't see that changing."
"I don't think we're a favorite. I think Hanover will be right there as a favorite to win it and I think Londonderry will be strong again," LaBerge said. "They were excellent last year. I wouldn't say those two teams are better then us, but I'd give them a little edge because they have more returning talent throughout the lineup."
Concord is expected to field a strong team, with Boles' Pinkerton squad and Exeter counted among the top teams as well.
"I think Londonderry is going to be tough and I think Winnacunnet is going to surprise some teams," Boles said. "I think Keene and (Manchester) Memorial are going to take a step forward."
Defending champion Windham graduated nine seniors from the team that beat Hollis/Brookline in a shootout in the state title game.
But the Jaguars are still expected to be among the top teams in the division yet again.
Stark itself is a team that bears watching. With 14 returning players, the Generals will have an experienced core.
Division III has the largest pool of teams in the state with 28 schools. That leaves the potential for surprise teams at a high level.
Amid all that traffic, Bow's quest for a third consecutive championship remains a realistic one. The Falcons are projected to be one of the top teams in the Division yet again, with Hopkinton and a few other contenders hot on their heels.
Derryfield coach Jeff Cousineau is optimistic about his team's chances heading into the season with the target on its back.
"Those three guys come with a ton of experience. The whole team is built around them," Cousineau said.