NHIAA Boys' Soccer Preview
Central, Bow boys seek third straight soccer crowns
Teams in search of a three-peat and teams on the rise will be the theme in NHIAA boys' soccer this season.
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.
Overall, the level of play remains on the rise.
"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."
LaBerge defers to Hanover and also calls Londonderry a strong contender.
"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."
Hanover graduated eight starters, but three players with strong offensive skill will be back in leading scorer Daniel Hazlett (13 goals, 10 assists), Rocco Linehan (11 goals, seven assists) and Xavier Tchana (10 goals, four assists).
"With three 10-goal scorers, we're feeling pretty optimisitic that we should be able to take care of things offensively," said Hanover coach Rob Grabill.
Concord is expected to field a strong team, with Boles' Pinkerton squad and Exeter counted among the top teams as well.
"There will be six or seven teams that will only lose two or three games and could win it all," LaBerge said. "It was wide-open last year and I think it is again this year. It's the teams that can handle the pressure that will be in it at the end."
Boles' lost five players to the academy soccer programs, so his outlook is a question mark.
"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.
"Lebanon will be up there. Oyster River will be strong. Windham, Hollis-Brookline, they'll be good," said John Stark of Weare head coach Jeff Vogt.
Stark itself is a team that bears watching. With 14 returning players, the Generals will have an experienced core.
"Six of them I have had since they were freshmen: goalie Mike Prindiville, forwards Camden Williams, Serge Boucher, Adam Carr, Ethan Rousch and Josh Morin," Vogt said. "They all had siginificant playing time last season. We're in pretty good shape. Most of what we lost was on defense."
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.
"Bow and Hopkinton are the upper echelon," said Gilford coach Dave Pinkham. "(Runner-up) Belmont lost a few kids, but they should be back again. Laconia will be one of the better teams and White Mountaints Regional (in Whitefield) is always a very competitive team."
Meanwhile, Pinkham's team (the 2010 state champion) will be young and what the coach calls a "work in progress" that he expects to get better as the year plays out.
Derryfield coach Jeff Cousineau is optimistic about his team's chances heading into the season with the target on its back.
"I think we're going to do pretty darn well," Cousineau said. "We obviously graduated some key players. We have a great group of kids returning, so I think we've been able to fill the spots and move forward."
Derryfield is led by senior tri-captains Jared Schoneberger, Austin Hammer (who scored the game-winning goal in the title game) and Tyler Zorn.
"Those three guys come with a ton of experience. The whole team is built around them," Cousineau said.
Littleton is expected to be a strong contender this year after ousting another expected upper tier team in Sunapee. Lisbon, which was 19-0 heading into the final against Derryfield, is expected to bounce back as well.
Other teams that could make some noise include Wilton-Lyndeborough and Newmarket.