All eyes on unbeaten Exeter as NHIAA girls' soccer tourney starts
It would be disrespectful to say Bishop Guertin of Nashua, Pinkerton Academy of Derry and Bedford are playing for second place in the Division I girls’ soccer tournament. But numbers don’t lie when it comes to Exeter High, ranked No. 1 in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
The 17-0 Blue Hawks have won six of the last seven Class L/Division I state titles. That streak is surpassed only by Manchester West, which won eight state titles in nine years from 1985 to 1993.
This year Exeter has outscored opponents 69-5 and posted 14 shutouts. The Blue Hawks enter today’s 6 p.m. semifinal contest at Stellos Stadium in Nashua against fourth-ranked Bishop Guertin (12-4-1) with eight straight shutout wins.
Still in keeping with the spirit of that old cliche “you still have to play the games”, Bedford coach Michelle Winning said no one is conceding the state title to Exeter.
“Any team is beatable on any given day,” said Winning. “Sooner or later, someone is going to beat Exeter.”
If Bishop Guertin doesn’t do it today, the winner of the 4 p.m. semifinal game between third-ranked Bedford (13-2-2) and second-seeded Pinkerton (14-2-1) will have its shot against the powerful Blue Hawks in the state final.
During the regular season, Exeter has beaten BG and Bedford by 3-0 counts and toppled Pinkerton, 3-1.
Winning said her team is focusing on Pinkerton, which beat the Bulldogs 1-0 during the regular season off a corner kick with two minutes left in the contest.
“It’s a strong two-three matchup,” said Winning. “We create scoring opportunities, but against Pinkerton we haven’t been able to finish them off. Hopefully that changes in Nashua.”
Bill Ball Stadium in Exeter will host the Division II semifinals today. Third-ranked Souhegan of Amherst (14-3-1) battles seventh-seeded Hanover (10-3-5) at 4 p.m. and fifth-ranked Coe-Brown of Northwood plays ninth-seeded Pembroke (12-6-0) at 6 p.m.
Pembroke and Coe-Brown split a pair of 1-0 decisions on the road during the regular season. Hanover defeated Souhegan 1-0 in Amherst. In the quarterfinals Pembroke stunned No. 1 Portsmouth 2-0 and Hanover upset No. 2 Windham, 2-1.
“It’s been a wild tournament so far, but if you speak to the coaches around the league, it’s not surprising to them,” said Pembroke head coach Jessica Croft. “We all knew entering the season there was a lot of parity. We have a very competitive division.”
Merrimack Valley of Penacook is hosting the Division III tournament today. Top-ranked Bow (18-0-0), which received three honorable mention votes in the latest NSCAA, poll meets fifth-ranked Raymond (14-4-0) at 6 p.m. In the 4 p.m. opener, seventh-ranked Campbell of Litchfield (13-4-1) plays third-ranked Hopkinton (14-2-2).
“Nothing has changed from last year,” said Raymond coach Tim Brusso. “It’s the same four teams and the same semifinal pairings. We know each other quite well.”
Hopkinton beat Bow 1-0 for the state title last season. “We played Bow twice in six days this year, losing 1-0 and 2-1 in overtime,” said Brusso. “Bow is a very good team. We know them well and hopefully the bounce of the ball will go our way this time.
“Last year the Hopkinton and Campbell semifinal game went down to the wire. You can flip a coin in that matchup again.”
Laconia will host the Division IV tournament today. Third-ranked Sunapee (15-2-1) battles No. 2 Derryfield of Manchester (17-1) at 4 p.m. and top-ranked Woodsville (17-0-1) meets No. 4 Newmarket (14-4) at 6 p.m. The Mules finished runner-up last year, losing to Littleton in the state finals, 1-0.