Defense is the prevailing theme heading into the semifinal round of the four schoolboy soccer tournaments today.
"To get this far you have to defend well," said Manchester Central head coach Chris LaBerge.
Stellos Stadium in Nashua (Division I), Bill Ball Stadium in Exeter (Division II), Merrimack Valley of Penacook (Division III) and Laconia High (Division IV) will serve as host sites for the semifinal games beginning at 4 p.m.
In Division I, third-ranked and two-time defending state champion Central (15-2-1) will meet second-ranked Alvirne of Hudson (16-2-0) at 4 p.m. and top-ranked Hanover (17-0-1) and fourth-ranked Concord (14-2-2) clash at 6 p.m. During the regular season Central beat Alvirne 2-0 and Hanover and Concord battled to a scoreless tie.
"Hanover reached the finals last year and returned nearly the whole team," said LaBerge. "They have all the positions covered, really have no weaknesses and are clearly the team to beat. Having said that, I do believe the other three teams have a legitimate shot of winning the state title as well."
LaBerge said Concord can beat Hanover. "Like their regular season game, the longer Concord can prevent Hanover from scoring, the chance of Concord getting a late goal and winning increases. Concord has had problems scoring all year, but they just need one to put Hanover on its heels."
Central is one win away from becoming the first Class L/Division I team to earn a championship finals berth five straight seasons. To do it, it must get by an Alvirne team that isn't getting the same attention as the other three teams.
"It seems they're not getting much respect, but we certainly will be giving it to them," said LaBerge. "This may be Alvirne's best opportunity to win the title and we know they're going to go all out. Instead of a team with superstars, Alvirne is a team of hard working players who know their role and do it well."
LaBerge confirmed Wednesday that Little Green forward Sam Binogono will serve a one-game suspension today. He was assessed his third yellow card of the season for taking off his shirt following Central's 1-0 quarterfinal win against Pinkerton Academy of Derry. LaBerge said he would be eligible to play in the championship game if Central beats Alvirne.
Hanover coach Rob Grabill said of his team's scoreless tie with Concord, "One team will break that tie finally. We're tickled to be in the final four for the second year in a row. We want to play as well as we can because Concord is a very good team."
Hanover got sophomore Asa Berolzheimerm back for Sunday's 4-1 quarterfinal win over TImberlane. He had missed three games.
Hanover has three scoring seniors in Rocco Linehan, Dan Hazlett and Xavier Tchana, but Grabill said, "It's funny, with all the seniors we have, it's this little sophomore who makes us go."
The Division II semifinals features second-ranked Hollis/Brookline (15-2) and third-ranked Pembroke (15-2-1) playing at 4 p.m. followed by defending champion Windham (15-2) and fourth-ranked Oyster River (14-2-2) of Durham at 6 p.m. During the regular season, Windham defeated Oyster River 2-1 and Hollis/Brookline defeated Pembroke 2-1.
Pembroke coach Peter Bisson is fully aware Hollis/Brookline registered six straight shutouts to close out the regular season.
"Hollis/Brookline had a stingy defense and they'll make you work for it," said Bisson. "We've got to find a way to create more scoring opportunities."
In Division III, 14th-ranked Sanborn (11-8) of Kingston will challenge two-time defending state champion Bow (16-1-1) in the 4 p.m. game. Top-ranked Hopkinton (17-0-1) and fourth-ranked Prospect Mountain (14-2-2) of Alton meet at 6 p.m. Bow defeated Sanborn 3-1 during the regular season. Hopkinton and Prospect Mountain will collide for the first time today.
"We respect Bow," said Sanborn coach Al Magnusson whose team has already beaten No. 3 Gilford, No. 4 Prospect Mountain and No. 5 Raymond once this season. "We have 10 seniors and the chemistry is there. We've proven we can play and beat some of the top teams in our division. Right now our attitude is we're two wins away from winning a state title, the same as the other three teams left. We have as good a chance as they do."
Defending Division IV state champion Derryfield School (15-2-1) of Manchester will face 10th-ranked Profile (10-5-3) of Bethlehem at 4 p.m. and top-ranked Woodsville (16-1-1) battles fifth-ranked Sunapee (12-4-2) at 6 p.m. In both match-ups the teams didn't play during the regular season.