Four boys' soccer titles on the line Sunday
Hanover boys' soccer coach Rob Grabill is used to winning. When he took over the program in 2006, the Marauders were defending Class I champs. Over the next five years, they won five more titles, the first four in Division I, the last after Class I became Division II.
It's been three years since Hanover last won a championship, but the Marauders, now competing in Division I, are back in a final for the second straight year. Unbeaten (18-0-1), seeded No. 1 and coming off a 1-0 victory over Concord in the semifinals Thursday night, Hanover will face Alvirne High of Hudson (17-2-0) today at 6:45 p.m. in the last of four boys' soccer championships at Exeter High School's Bill Ball Stadium.
In the earlier games, third-seeded Derryfield School of Manchester faces No. 5 Sunapee for the Division IV title at noon, top-ranked Hopkinton plays No. 2 Bow for the Division III crown at 2:25 p.m., and No. 1 Windham takes on second-seeded Hollis/Brookline for the Division II championship at 4:30 p.m.
Hanover is led on offense by a trio of seniors: Xavier Tchana, Daniel Hazlett and Rocco Linehan. The three are responsible for 44 of the Marauders' 62 goals this season.
"I think Hazlett is the best player in the state" said Grabill. "Tchana is our leading goal scorer, and Linehan is such and athletic playmaker in the middle."
Equally impressive is Hanover's defense, backed by senior goalkeeper Alex Bynum. In 18 games this season the Marauders have recorded 14 shutouts and allowed only 5 goals.
Hanover suffered heavy graduation losses from the team that lost to Manchester Central, 2-1, in last year's final but made it back with help from younger players who thrived on increased playing time.
"The turnover created opportunities for some younger players to show what they can do" said Grabill.
One of those players was Jamie Dinoulas, who scored the only goal against Concord in the semis.
Grabill credits strong youth soccer programs in the Upper Valley, such as the Lightning Soccer Club, for supplying skilled players for his team.
It also helps to have a top notch college program in your backyard.
"We watch Dartmouth games," Grabill said. "We see great soccer close up. We go to their camps."
Hanover graduate Brendan Barth is currently a freshman on the Big Green squad, and Hazlett is considering attending Dartmouth, as well.
Hanover defeated Alvirne, 4-0, when they played back in September. But Grabill does not expect an easy game against the Broncos.
"Sunday's game will be nothing like that" he said. "They've won 14 straight since that September game. We've got a great deal of respect for Alvirne."
Alvirne is coming off a come-from-behind, 3-2 victory over Central in overtime. Raul Stedile tied the game in extra time off a corner kick by Robert Younghusband, and Kyle Salucco booted home the game-winner seven minutes into OT.
No. 2 Hollis/Brookine vs. No. 1 Windham
These teams also played for last year's Division II championship, a game Windham won in penalty kicks. Both teams are 16-2-0. Windham beat Hollis/Brookline 4-2 when the teams met in Windham during the regular season. Last year's state championship was the first for the Windham program.
No. 2 Bow vs. No. 1 Hopkinton
Bow (17-1-1) is looking to win its second Division III championship in as many seasons, but will have to hand Hopkinton (18-0-1) its first loss to do so. This will be the third meeting between the teams this season. Hopkinton posted a 2-0 victory at home, and the teams played to a 1-1 tie in Bow.
No. 5 Sunapee vs. No. 3 Derryfield
Derryfield, last year's Division IV champion, advanced by beating 10th-seeded Profile of Bethlethem in Thursday's semifinals. The Cougars (16-2-1) had a 4-3 advantage in penalty kicks following a scoreless game through two overtimes. Sunapee (13-4-2) moved with a 2-1 victory over top-seeded Woodsville. Senior midfielder Nick Skarin scored Sunapee's second goal with 41 seconds to play.Skarin capped the scoring on a penalty kick when these teams played to a 2-2 tie during the regular season.