Ian Clark's Corner Kicks: Was it a 'Miracle' win?
Bedford looked to a "Miracle" of sorts, and the result was a major upset.
The Bedford High girls' soccer team defeated Exeter 1-0 in Saturday's NHIAA Division I championship, ending the Blue Hawks' four-year title run and 42-game winning streak.
For inspiration before the game, the third-ranked Bulldogs (15-2-2) went to one of the best known sports upsets of all time, the 1980 Team USA Olympic hockey win over the Soviet Union.
"The girls got together the night before, and they did watch 'Miracle,' " said Bedford coach Michelle Winning, referencing the Disney classic about the '80 upset. "We talked all year about how every team is beatable and Exeter is beatable. We had just had to believe we could do it and change that mindset."
Winning said that letting her team know that Exeter was good but also human was a key part in the preparation.
"We watched film of Exeter's semifinal game (a 3-0 win over Bishop Guertin of Nashua), and the girls started to realize that (the Hawks are) just another high school team, and they're beatable like anyone else," Winning said. "We talked about the 'Miracle' speech and how this is an opportunity ... We told them they were the last team with the chance to do it this year."Bedford was the runner-up last season, falling to Exeter 5-1 as the Blue Hawks won their fourth title in as many years. For the Bulldogs, just getting a rematch was not enough.
"It was the same as last year,. We had nothing to lose. The difference last year was that we settled for being in the finals and this year, we weren't settling," Winning said. "We talked about the amount of pressure on them and that it's Exeter's stage and they're comfortable there. We talked about how our girls had to bring everything they have and get the nerves out in warm-ups."
Junior Asha Steele scored at the 22:36 mark of the second half, set up by freshman Saylor Clark.
"(Saylor) was crucial. She held off the defender and was patient and composed," Winning said. "She just dished it off. When she had the pressure on her she knew to hold it until Asha was open."
From there, Bedford had to kill the clock while Exeter pressed.
"They had a lot of opportunities in that 15 minutes. To me, it didn't seem that long but to the fans it may have seemed longer," Winning said. "We had a solid game plan going in and we talked about managing the game if we were up a goal, down a goal. I was comfortable with where the girls were at."
Sophomore goalie Brooke Barrett and the defense hung on for the win.
"Brooke Barrett came up huge. She had the biggest game of her career," Winning said. "It was overall a solid defensive team effort."
Snapping the Exeter win streak also created an interesting bit of symmetry. Winning played at Manchester West in the 1990s and was part of the team that won 62 games in a row. A tie broke that streak, and it was Exeter that did it. Current Blue Hawks coach Megan Young (then Megan Curran) played on that Exeter team.
That note added a wrinkle to the Bedford win, which the team has been savoring.
"I guess it's sunk in but maybe not," Winning said. "We've been enjoying it and having fun at school and letting the girls know how proud we are of them. It's been fun."
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Lwrence Academy of Groton, Mass., won the Independent School League championship over the weekend and a Manchester player was at the center of it. Freshman midfielder Abdul Haji of Manchester scored five goals and six assists this season to help Lawrence to the title. Haji is a member of the United States U-17 men's national team.
Ian Clark covers high school soccer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is email@example.com.