Joe Duball's High School Soccer: Souhegan girls, Salem boys riding the waveBy JOE DUBALL
New Hampshire Union Leader
September 18. 2017 8:29PM
I MADE it a point to explain just how open the Division II girls’ soccer ranks are while previewing the 2017 season last month. Looking at the league prior to any games being played, there was a feeling that plenty of schools beyond the perennial contenders would factor into the title conversation.
I’ll admit that I didn’t have the Souhegan High of Amherst girls’ soccer team as one of those threatening clubs. The Sabers are making me regret my oversight now as they sit atop the D-II standings at 6-0.
The potential to return all but two players from last year’s club was a positive for the Sabers heading into this season. However, improving on a 7-6-3 record posted by many of the same faces and doing so under new Souhegan coach Dan Wyborney was not a certainty.
The Sabers have erased their question marks. They are a win away from matching last season’s total while outscoring opponents 12-0. The first four wins of the season included three 1-0 triumphs; the Sabers have scored seven goals in their last two contests.
“I’m not really sure of what this group has done in the past, but there’s a lot of potential here that we are just starting to scratch the surface on,” said Wyborney, who after six years coaching the Nashua South girls. “We’re got kind of a 50/50 mix here where we are sophomore- and senior-heavy.
“For me, it wasn’t about coming in and rebuilding or trying to set up a two- or three-year plan. Knowing that there was a decent amount of talent here, I thought we could go at it right away.”
This installment of the Sabers appears to be built from their own goal and out based on its ability to keep opponents off the board. Senior center fullbacks Maddie Morrissette and Natalie Larson have dictated play in Souhegan’s half of the field while junior Lily Batchelder is emerging as a one of the best keepers in the league.
“It’s a solid group that really gets what we are trying to do in terms of formation, which is to stay tight, together and unified,” Wyborney said. “Playing as a group has really allowed us to give up just a few good looks at goals.”
Batchelder’s competitiveness and athleticism is no surprise given her bloodlines. She is the younger sister of Souhegan baseball alum Owen Batchelder, who led the Sabers to the D-II title game the last two seasons and now pitches at Northeastern University. The keeper has put herself on the map with a slew of outstanding saves she’s made, but her calling card is limiting second chances.
“What helps us, and probably separates her from other keepers, is that she doesn’t really give up rebounds,” Wyborney said. “She’s gathering everything that’s brought to her. She’s not knocking stuff down in front of her. She’s either catching it clean or taking care of it.”
The sparkling work in its own end had been Souhegan’s crutch until the last two games. The offense has come into form as the Sabers’ top six, which includes Grace Angulas, Marlena Culver, Savannah Behn and Christa Vordenberg, is finally jelling while sharing the scoring duties.
“They’re creating higher-percentage opportunities rather than throwing 50/50 stuff around and hoping good things happen,” Wyborney said. “We’ve tried to get them to understand that when we create and build, we want a good ending. Instead of hoping for it, we want to write it or put our stamp on it in terms of executing.”
NO TEAM knows riding the wave better than the Salem boys’ soccer team. Justin Golden’s crew has been a playoff team each of the last three years, but the Blue Devils have done so in streaky fashion. Alternating hot and cold streaks has resulted in a middle or low playoff seed for Salem, which was 7-9 last season.
A 6-0 start to this season with many Division I contenders left to play might be cause for concern in most seasons for Golden and the Blue Devils. This season feels different though.
“The start doesn’t surprise me because of the athletic and soccer ability we have, but that doesn’t mean I’m not excited and happy,” said Golden after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Pinkerton. “To get six wins under the belt right away leaves these guys feeling pretty good. We lost some key three-plus-year starters from last year’s team, but to see three freshmen and a couple sophomores contribute from day one is huge.”
Freshmen Kyle Chute has opened eyes in a big way while pairing with fellow striker Josh Fichera up front.
“Kyle’s a bright kid that knows where to play the ball,” Golden said. Chute and Fichera share a similar style where they employ speed and agility to combat being small in terms of height and physique. “The chemistry between he and Josh has been pretty evident from the start. They’ve linked together to relieve pressure from each other, which allows one or the other to drop into space and get chances.”
The hope has been for Chute to take as much tutelage as he can from Fichera, who Golden described as a “special player.” The senior has grown into one of Division I’s dynamic offensive talents over his time with the Blue Devils and it’s easy to see why, according to Golden.
“From the first minute to the 80th, he’s going to give you everything he has,” Golden said. “He’s incredibly hard to knock off the ball when it’s on his foot. The work rate is second to none and that helps him get a step on people, which he usually makes a team pay for.”
Golden offered high praise on senior midfielders Alex Heghinian, Nick Hayes and Ryan Doucette for setting up Fichera and Chute. The chemistry up top has resulted in 18 goals so far this season for the Blue Devils, while goalie Anthony Bellomo has held Salem’s opponents scoreless in 5½ games.
“He was forced into the role of starter last season after our original starting keeper transferred,” said Golden of Bellomo. “He ended up being our team MVP last season and he’s improved all aspects of his game coming into this season.”
TALKING ABOUT sleepers not even halfway through the season may be a moot point, but I’m going to go there with the Manchester Memorial boys’ soccer team.
The Crusaders are 1-5 after picking up their first win on Friday against Keene. The record alone will have many scoffing at my prediction, but a deeper look shows Memorial is a team poised for bigger things. All five of the club’s losses have come by two goals or fewer, including three to some of D-I’s best. Memorial dropped a 1-0 affair to Bedford and 2-0 losses to Timberlane and Salem.
The problem for Memorial is offense, which was a non-issue last season with goals coming in bunches. Crusaders coach Chris Florek has yet to find consistent secondary options behind striker Jordan Trombly, but if Florek can dig up scoring sources or devise a new scheme to free up Trombly, Division I needs to look out.
Memorial was 8-7-1 last year and made it all the way to the D-I title game. No reason that can’t happen again.
High School Soccer appears Tuesdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader during the season. To reach Joe Duball, e-mail email@example.com