Change is in the air
Matt Guerard has tried not to think about what’s happened in the past.
When the lacrosse season began on Monday, his Bedford High School boys lacrosse team won its 62nd straight game and will have a fourth consecutive title as its long-term goal.
But those streaks were built in Division II, against teams the Bulldogs have dominated for three seasons but will no longer play.
Bedford, along with Merrimack and Dover, join Division I this season, part of an overhaul the NHIAA gave to both boys and girls lacrosse in an attempt to even out the number of teams – and talent level – in each division.
“It’s the big-time division and we’ve been waiting a couple of years to get here,” Guerard said. “I think we’ve worked hard enough to compete at the Division I level and we’re excited.”
The Bulldogs got a small taste last year, beating D-I teams in Pinkerton Academy, Londonderry, Hanover and Exeter, four of the top six teams from a year ago.
But the game that will be marked on everyone’s calendar won’t be for another month, when Bishop Guertin heads to Bedford on May 14 for a game under the lights.
“Us and Bedford,” Bishop Guertin coach Chris Cameron said when asked about how expected the season to unfold. “ Pinkerton, just because of who they are and how well-coached they are, they’re always going to be there. It may not be their best team, but they’ll be in there.”
Cameron is among those who aren’t thrilled with the realignment, as the increase of teams in the division forced the Cardinals to drop some of their out-of-state games.
“For me, I don’t like it because I have to lose two games, Lincoln-Sudbury and a New Jersey team,” he said. “It cost us two games.”
For other coaches, there were mixed feelings on the changes.
Souhegan coach Brad Bishop was excited to play Bedford – the Sabers were the last team to beat the Bulldogs in the D-II semifinals in 2011 – but adding those games meant dropping others in-state.
“There’s some things I like about more teams, and there’s some things I don’t,” Bishop said. “It limits our out-of-state play. We don’t have any out-of-state games. When you have 15 in-state games, you only have room for a couple of teams to double up.”
But this year the playoff field will expand in both divisions, with 10 teams making it in D-I and 12 teams in D-II. Eight teams will make the postseason in Division III.
“Having a wider field makes things more exciting in general,” Nashua South coach Bill Monsen said. “I think that any time you’re adding a team as good as Bedford is, the division only gets better. Everyone else has to step up their game at least one more time a year.”
Nine teams also moved up from Division III to combine with the nine remaining teams from D-II, including Hollis Brookline and Derryfield, last year’s champion and runner-up, respectively, in D-III.
HB coach Mike Soucy likes the change, considering it was one the Cavaliers were already planning.
“We had the mindset even before the NHIAA realigned the divisions that we were going to petition to move up anyway,” Soucy said. “It was time, probably a little overdue in a lot of ways. We’re excited to see some new teams and have some more competition, and we’ll really have to coach these boys up to play every night. That’s what it’s going to be in Division II for us.”
Another big change was made to the finals, as now all three championship games will be held on June 13 at Exeter’s Bill Ball Stadium.
“They’ve taken a page from football and realized it’s better to have a day for all the championships,” Monson said. “It’s good for the fans and the players, because they get to watch teams they haven’t seen all year.”
On the girls side, Bedford, Bishop Guertin, Merrimack and Dover have moved up to join Division I, making it a 15-team division. Merrimack Valley, Pembroke, Kingswood and John Stark moved up to D-II.
Eight teams will make the postseason in each of the girls divisions, with the championship games scheduled for June 9 at Portsmouth (D-I), Exeter (D-II) and Bedford (D-III).