Letting winter season linger
The winter was season was long, and the recent barrages of snow seem to make it not want to end.
Athletically, at the region’s high school’s it has, though. And what a winter it was. Here’s a look, in no specific order, as some of the highlights of an amazing winter campaign.
SOUHEGAN GIRLS HOCKEY
It was the Shannon Paquette Puck Show at Saint Anselm College’s Sullivan Arena. And as a result, history was made.
The Sabers forward scored four times to give Souhegan its first girls hockey tournament victory ever, 4-1, over St. Thomas-Winnacunnet in the preliminary round.
“It’s amazing,” said Paquette, who scored three of her goals in the third period to break a 1-1 tie. “It’s just a great thing for our team. There’s no words.”
No, just goals. With the Sabers down 1-0 late in the second, she got the equalizer and then just took the game over in the final 15 minutes.
“Somebody definitely had to,” said Sabers coach Kelli Braley, whose club bowed out to Hanover in Round 2. “Makayla (goalie Lachance, 12 saves) did a great job making sure we stayed in it.
“And Shannon did what great captains do, put the team on her back and off we went.”
GIRLS TRACK REPEATS … BARELY
The two best girls Division II indoor track teams practice together daily. They are friendly foes in schools that absolutely embrace the positivity of the rivalry.
On Super Sunday at Dartmouth College, the teams turned track into big-screen style drama with Souhegan pulling out an epic two-point win to repeat over Milford for the NHIAA Division II state title.
The title was decided in the final couple strides – plus a darn good lean at the tape by Saber anchor runner Abby Cranney – in the final race of the day, the 4×200.
Cranney’s leg was the stuff that legends are made of, making up at least 10 yards on her Portsmouth opponent and willing herself by at the wire.
The fact that she’s not a three-season runner – she’s the state’s premier field-hockey goal scorer and a UNH-bound lacrosse talent – only adds to the lore of it all.
“We had never run against Portsmouth, and We saw (Milford’s Viankah Williams). She came back, and we were like, oh wow. Now we know what we have to do,” said Cranney, who was set up for greatness in the finale by relay mates Kayla Kilcrease, Hannah Rowe and Katie Noyes.
“I felt on the corner that I could get to her. I saw the finish line, I saw the girl next to me. I was ready to dive if I had to.”
And there were plenty of heroes in Black and Yellow.
If Elise Lambert was clearing only 4-10 in the high jump and grabbing third place, she did the exact correct thing, taking it out on her competition in the 600, gaining eight huge points for second place.
“The 600 was a big deal,” said Lambert, and you could tell.
Lambert also scored a title in the 4×800, combining with Jane Leighton, Marissa Romano and MacKenzie Hayden for the win.
“I had a feeling we needed to come together, I was just focused on points for the team today,” said Lambert. “Everyone did their job.”
SPARTAN SENIOR DELIVERS
To Ricky DeBernardo, state championship Saturday was just a blur.
“I wrestled for about a minute-and-a-half all day. It really was a good day!” said the Milford High senior.
Since there were just seven combatants at 160 pounds in Division II, DeBernardo, the top seed, drew a bye into the semifinals, then pinned BG’s Matt Hauntsman in 45 seconds and Windham’s Ben Wentworth in 49 to claim the state championship.
“I really would have liked to wrestle a little more,” he said. “But I’ll take it.”
You bet he will. DeBernardo was still a bit stunned by it all in school on the following Monday as his classmates gave the team’s lone state champ a bit of the “superstar” treatment.
“It still really hasn’t sunk in. The past three years I’ve been in the running pretty much every time,” said DeBernardo. “This year it was nice to be the top man all the way through and really believe in myself that I could get it done.”
NEW ENGLAND TITLE
FROM THE HEART
Milford High track star Viankah Williams dug deep into her heart.
“Even before I got on the boards, and right before my final jump in the finals, I thought of her,” said Williams, speaking of her recently-deceased grandmother, Vivian. “And that’s when I jumped my 18 (feet)!”
Actually, the leap was 18-0.75, over a foot further than she soared four weeks earlier (16-7) to win the New Hampshire Division II state championship and good enough to claim the title “2018 New England Champ.”
Williams, who missed much of the winter season with a right hamstring issue, has dedicated the entire year to Vivian, the mother of her dad, former University of Pittsburgh football player Vince Williams.
“She fought so hard in her life, I just wanted to win if for her,” said Viankah.
Williams’ win was fairly epic, considering where she was just eight weeks before.
After missing all the winter season and all but the last couple weeks of her sophomore outdoor campaign with a left hamstring issues, the 2016 State Outdoor champ in the 100 and 200 was off track again this winter, with the right hamstring issue.
“I really worked hard to get back,” she said
And when Williams burst into the picture at Dartmouth on Super Sunday, not just in the long jump but with an eye-popping 4×200 anchor leg, she let folks around New Hampshire that she had returned.
The title also serves as a warning shot.
“I’m ready for outdoor, I can’t wait,” said Williams. “It’s been tough with the injuries, but this is all about perseverance. Everything is healthy now, and I’m going to be focussed outdoors.”
SOUHEGAN’S LEN SCORES 1,000TH
The fans held placards, mom held a sign, and Souhegan’s Mia Len held them all close as she drilled a free throw for her 1,000th career point.
The free throw came with 5:56 left in the second quarter as the senior Len helped power the Sabers to a 48-33 win over Kearsarge back in February.
She became the second member of her family to topple the 1,000-point mark, joining her brother Brandon, a 2013 Souhegan grad.
The lefty point guard is bound for Wheaton College in the fall
“I think it would be a cool bond to have,” Len told WMUR-TV. “I saw him accomplish it. I also know that it takes a lot of hard work to get to it.”
Len has been a four-year varsity starter for the Sabers. She’s more than just a scorer, though. On the floor she’s a leader.
“I think my most important contribution to my team is bringing leadership and leading my whole team, whether scoring or passing,” she said.
Len is a well-respected leader.
“Mia is this amazing point guard. She’s in two of my AP classes and she’s unreal,” said classmate and teammate Elizabeth Apple. “She’s a great teammate. She’s cares about everyone on the team, on and off the court.”
WHAT A WEEK FOR URDA
Having seen plenty of varsity action in a utility role with the Milford football team in the fall and excelling, sophomore Gavin Urda showed flashes of what might be down the road athletically.
One week on the hardwood back in January solidified that status for the Milford High star.
First, on a Tuesday night, he showed the clutch gene against rival Souhegan, on the road in Amherst, when the ball fell into his hands with six seconds left and the Spartans trailing 51-50. Urda shook his man, drove the lane and delivered his first game-winner, shocking the host Sabers, 52-51.
By Friday, he was back at it again.
This time it was up in Kearsarge when the “Kid Courage” again took the ball in his hands, this time with the game knotted at 55-55.
He again was true with the baby jumper for a second straight win, 57-55.
“He’s that kind of kid,” said coach Dan Murray. “Some guys want the ball in their hands at a time like that. He’s one of them.”
A DAY TO NEVER FORGET
It was a snow-dusted Monday morning, a day for big hearts and tear drops, all based in pure joy.
Milford High’s unified basketball team hosted Keene the school’s biennial battle hosted in front of the entire student body.
Talk about an opportunity to witness the sheer joy of the game as student helpers worked hand in hand with these special competitors in what has grown into a varsity athletic phenomenon.
The final score hardly matters. This is all about these terrific kids getting their due from their peers and educators.
“I am very glad I made this choice to play unified,” said Spartans junior Meghan Wood. “I love the game. I love the kids. They always bring out my spirit and they’re just great people. They help me brighten up my day.”
Make that everyone’s day. It’s a winter memory that nobody in the gym that February morning could ever forget.