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Prep soccer underway

The games are few, so the expectations may be many. That’s the look of local high school boys soccer this fall. With a shorter preseason, fewer games and an open tournament, teams can use the time to work out the kinks with no pressure moving toward late October-early November.

It’s a whole new world thanks to the pandemic. As Bishop Guertin coach Valdemir “Rocky” Roque said, “I have no idea how it is going to be this year.”

But, does it really matter? As Nashua South coach Tom Bellen said, “We’re happy to be playing.”

Here’s a look at what you should see:

DIVISION I

Nashua North and South kicked off their season this past Thursday, and both teams should be competitive.

South is coming off the school’s best season (12-5-1, lost to Windham in quarters on penalty kicks) and while suffering some graduation losses, there are some familiar talented names.

They would include seniors Manny Orozco (forward), Sebastian Coelho (midfield) and Jesse Hantuala (defender). Also keep an eye on juniors Ethan Emata (midfield) and Max Lopez (forward).

“We lost some key players but have a talented group of kids,” Bellen said. “If we can organize our defense properly we should be able to make a good run.”

The Titans lost a senior nucleus near and dear to head coach Josh Downing, as he coached them all the way back in middle school. But they forge ahead with three seniors – back Stephen Norris plus, midfielders Matt Urrea and Quinn Hilger. Goalie Simon Costa, a junior, played well last year.

Bishop Guertin does have 14 seniors back. A few keys among them include Colin McCarthy (midfield), Zachary Warren (midfield-defense), John Sullivan (defense-midfield), and Zachary Morris (senior defender). Add in a talented freshman forward, Rayaan.

“The BG program is growing strong,” Roque said. “We have 14 seniors and a great number of new faces.”

Merrimack looked good in an opening win over the Cardinals, despite returning just six from an 8-8-2 team that made the 2019 tourney for the first time in five years. Part of that low return is the fact some players, according to Tomahawks coach Mark Papp, opted out due to the risks of the pandemic.

“This is the year we expected everything to come together,” Papp said. “Obviously things look a little different now. … But we hope to be able to build on the foundation the previous three varsity groups have set in place.”

Keep an eye on senior standouts Connor Lanigan, Sawyer Hardy, Eric Gonzalez, Rosendo Lopez and Zach Chiasson.

Alvirne should be much improved over a team that started out in fantastic fashion last year but suffered a long losing streak that knocked it out of tourney contention.

Key seniors include midfielder Charlie Thomas, midfielder Matt Fitzpatrick, backs Ryan Johnson and John Rudy, plus goalie Mason Brooks.

“I have high expectations,” Broncos coach Marcos Vieira Filho said. “We have a lot of maturity this year and it shows.”

It certainly showed in their season opening 3-1 win over Campbell, Fitzpatrick with a goal and an assist. Keep an eye on this team.

DIVISION II

Hollis Brookline lost 13 players but certainly began the season well with a 1-0 win over local rival Souhegan.

Ethan Smith, Bryan Wright, Liam Troddyn are going to be solid offensive contributors (Troddyn, a captain, had the lone goal in the win). Nate McEvoy and Danny Kennedy are going to be two defensive anchors in the back .

“The group of players we have returning have great chemistry,” Cavs coach Steve Martus said.

Over at Milford, Olf Mouyaka is splitting coaching time with Russ Matthews due to work commitments, and a team that had a great 9-3-4 season last year and made the tournament after some tough seasons should be good again.

Watch returnees Reilly Hansen (goalie), playmaker Noah Matthews and forward Ryon Constable. The back line looks solid with defenders junior Nicholas Giordano, senior Jack Smith and sophomore Nate Pettingell. Newbies Zack Naun and Tyler O’Brien will help.

“Our game against Pelham was a great way to start,” Mouyaka said. “A great showcase of talent from a group who have worked tremendously hard to come back this year.”

Souhegan has been rebuilding the last couple of years and despite a 1-0 season opening loss to Hollis Brookline could reap the benefits of a whopping 14 seniors. Some of those are keepers Jake Morrisette and Tyler Moran, back Ethan Littlefield, forward Ethan Ramm, forward Miles Drum, midfielder Ethan Lim, midfield-back Alex Lin, midfielder Simon Trombley, forward Nick Bjorgen, midfielder Sebastian Parker-Christou, and backs Connor Ross, Peter Lennox, and Michael Dodge. That’s a lot of experience.

“The maturation continues,” Sabers coach Dave Saxe said. “We’re still growing.”

When they peak, watch out.

DIVISION IV

The Wilton-Lyndeborough Warriors have a new coach in Dan Nelson and lost just three seniors from an 11-5 team. Some athletes were eligible to return, such as Telegraph All-Area players Sam Townsend (senior defender) and Troy Brennan (junior defender). The Warriors always field a competitive team and this fall, even in an abbreviated season, should be no exception.

•••

GIRLS

Contenders aplenty.

If there’s one thing the area doesn’t lack, it’s talented high school girls soccer players, and that translates into several contending teams in all divisions.

Last year the Bishop Guertin Cardinals and Hollis Brookline Cavaliers took things the furthest, to the Division I and II semis, respectively. Guertin fell to eventual runner-up Londonderry in a downpour at Stellos Stadium, and the Cavs lost to Bow.

The year before, Milford lost in the Division II finals on penalty kick; Souhegan lost in the 2018 title game. Campbell has reached the Division III semis in the past.

Guertin this year has a new coach in Winston Haughton, perhaps a new style but a lot of talent back as the local season has just begun.

Will it make it through teams playing a light eight to 10 game schedule followed by open tournaments? The coaches and players will do their best. As North coach Jacqueline Thompson said, her team having one game under its belt with a second vs. South that was slated for this current weekend, “Tomorrow isn’t promised, especially during these times, but these girls will rise above playing each today as its last.”

Here’s a look at how some area teams shape up:

DIVISION I

The Cardinals have a returning nucleus of senior defender Grace Kelly, sophomore forwards Katie Boudreau and Brooke Paquette, junior defender Hannah Lord, and junior midfielder Natalie Coutu. They certainly picked up where they left off with a season opening 4-1 win over Merrimack.

“Hopefully we’re trying to win something with BG this year and establish a good program,” Haughton said.

Nashua South and North will be tough, competitive teams, benefitting from two games against each other this past week. The Panthers, who went 11-5 last season before losing to Goffstown in the first round in penalty kicks, are led by key seniors Julianna Martin (midfield), Kendra Santoro (defender) and Haleigh Swabowicz (keeper). Watch junior midfielder Camile Michon and freshman forward Soroya Ross. Ross was a true threat in the opening loss to North.

“We’re excited to be back on the field,” South coach Lauren Keating said. “We have a core group of players with a lot of experience and some new players who can make an impact right away.”

North is hoping for the same thing, and judging from the Titans’ 1-0 opening win over the Panthers, they will be an improved team.

Senior forward Ari Dumaine and fellow senior Emilee Deleo are a big key, along with seniors Lillian Brooks (midfield-defense) and Kaitlyn Laurendi (defender), plus junior midfielder Ashley Goh. Again, familiar names ready to make a nice improvement from an injury-riddled 4-11-1 season last year.

“We’re looking to build off the positives from last season,” Titans coach Jacqueline Thompson said. “We have a determined veteran group with some great new talent that’s ready to compete.”

Merrimack will try to recover from several graduation losses after a 7-9 season.

“This year we will be young,” Tomhawks coach Rick Morgan said. “We graduated a large senior class but are confident that the underclassmen will follow in their footsteps.”

Key seniors are Siobhan McMakin, Mary Vance, Jesse Mayhew, Keir Bike (all midfielders). A couple of important up and comers are sophomores, midfielder Isabella Saxon and defender Lucy Cote.

The ‘Hawks had their hands full in their opener loss vs. Guertin, but they won’t be alone in that sense.

Alvirne, meanwhile, lost nine seniors from a 6-10 team that still gave BG a run for its money in a tight tournament prelim last year.

DIVISION II

The Cavaliers looked in mid-season form in their season-opening win over rival Souhegan. Junior forward Rachel Brackett, sophomores Paige Magnuszewski (midfielder), and Renee LeBlanc (forward) will spark the offense while juniors Nicole Heiter and Amanda Robbins are huge defenders in the back.

“We graduated a handful of dominant starters but return with a strong core of experienced players,” Cavs coach Peter Clarke said. “Hopefully we can settle in quickly and play at our familiar pace.”

It looked in the opener like they’ve done just that.

Milford will be an interesting, competitive team again, with key players the offensive duo of senior Rachel Gizzonio and junior Brooke Gizzonio. Rachel led the Spartans with 18 goals last season and Brooke came up big in several key games.

Other keys will be seniors Mikayla Thompson at midfield and defensive anchor Renee Wilson. “She’ll be the key to our success in the backfield,” Spartans coach Russ Matthews said. “And Mikayla is the metronome of our team and we look for her to control the midfield.”

Souhegan has a new coach in Steve Hansberry, and a good group of returnees set to make their mark after eight seniors graduated.

Hunter Stonebreaker, senior keeper, is a true leader in the back, while junior midfielder Jackie Hayden is a key in the attack. Also, many teams are going to do their best to limit offensively skilled sophomore Greta Caulton.

“We’re excited,” Hansberry said. “An awesome group of girls, and I think our potential ceiling is pretty high. I’m excited to see where we go.”

DIVISION IV

Wilton-Lyndeborough has a new coach, Emily Hall, and the Warriors lost just two seniors from a 10-6 team, and had eligible to return a dynamic player in junior forward Elisabeth Jacob. All she did last year was score 37 goals, including five in a game a whopping three times. Potential junior midfielder Sam Boette had 16 assists a year ago, while senior forward Sophia Sistachs and defender Avery Krug, a potential returning junior, were All-State Honorable Mentions a year ago. Should be a good team if most of the key pieces are on the field.

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