By Tris Wykes
HANOVER – Hanover High girls soccer coach Doug Kennedy sported a stylish puffer jacket for Tuesday’s NHIAA Division I playoff game against visiting Concord. The black garment features a stitched Marauder head on the right chest, surrounded by five gold stars indicative of the program’s state championships won on his watch.
The Marauders took the first step towards what they hope will be their boss’ sixth crown with a 4-2 victory that included a wild, second-half momentum swing. Leading 3-0 with 14 minutes remaining, the hosts surrendered two goals in 90 seconds before closing the scoring with 10 minutes to play.
“There were some nervous moments in the second half, for sure,” said Kennedy, whose 8-0-1 team visits 2-2-1 Bedford on Thursday in a first-round game. “Maybe we got a little tired, but (Concord) was good and came on hard. When you’re down, 3-0, in the second half, a lot of teams pack it in, but they did not and credit to them.”
Hanover opened the scoring during the 23rd minute when freshman striker Maeve Lee crossed the ball from right to left and Concord’s Sarah Potter accidentally headed it in at the far post.
“If we hadn’t given them the first one, who knows what would have happened?” said Concord coach Phil Tuttle, whose 5-1-1 squad tied and lost by a goal to Bedford in those teams’ meetings this fall. “Especially in playoff games, goals are so valuable. So letting that first one in was tough.
“During the first half we did a poor job in transition and weren’t finding our players’ feet with passes. Hanover really outplayed us by maintaining possession and moving the ball side to side. We were doing a lot of chasing, and when we won the ball, we weren’t keeping possession.”
Hanover doubled its lead 10 minutes before halftime when Sage McGinley-Smith crossed to Charlotte Johnson. Standing at the same spot where the first goal had been knocked in, the senior did the same. Caroline Adams blasted a low shot inside the left post for a 3-0 lead nine minutes after intermission and the Marauders appeared headed for a laugher.
“This was our first real dive into Division I,” said Kennedy, whose program moved up after winning last season’s Division II title, but faced only one Division I foe (Goffstown) this fall. “We played really well and the first half was to plan. We kept possession and kept the ball moving to create scoring chances.”
Hanover’s potential Achilles heel, however, is goalkeeping. That’s not a knock on netminder Rebekah Rudd, a former field player who gallantly volunteered to undertake the position at season’s start. The senior previously learned how to backstop the Marauders’ ice hockey team on the fly, but remains understandably tentative on the pitch.
“Is she a full-fledged goalkeeper of seven years?” said Kennedy, whose program enjoyed the standout services of 2020 graduate Bella Bardales for the past several seasons. “No, and we all know that and to the extent we can, we have to keep shots from her. You can see occasionally she’s (hesitant) but she gets visibly better every day.”
Concord pulled within 3-1 with 13 minutes remaining, Caleb Navit’s 30-yard direct kick from the left wing bouncing in the middle of the penalty area and inside the far post. Ninety seconds later, Crimson Tide striker Whitney Valliant settled the ball, spun 180 degrees to face the net and scored from high in the box’s left side.
“I was surprised our girls didn’t take more shots before that,” Tuttle said. “You could tell by her warmup that (Rudd) doesn’t have a lot of experience, but in the first half we just flat out did not take advantage of it.”
Said Rudd: “I had the goalie mentality coming in and I’m definitely more comfortable than when I started. I’m getting better at diving, but I’m still working on when to come out to the ball. I have trouble judging when I can get to it.”
The score was now 3-2 and Concord threw all 10 field players into the attack, ending with an 11-8 shot advantage during the game. Hanover earned a corner kick 90 seconds after Valliant’s goal, however, and Johnson headed it in.
“We gave up four goals all season, so to give up four in a game is pretty shocking,” Tuttle said.
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