By Tris Wykes
HANOVER – Henry Aspinwall considered the question for a moment and looked at the ground. What does he foresee in his soccer future?
“I don’t know if I’m good enough for college,” said the Hanover High senior. “I don’t know how good I can be.”
This is a 6-foot-2 player who leads the Marauders, perennial state-title contenders, in scoring with six goals and two assists in seven games. The striker was the center of Bedford’s defensive attention in the NHIAA Division I quarterfinals and will undoubtably draw similar focus when Hanover hosts Windham on Wednesday in an NHIAA Division I semifinal. Both teams are 9-0.
Aspinwall is tall, tough, fast and skilled. He’s smart, well-rounded and humble. The teenager speaks fluent Spanish and is a standout trumpet player. This season is only his first as a starter, but he figures to be in the midst of any discussion for New Hampshire’s Player of the Year.
Call us blind optimists, Henry, but you could have a shot at the next level.
“He might be the most talented and dangerous player in the state,” said Hanover coach Rob Grabill. “He’s tremendous at stretching a defense.”
Aspinwall is one of three sons of Dwight, a Dartmouth College graduate and software programmer, and Gayle, a nurse born in Honduras. His older brother, Diego, is a former Hanover cross country runner headed for Yale. Henry and his fraternal twin, Mitch, live six houses down from Grabill on Balch Hill and Henry mows his coach’s lawn.
“He’s got a very sweet and unassuming personality,” said Grabill, who’s also the pastor at the Aspinwalls’ church. “The things we talk about stray pretty far afield, although there’s a lot of soccer involved.”
Strangely, in this age of travel teams for 5-year olds, Aspinwall didn’t begin playing soccer until third grade. That’s when his parents, wanting their children immersed in foreign culture and language, moved to Santander, on Spain’s northern coast. It’s the capital of the Cantabria region and has a population of roughly 170,000, all seemingly futbol fans.
“It’s every kid’s dream there to play professionally,” said Henry, who began playing because basketball and baseball, his previous sporting activities, weren’t readily available. “But I was the worst on the team.”
The Aspinwall boys quickly adapted, and because they usually played on gym floors or the beach, in courtyards or the street, ball skills were baked into the recipe for soccer success. Soft, forgiving grass? That’s for Americans in the parks.
“Street football is and will always be the best way to learn the game,” Grabill said.
Aspinwall began playing on offense his third and final year in Spain and the game became more enjoyable. Back in Hanover and on larger fields, he had to work on his conditioning and reckon with offsides. He’ll tell you he gained great experience on the Marauders’ freshmen and JV teams, but won’t let on that he led both squads in scoring, putting in 16 goals and helping Hanover to the state title his first year of high school.
Last season, Aspinwall was the first striker off the varsity bench and scored a notable semifinal goal en route to Hanover capturing the NHIAA Division I title. He’s played with local club Lightning Soccer, but not for any of the bigger-name organizations in southeast New Hampshire or Massachusetts.
“People wonder, ‘Hey, where did this kid come from?’, but I’ve known for a long time that Henry was going to bloom,” Grabill said. “He takes what he needs in terms of shots, but he loves to give the ball up and teammates love working for him.”
Against Hartford earlier this season, Aspinwall absorbed so much contact while dribbling that he might have been playing ice hockey or lacrosse instead of soccer. Not once did he snarl, pout or so much as send a frustrated glance at the referee. No. 19 scored twice during a 3-1 victory.
“I just know I’m big and I should use it to my advantage,” said Aspinwall, who might have scored more that day if he hadn’t laid off several beautiful passes. “I know on some occasions, I should be shooting more, but if I can find someone with a better chance to score, I give it to them.”
Daniel Hazlett, a 2014 Hanover graduate and New Hampshire’s 2013 Player of the Year, is now a Marauders assistant and said Aspinwall isn’t just counted on to score. He’s also expected to receive a pass up top and hold the ball long enough that his teammates can catch up and make attacking runs off him.
“He uses his body to shield the ball really well and he has a great sense of space,” Hazlett said. “A lot of times you get kids who are gifted with their feet but who don’t have the size. Or they’re big and don’t have enough skill. Henry has both.”
Aspinwall’s areas for improvement include heading the ball and moving into open space after feeding a teammate. He’s continually urged by the coaching staff to play higher and time his runs. However, he so enjoys the passing inherent in moving upfield that he sometimes slumps towards the field’s neutral zone.
Should Hanover win Wednesday, it will visit the winner of Wednesday’s Winnacunnet-Nashua South semifinal on Saturday afternoon. Aspinwall figures to be a major factor in the continued quest for back-to-back titles.
“I go into games more focused and less nervous this year,” he said. “I try to play simply and not overthink anything.”
Such as how there might be plenty of college coaches in the stands.
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