Stoico: Looking back on a remarkable year in local sports

  • Bow's Colin Tracy (10), Doug Champagne (8) and Austin Beaudette (18) wait to be called up as seniors to receive their medals following Saturday’s Division II boys’ hockey championship at SNHU Arena in Manchester on March 11, 2017. Bow defeated Keene, 4-2. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Kearsarge's Leslie Angus (1) cradles the ball during the Division III girls' lacrosse championship game at Southern New Hampshire University in Hooksett on Thursday, June 8, 2017. Kearsarge defeated Derryfield, 10-8. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Spectators take photos and video as Dale Earnhardt, Jr., (88) drives by at the start of practice for the NASCAR ISM Connect 300 Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Winnisquam celebrates their final point for a 3-0 win over Inter-Lakes in the Division III volleyball championship game at Pinkerton Academy in Derry on Nov. 3. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Concord's Forest MacKenzie approaches the finish line with teammates Eli Boesch-Dining and Ollie Spencer in position to round out second and third place during the Division I boys' cross country championship at Derryfield Park in Manchester on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Saturday, December 30, 2017

With 2018 just hours away, it’s time to look back on 2017 and wrap up the year in local sports.

There were many champions and runners-up in the capital area this year, pulling fans, friends, families and even reporters to the edge of their seats. These are some of the moments, games and events that captured the region’s attention.

So let’s rewind the clock to March, just a few weeks after Tom Brady led the Patriots to the most remarkable comeback win in Super Bowl history over the Atlanta Falcons, and take one last stroll through an exceptional year in local sports.

Tarwo answers the bell

George Tarwo, a senior captain on the Concord High wrestling team last season, didn’t waste his final shot at a New England title. After leading the Tide to a second-place finish in the Division I championships – a tournament in which Tarwo defended his title at 182 pounds – he secured his third straight crown at the Meet of Champions.

“This is where you come to battle,” Tarwo said at the MOC in Nashua. “I put the work in, I came to battle today and I can’t complain about the results.”

Tarwo was rolling with momentum toward New Englands. He ran into Maine’s champion, Ryan Fredette, in the final round and wrestled to an 8-6 victory in what was later voted the match of the day.

Tarwo had already established himself as one of the top wrestlers in the Tide’s history, but his regional championship solidified his place in the program’s lore as just the fourth Concord wrestler to win a New England title. The others are Dan Herrick (2009), Tyler Saltsman (2007) and Todd Calley (2005).

Kearsarge boys’ hoops captures first title

Great players rise to the occasion in the most critical moments, and that was the case in last season’s Division III boys’ basketball championship between Kearsarge and Stevens.

Tayler Mattos, who was later voted the D-III Player of the Year, poured in 22 points and Tommy Johnson led the team with 27 to lift the Cougars to their first-ever state championship over Stevens, 51-46.

“I like the big stage,” Johnson said after the game. “You dream about this as a kid. You really look forward to this day, and I’m glad it came true and we ended with a win.”

The Cougars embraced the championship atmosphere at Southern New Hampshire University that evening in March, and they aim to make it back this season as newcomers to Division II.

Bow hockey shocks Keene

In the same way that Tarwo chased down his New England title on a third and final try, the seniors on the Bow High hockey team didn’t want to let their last chance at a state championship slip away.

The Falcons blitzed through the regular season with impressive force, winning all but three games. Hardly anyone was surprised when the championship round was set between the two top teams in Division II, Bow and undefeated Keene.

Keene won its first two meetings with Bow during the season and nearly took the third as the Blackbirds battled back in the title round and trailed by a goal with less than five minutes to play. Austin Scarinza, in his freshman season, gave the Falcons a two-goal cushion with his power-play goal and Bow rode out the final 2:30 to championship glory.

Senior Doug Champagne scored two goals and sophomore netminder Nate Carrier made 22 saves. Carrier allowed just three goals in three games through the postseason, including a 2-0 shutout of defending champion Windham in the semifinals.

Kearsarge girls, Hopkinton boys capture lax titles

The lacrosse season in the capital area saw one team flip the bracket on its head while another secured the title it seemed destined for the entire season.

The Kearsarge girls’ lacrosse team entered the Division III tournament as the No. 6 seed with a tall order of competition ahead of them. After knocking out the defending champs from Laconia in the first round, Kearsarge punched a ticket to the final with an 8-4 win over No. 2 Bow in the semifinals. The Cougars drew a championship match with top-seed Derryfield at Southern New Hampshire University, but stumbled out of the gate and trailed, 7-2, in the first half. Instead of allowing Derryfield to cruise to the title, Kearsarge fired back with five unanswered goals to bring the score even and went on to win, 10-8.

It came down to confidence in the end, Kearsarge junior captain Leslie Angus said.

“We can do anything we believe we can do,” she said. “We proved a lot of people wrong today, and I am so proud of everyone for that.”

Two days later, the Hopkinton boys’ lacrosse team held up its perfect season, winning the Division III championship in a 12-7 contest over Kearsarge. Hopkinton finished with a 17-0 record and coach Deacon Blue was named the Monitor’s coach of the season. The championship culminated a process of player development that Blue helped start when Hopkinton’s seniors were playing in junior high. It was clear that a tight bond had developed between Blue and his upperclassmen where trust went both ways during games and in practice.

“We’ve just been playing with each other for the last four years, five years,” senior Liam Flanagan said. “This final year, it just really hit all the seniors, all nine of us, and it really made us think how this was our last chance and we had to do something with it.”

NASCAR runs final September race at NHMS

The buildup to NASCAR’s September race in Loudon began when the track’s general manager, David McGrath, announced in March that the speedway’s annual docket of two Cup series races would be cut to one beginning in 2018. Anticipation ramped up further when Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced in April his plan to retire at the end of the season. The Magic Mile has hosted two NASCAR weekends – one in the summer and another in the fall – since 1997 as the auto racing body worked to extend its fan base in the northeast. Now, NASCAR is looking west and New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s parent company, Speedway Motorsports, Inc., decided to pull Loudon’s fall race and send it to Las Vegas moving forward. Kyle Busch, a native of Nevada, ran away to his third Cup series victory at NHMS after skillfully navigating a pileup along the backstretch that took out several cars including the leader, and eventual Cup series champion, Martin Truex Jr.

Concord boys’ X-C makes history

The Concord boys’ cross country team put together a season that was historic in several ways. The Tide runners completed a feat that hadn’t been reached in decades with their first-place finish in Division I, their first since 1981. Juniors Forest Mackenzie, Eli Boesch-Dining and senior Ollie Spencer swept the top three and all seven Concord runners placed in the top 15. The team racked up 28 points, the best score at the D-I championship in at least 30 years, and was the first team to finish 1-2-3 since Concord did it 54 years ago. Concord also broke the longest active championship drought of any team in Tide athletics.

Newfound field hockey goes undefeated

The spitfire offense of the Newfound High field hockey team was simply too much for the competition across Division III to handle this year. The Bears marched through the regular season outscoring opponents 67-5 and then allowed just one goal through the playoffs. They capped their perfect season with a 2-0 win over No. 10 Mascoma for the championship. Coach Karri Peterson demanded a lot of her team and the girls answered with an unwillingness to settle for anything less than perfection. It proved to be the right amount of motivation as the Bears wrapped up a perfect season.

Winnisquam tops Inter-Lakes for volleyball championship

When the Winnisquam and Inter-Lakes volleyball teams first met as undefeated teams in October, it was hardly a stretch to call it a preview of the championship match. The gym at Winnisquam Regional High was packed and the Lakers took a 3-1 win in enemy territory.

A few weeks later, the Lakers and Bears met again as the top two seeds in the D-III title round at Pinkerton Academy. Winnisquam’s roster featured an experienced group that had reached the Final Four in each of the previous three seasons. That experience paid off as the Bears re-emerged as a stronger, more determined team than the one that lost at home a few weeks prior. They took the down Lakers in three sets to win their third championship in the last eight seasons.

A trio of soccer champions

For a high school soccer player, there’s no better feeling than hoisting a championship trophy toward the sky on a cool November evening. It’s an experience that escaped the Pembroke Academy boys for nearly 60 years. That all changed Nov. 4 at SNHU when the Spartans took home the D-II title with a 2-1 double-overtime win over top-seed Windham. Jackson Putnam was the hero with the score in overtime. Matt Ferguson turned in Pembroke’s first goal in the third minute.

It turned into a busy Saturday later that night when the Concord boys captured the Division I title in an emotional game against Manchester Central. The Tide took a hard punch to the gut in the second minute when senior captain Taylor Silverstein twisted his knee and had to be carried off the field. With their offensive quarterback on the sideline, Concord buckled down in the defensive end, backstopped by always-outstanding play of goalkeeper Liam Devanny. Silverstein returned in the second half and sophomore Sebastian Pardo put away the game-winner in the 71st minute, leading to a tearful celebration for the champions.

Less than 24 hours later, the Bow girls won their fourth championship in five years and their first in Division II with a 1-0 win over No. 2 Souhegan. Bow, the tournament’s top seed, battled back-and-forth with the Sabers until twin sisters Kayleigh and Amanda Marshall connected for a goal in the 77th minute. Kayleigh set her sister up with a crisp cross to the left post, catching Amanda in stride for a shot toward the open net. It capped off a statement season for the Falcons, who quickly proved themselves as contenders in a new division.

UNH football extends playoff streak

When the University of New Hampshire football team was named to its 14th straight appearance in the FCS tournament in November, the talk reached far beyond Durham. Delaware coach Danny Rocco, whose team missed out on a bid, said the inclusion of UNH over his Blue Hens was “an injustice.”

“I cannot find any logical, sensible reason that New Hampshire trumps Delaware,” he said on Nov. 19.

His criticism of the selection wasn’t far-fetched – Delaware had superior results against common opponents – but of course the committee was not going to change its mind. Whether they wanted it or not, UNH coach Sean McDonnell and his team had one more piece of motivation heading into the tournament: to prove that they belonged.

They did exactly that.

After the Wildcats defended Durham in a 14-0 home win over Central Connecticut State in the first round, a game in which UNH was favored, UNH upset fifth-seed Central Arkansas on the road, 21-15, to earn a trip to the quarterfinals.

As the Monitor’s Jason Orfao wrote in his column later that week, “The Wildcats left with an eye-opening upset that validates an extension of the nation’s longest FCS postseason streak to 14 seasons. UNH has proven itself worthy of a playoff bid – and there’s not statistical, data-driven way to deny it.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)