Fall 2023 players of the season
|Published: 11-11-2023 6:59 PM
From Concord High golf winning its first championship since 2006 to Bow High boys’ soccer winning a title for the first time since moving up to Division II, the Concord area saw a number of talented student-athletes and teams take the field this fall.
Three area teams took home championships (Concord golf, Bow boys’ soccer, John Stark field hockey), and 10 teams reached the semifinal round of the playoffs among sports with tournaments. In Division II girls’ soccer, three of the final four teams came from the area, with Coe-Brown reaching the championship game for the first time in program history. Coe-Brown volleyball made a third straight appearance in the D-II championship match, and Hopkinton boys’ and girls’ soccer both lost one-goal nail biters in the D-III semifinals.
Here are the Monitor’s players of the season for fall 2023:
A key cog to Bow’s 17-1-1 title run, Smith provided a consistent veteran presence on the field for the Falcons all season. The senior midfielder finished the year with 16 goals, including the game-winner in the Division II championship game against Lebanon, and five assists.
“Colby was a crucial player in our championship run,” Bow head coach Josh Smith said. “With a team-leading 16 goals and five assists on the season he was a key player for us. He stepped up in big moments and scored big goals. … This capped off a stellar career, where Colby leaves Bow in the top 10 in all-time points.”
Smith was one of seven seniors on this year’s Bow team that won it all in their head coach’s first season.
Nothing came easily for Pembroke this season. The Spartans were 5-7-0 through their first 12 games, at one point falling as low as 14th out of 17 teams in Division II. But the Spartans won four in a row to close out the regular season and their first two playoff games, including an upset 1-0 victory over No. 2 Merrimack Valley in which Gatchell scored the lone goal.
The junior forward was Pembroke’s main source of consistency through the ups and downs, finishing her season with 22 goals and seven assists. She turned in a four-goal performance in the Spartans’ 4-2 win over Laconia on Oct. 17 and another four-goal effort in their first round 6-1 playoff win over Pelham.
“We have seen her progress these last three years, and it’s so exciting,” Pembroke head coach Jess Kaufman-Desrochers said. “She’s explosive and dangerous on the one-v-one and on the long-range shot, but she’s also looking to set up her teammates and build the attack for our squad.”
Gatchell will return next season hoping to take Pembroke back to the championship game after the program made back-to-back appearances in 2021 and 2022.
It’s hard to single out a player on a team that has improved so much as a unit and made the playoffs for the first time since 2018. But whether it was on offense, defense or special teams, whenever a big play was needed, Dykstra could be counted on. Dykstra threw touchdown passes, was the team’s second-leading rusher on offense, made huge tackles at linebacker, blocked kicks on special teams and was an all-around force for the ever-improving John Stark football team.
The Generals (5-4) set the tone for the season in week one with a 30-27 come-from-behind victory over Milford on Sept. 2, a game John Stark trailed 27-6 midway through the third quarter. Dykstra rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown, and threw a 36-yard TD pass to cut Milford’s lead to 27-22 before leading rusher and fellow senior Donnie White punched in the game-winning run.
Head coach Ray Kershaw also credited Dykstra’s role on defense, along with senior captain Deltyn Williams in the linebacker positions, for giving John Stark a chance to get back into the game.
“Once the defense settled in and started doing their assignments, they did a great job,” Kershaw said. “They gave our offense a chance.”
Thirteen Generals are graduating this season, most of whom played for three years under Kershaw, but Dykstra is only a junior and can provide valuable varsity experience and skill moving forward.
Coe-Brown volleyball reached the Division II championship game for the third season in a row, and Gunderson played a big role on a team full of talented players. She led the Bears with 147 kills and 24 blocks on the season.
In the D-II semifinal against Souhegan, Gunderson led Coe-Brown with 12 kills in the team’s 3-0 sweep.
“Annika elevated her game as the season went on not only personally, by becoming more aggressive and smarter with attack options, but also in working to help her teammates around her play better,” Coe-Brown head coach Renee Zobel said. “Always a consistent server, she took more risks from the service line resulting in a tougher serve. Her blocking, while frustrating sometimes for teammates in practice, pushed us all to be better every day and was an asset in matches.”
The Bears lost to No. 1 Oyster River in the D-II championship in a tight five-set match.
Gunderson is one of eight seniors graduating from the team.
The Generals finished 2023 just like they did in 2022, as Division II champions. On a roster with incredible depth and skill, Guevin was the focal point of it all.
She finished the season with 11 goals and eight assists as John Stark’s center midfielder. During the playoffs, she moved up to forward to reduce the amount of running she had to do as she played through an ankle injury. She scored the only goal in the Generals’ championship game win over Kennett and twice in their 4-1 win in the semifinals over Souhegan.
“As our center mid, Lauryn was the pulse of our transition game and offensive catalyst,” John Stark head coach Dennis Pelletier said. “She’s a very skilled player with a very high field hockey IQ who has a compete level second to no one on the field.”
Just a sophomore, Guevin will be back next year as John Stark pursues its third straight championship.
For winning state titles and contributing to historic milestones for their teams, Richardson and Surprenant both get this distinction.
In the Division I golf championship on Oct. 10, Richardson finished tied for second, shooting 1-under-par-71. The performance helped catapult the Tide to the program’s first team championship since 2006.
“All day long, he just kept making one miraculous recovery shot after another and saving par and even making birdies on some of those holes where his tee shot wasn’t exactly where he had hoped it would be,” Concord coach Mark McDonough told the Monitor. “Gavin’s a great player. He’s been my No. 1 player since his freshman year.”
Four days later, Richardson was crowned D-I’s individual champion, only the second time in program history the Tide have swept both titles in the same season. Richardson trailed by one stroke heading into round two but shot a 4-under to win by three.
Surprenant, meanwhile, headlined a Merrimack Valley program that hadn’t even fielded a varsity team in seven years. In the Division II team championship, Surprenant shot a 1-under-par 69 to top the leaderboard.
“He’s always been an extremely talented golfer, but as the year has gone on, we’ve just seen his maturation of somebody who can not only compete with some of the best golfers in the state, but outshine them in a lot of regards,” MV coach Joe Dougherty said. “He understands and he respects his competition, but I think he goes into these competitions knowing that he rightfully should be one of the guys to look out for. That has been a huge transition.”
Like Richardson, Surprenant captured the D-II individual crown four days later at Beaver Meadow – the course both he and Richardson grew up playing on – to win by a convincing six strokes.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but Lano and his teammates didn’t see it that way. Lano won the Division II individual title, clocking a 16 minute, 24.29 second 5K on the course at Derryfield Park, to lead the Bears to a runner-up plaque.
Lano finished seventh in the entire state a week later at the Meet of Champions, leading the Bears to third as a team, punching CBNA’s 11th straight ticket to New Englands.
While Coe-Brown finished a competitive second to Hanover, ending the Bears’ streak at five consecutive D-II team titles, it was a huge accomplishment considering that Coe-Brown graduated four of last year’s top five runners, three of them now competing in Division I collegiately.
Lano led a younger and less experienced team than in year’s past, both on and off the course.
“(Lano’s) role was huge,” Coe-Brown co-head coach Lucas Fisher said. “He went from a team where we had (four) seniors, and he just had to sit back and watch them. This year, he was put into the leadership role. He did great; he took all the boys who ran today under his wing and taught them what he knew. … To see him grow as a leader on the team and be so supportive of everyone was huge.”
Not only is Lane a freshman, it was her first year ever running cross country. But this soccer player-turned-distance runner made an immediate impact in her new sport, winning the Division III individual title.
Lane ran a 19:30.97 5K at Derryfield Park, winning the individual race by about 24 seconds. She led the Hawks to second place in D-III, narrowly losing to the only D-III team that had bested Hopkinton all year – Mascenic.
Lane started out the season strong with a runner-up finish at the season-opening Gilford Early Bird Invitational, but grew in speed, experience and confidence as the season progressed. Lane won the Capital Area Championship nine days before winning the D-III title on Oct. 28.
Lane finished seventh at the Meet of Champions (once again finishing as the fastest D-III runner), earning a spot at New Englands.
“At the beginning of the year, she wanted to be top three, top five sort of thing,” Hopkinton head coach Rob Rothe said. “By the end, she was going out and leading races and pressing the field. … Super impressive, especially considering she didn’t have anything to go on from before.”