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Boys Soccer

Cougars continue to roll

ConVal improves to 5-1-1 after third shutout of year, 2-0 win over St. Thomas

  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • The ConVal boys soccer team defeated St. Thomas 2-0 on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.

The question marks entering the 2013 season for the ConVal boys soccer team were valid.

After losing 11 seniors, including seven starters, coach Jon Hall had to essentially start from scratch.

And while it could have easily been identified as a rebuilding season, thus far it has been anything but. Outside of a 5-0 loss to undefeated Hollis/Brookline, the Cougars have answered just about every question.

“I don’t think any of us expected it, but we knew that we were going to be down, so we worked hard all summer and it’s showing right now,” said senior Campbell French.

Even though ConVal did not play its best against St. Thomas on Thursday, it was good enough for another win. The 2-0 victory was the third shutout overall and put the Cougars at 5-1-1 just one game shy of the midway point of the season.

“We didn’t have the greatest touches, but we fought hard and got out with the win,” said French.

Last year, ConVal didn’t win these kind of games. The close ones either resulted in a tough luck loss or a tie.

“The good part, and I think I heard a couple of the kids say it too, is that last year we would lose these games. This year, we’re playing good enough to win,” said Hall.

And so far, there has been something different about this group. This team is winning and having fun doing it.

“I was expecting good things,” said senior goalie Liam McNally. “This year everyone’s more of a team than we were last year.”

It may have taken until the final seconds of the first half, but ConVal finally struck first. Senior Campbell French launched one of his huge throws deep into the box from the left side and freshman Nile Hertzler was there to put it past St. Thomas keeper Brock Crowley.

“It can be a big confidence boost because now they know they can do it,” said Hall. “They know that when we get to tournament time and we’re tied or behind at the end of a half it’s not over. We know we can score late.”

It would stay a 1-0 lead until late in the second half. With about a minute left in the game, French blasted one from 30 yards out toward the top right corner of the goal. Crowley got a hand on it, but couldn’t keep it out of the net.

“Cam can hit the ball as well as anybody in the state and when he rips a shot like that upper corner, that goalie has very little chance,” said Hall.

With a good mix of senior and juniors, aided by a couple of impact freshmen, Hall might just have a group that could make up for the back-to-back first round playoff losses the last two years.

The recipe for success is there.

Once again the Cougars have a solid defense. With seniors Riley Henry and Brendan Grenier, along with juniors Stephen Twitchell and Alex Miller, who returned this season from a torn ACL, and freshman Isaac Bacon, Hall has a rotation that could get to the level of last year’s unit that did not allow any opponent to score more than two goals.

“We’re very solid in the back,” said Hall. “I have a real solid five.”

McNally, who made six saves on Thursday, has slid into the starting keeper position nicely with three shutouts and three other games with two goals or fewer allowed.

“The defense is definitely playing well,” said McNally. “They’re working hard and it’s definitely helping me out a lot.”

So far the offense has been balanced. Through seven games, the Cougars have eight different goal scorers with senior Austin Wheeler [five] and junior Ian Szep [four], the two starting forwards, leading the way. French notched his third of the season on Thursday, while three others, including Hertzler, have at least two.

And the play of the midfield line of French, senior Nick Phillips, junior Nate Sullivan and exchange student Mateusz Czerski has really helped ConVal play the kind of possession game needed to be successful in a tough Division II.

There is still work to be done, but so far things have gone better then expected.

“It wasn’t our best game. We definitely could have played better and will,” said McNally.

And tonight will be another key test for the Cougars to pass when rival Souhegan comes to town tonight.

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