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Third time’s the charm: ConVal boys’ soccer wins first state title in school history

  • The ConVal boys soccer team captured the first state title in program history with a 3-2 win over Coe-Brown in the Division II championship game on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys soccer team captured the first state title in program history with a 3-2 win over Coe-Brown in the Division II championship game on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys soccer team captured the first state title in program history with a 3-2 win over Coe-Brown in the Division II championship game on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys soccer team captured the first state title in program history with a 3-2 win over Coe-Brown in the Division II championship game on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys soccer team captured the first state title in program history with a 3-2 win over Coe-Brown in the Division II championship game on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Sunday, November 04, 2018 12:41PM

There was the team in 1986 that came up just short. And the one in 1994 that suffered the same disappointing result.

So when the ConVal boys’ soccer team took to the field at Southern New Hampshire University for the Division II championship game Saturday afternoon, the opportunity to give the school its first state title in school history wasn't just for this year’s team. This third shot at a championship was for all those teams that came before them. It was for those two teams that lost in the finals, the ones that were sent home in the semis, and the countless others that had their season end with a tough playoff loss when there were real championship aspirations – like the 15-1 team two years ago that was upset in the quarterfinals.

But it turns out, third time was the charm. With a 3-2 victory over Coe-Brown, the ConVal boys soccer program finally has a championship to add to the school’s trophy case, and with it, some redemption for all those squads who came oh so close before them.

“We sort of talked about it over the last couple weeks. Like hey, lets be the first to do it and the kids really embraced it and really wanted it,” said ConVal head coach Josh Smith. “They gave everything they had every single day.”

Like they had done 17 other times this season, the Cougars found a way to win. And when they did, this year’s team knew exactly how to celebrate. After proudly receiving the Division II trophy, the Cougars raced over to celebrate with the fans who had lined the front row of Penmen Stadium. Because this state title was for everyone in ConVal nation.

“My dad was on the first ConVal team that went to a championship in ’86, Clint Burgess,” said ConVal senior Taylor Burgess. “So it felt like this win tonight it was for the team in ’86, the team in ’94 that went to the ’ship and then the team two years ago that was 15-1 and then lost in the quarterfinals. So we won for ConVal boys’ soccer history.”

There were chances in the scoreless first half for both ConVal and C0e-Brown, but these two teams were in this position for one obvious reason: their defenses. ConVal had only allowed seven goals all season entering Saturday – posting shutouts in six of their previous seven games – while Coe-Brown entered the game not having allowed a goal in its last eight, with each owning a pair of 1-0 shutouts in the quarterfinals and semis.

“Defense has been how we built our team. We gave up nine goals total all year, so you can rely on that every single game and it helps us to maybe take a few risks offensively,” Smith said.

And something was going to have to give if either one was going to end the day with a championship.

It was Coe-Brown who struck first. Less than three minutes into the second half, Coe-Brown’s Mason Winiarski sent a pass through the ConVal defense to a streaking Cayden Donoghue. Junior keeper Mather Kipka came off his line to attack a charging Donoghue, but the Coe-Brown junior chipped it over Kipka into a wide open net for the 1-0 lead.

“I'd rather he make that aggressive play than sit back and that’s what he did right there,” Smith said. “He's been phenomenal all year. I think he’s very underrated because of how good our defense is, but you can put him up there with the best goalies in the state.”

The Bears sideline was understandably excited, considering their recent run of blanking opponents, but the Cougars didn’t panic. It actually seemed to light a fire under them.

“It's one of the best things that could have happend to us,” Burgess said of Coe-Brown’s goal.

The next 10 minutes was a clear indication of that.

Just as quickly as the Bears took the lead, ConVal came up with the equalizer. With a free kick from about 25 yards out, junior Evan Merwede sent one toward the right side of the net. Coe-Brown keeper Hogan Cain and midfielder Samuel Lapiejko converged and the result was a loose ball that landed at the feet of Burgess, who calmly deposited it into the open goal to knot the game at one.

“I was surprised. I didn’t expect the ball at my feet, but in the semifinals I missed a breakaway and I had some opportunities in the first half I felt I could have done better with, so all that I was thinking was put it on target,” Burgess said. “Once we got that first goal, we knew this was ours. All the momentum was ours and we just had to take advantage of it.”

As he ran back to his position, Burgess held his index finger to his mouth as to silence the Coe-Brown fans. What would soon follow only reinforced that point.

ConVal junior Colby Knight found himself all alone with the ball from about 30 yards out with just less than 27 minutes remaining. With some space to operate, Knight launched a high arching shot that clanged off the underside of the crossbar and bounced off Cain and into the goal. With a 2-1 lead, ConVal could now once again heavily lean on the staunch defense that helped earn them the top seed in Division II.

“When we gave up that first goal, yeah we were a little disappointed, but we kept our heads up all year,” Smith said. “Things are going to happen and we had to work through it.”

Even with the one-goal lead, the Cougars kept up its relentless attack. And just over two minutes later, junior Del Bonsu-Anane sent a cross from the left side of the box that was met by a sliding Finn Wegmueller, who beat Cain for a 3-1 advantage.

“We are completely used to playing under pressure. I think that’s where we thrive,” Wegmueller said. “When they scored that goal we knew we had to push hard and do absolutely everything that we could to win and that’s what we did.”

ConVal came close to putting it out of reach, but senior Max Richards shot with 14 minutes left went just wide of the right post after he got it past a charging Cain.

And give credit to the Bears because they were not going away quietly.

Donoghue scored with seven-plus minutes left on the clock to pull within one and thought he had the equalizer minutes later, but it was quickly waved off for offsides.

As the final whistle sounded, the Cougars swarmed the field to celebrate the victory that capped off what will go down as the best season in ConVal soccer history. ConVal began the season with six straight shutouts, capped off by a 6-0 win over rival Souhegan. The only blemish on the schedule came in a 1-0 defeat at home to the eventual second seeded Oyster River on Sept. 19. From there, the Cougars were unbeatable on their way to a 15-1 regular season.

“When you look at our strengths the two I’d start with our depth and versatility. We have 21 guys on the roster and I could have put any one of them in and they would have done a great job,” Smith said. 

Smith saw a couple moments during the season where he thought this team was built to win it all.  The first was the day after the loss to Oyster River when the team had a scheduled off day.

“I drove by the school on my way home and there were six or seven kids out there playing,” Smith said. “It was like they embraced that loss.”

Then there was a stretch of three games just past the midway point in the season against Hollis-Brookline, Merrimack Valley and Lebanon.

“Before that stretch, we talked about using it as a mini playoff run to see where we are,” Smith said. “Being able to cope with the situation and find a way to still win those games and get positive results let me know that we’d be OK and we can do this.”

But this program had seen dominating regular season teams before. The success of this year would come down to results in the postseason.

“I really feel as if we earned this. We worked hard all year,” Wegmueller said. “This was our goal at the beginning of the year.”

Like championship teams before them, the Cougars got the ceremonial escort into town from the Peterborough Fire Department.

“Finally we broke through,” said assistant coach John Szep, who has been a part of the ConVal soccer program for 31 years. “This is a special group of guys and a very unique group of kids and they really came together.”

The ultimate goal for this team was to finish the season as champions. Mission accomplished.


The ConVal boys soccer team captured the first state title in program history with a 3-2 win over Coe-Brown in the Division II championship game on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin— The ConVal boys soccer team captured the first state title in program history with a 3-2 win over Coe-Brown in the Division II championship game on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. - Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—
The ConVal boys soccer team captured the first state title in program history with a 3-2 win over Coe-Brown in the Division II championship game on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin— The ConVal boys soccer team captured the first state title in program history with a 3-2 win over Coe-Brown in the Division II championship game on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. - Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—
The ConVal boys soccer team captured the first state title in program history with a 3-2 win over Coe-Brown in the Division II championship game on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin— The ConVal boys soccer team captured the first state title in program history with a 3-2 win over Coe-Brown in the Division II championship game on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University. - Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—