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ConVal boys’ soccer back on top after overtime thriller

  • ConVal’s Del Bonsu-Anane hits the game-winning header against Kearsarge on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' soccer team hosted Kearsarge on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' soccer team hosted Kearsarge on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' soccer team hosted Kearsarge on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' soccer team hosted Kearsarge on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' soccer team hosted Kearsarge on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' soccer team hosted Kearsarge on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Manny Bowman breaks away as a Kearsarge player tugs his jersey. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' soccer team hosted Kearsarge on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' soccer team hosted Kearsarge on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' soccer team hosted Kearsarge on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ConVal’s August Marshall and Kearsarge’s Aidan McCullough go for a header. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' soccer team hosted Kearsarge on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Friday, September 28, 2018 2:33PM

The ConVal boys’ soccer team regained Division II’s top spot on Thursday, pairing an overtime win against Kearsarge with an Oyster River loss to ascend the rankings to No. 1.

Feisty, physical Kearsarge was tougher than their 4-5 season implied, and the visitors played a muddy game on the soaking ConVal field.

“It was a good battle,” said ConVal head coach Josh Smith. “Their record doesn’t indicate what kind of team they are. They don’t make anything easy for you, they make you work for everything, it was a good challenge for us. There’s a lot of teams in this division that challenge you in different ways, it was good to face a test like that today.”

The two Cougar teams played a scoreless first half, with neither team finding many strikes at the net as the staunch defenses kept each other at bay. Senior captain Manny Bowman has anchored ConVal’s back line this season and continued to do so Thursday as the Cougars continued the defense that’s been their hallmark, with just three goals allowed through nine games.

“We are playing a formation with only three in the back, so we thought that might be trouble,” Bowman said, “but our outside wingers have been doing a great job at getting back and playing defense. And Mather [Kipka] in goal has obviously been great. It’s more than just the three in the back who are considered defenders, it’s a whole team thing.”

ConVal’s defense had just one letdown, as Kearsarge opened the second half with a quick goal from Nathan St. Pierre, but the equalizer was only ten minutes away. The second half grew chippier and chippier, and after three straight Kearsarge fouls around the 34-minute mark, ConVal junior captain Zach Kriebel boomed a free kick from the 45-yard mark as his teammates descended on the net. Taylor Burgess made a long run, but he and Kearsarge keeper Seth Rutledge-Davis could only watch as the ball sailed over the goalie’s leap and into the top right corner.

“Zach usually takes our free kicks around midfield and puts them in a dangerous area,” Smith said. “That time he just got a little more under it than he was probably planning on and it ended up being a really good shot.”

From there, both teams played about 43 minutes of scoreless soccer, and the game seemed destined to end in a 1-1 tie. Kipka (5 saves) kept ConVal clean, and the home team missed on a couple point-blank opportunities. Missing junior captain Finn Wegmueller, the offense struggled to put the ball away. Senior captain Max Richard put one wide of a three-quarters-empty net, and junior Del Bonsu-Anane was stoned by Rutledge-Davis as he attempted to put home a rebound off the crossbar. 

“Sometimes the ball goes in the back of the net and sometimes it doesn’t,” Smith said. “It didn’t for us today, but fortunately we didn’t give up and say ‘We’re not going to score today,’ we were like ‘Let’s push forward, let’s get goals.’

The game went into overtime and was still at a stalemate with just a minute left when ConVal earned a corner. The ball went up and landed in a scrum, where Kearsarge senior captain Brady Esmalli tried to clear it. But his big boot went nearly straight up and didn’t clear the box, and Bowman leapt up and got a head on it. The ball caromed off Kearsarge’s Nolan Grant and went sailing straight up yet again. This time, it went right to a wide open Bonsu-Anane, who climbed the ladder, flicked his head and sent the ball over Rutledge-Smith and into the net.  A Kearsarge player attempted to handball it away but the ball was past the goal line and the Cougars flooded the field in celebration.

“With the ball up in the air like that, people sometimes stop going for it, thinking that the goalie’s usually going to get it,” Bowman said, “but we kept fighting for the ball, got a good lucky bounce off one of our heads and got it over the goal line.”

It was a nice birthday present for Smith – “if giving me a heart attack on my birthday is a gift,” he joked.

ConVal improved to 8-1 with the win, and with Oyster River losing at Bow at the same time, the Cougars are back in sole possession of the No. 1 in Division II. It’s an impressive start, but the upperclassmen like Bowman have been down this same road only to have it end in heartbreak. 2015 saw ConVal ousted by John Stark in a marathon shootout, 2016 was a 1-0 dagger from Goffstown after one of the Cougars’ best-ever regular seasons,  and last year, ConVal was shocked by Plymouth in the first round. 

“I’ve definitely tried to preach to the guys that we’ve started like this before, we’ve had great starts, we went [16-2 in 2016],” Bowman said. “It’s just knowing that the regular season is great, it’s great to be up early so you can make the playoffs but none of it really matters until you get into the playoffs. We’re making sure everybody realizes that the regular season doesn’t matter that much. We’ve done well in the past three or four years, if we can show it in the postseason it will be impressive.”

Tests like Thursday’s game go a long way toward ensuring ConVal will be battle-tested and ready for postseason soccer. 

“All the games like this that we win 2-1 or 1-0, that’s great for us, because that’s what a lot of the playoff scores are like,” Bowman said. 

The Cougars kept up up their winning ways on Saturday when they traveled to Hollis-Brookline. Down 2-1 to the Cavaliers with two minutes to go, Manny Bowman played a ball over the top to Max Richard who scored on a header. Eight minutes into overtime, Bowman threw the ball in to Richard, who laid it back off for Bowman, and the senior captain found the net at the back post to win it.

“My guys are tough, resilient, and never give up,” Smith said.

Bonsu-Anane scored ConVal’s first goal of the game on an assist from Colby Knight.