You can't ring in the New Year without a countdown.
In the spirit of the time-honored Dec. 31 tradition – counting down the final 10 ticks of the calendar year – here are the top items this reporter contributed to ESPNBoston.com High Schools since its launch in August 2010:
10. The 6-0-3 sets record. New Hampshire extended its win streak in the annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl to a series-record 10 games.
The Granite State's recent high school graduates topped Vermont in the 57th all-star football game, played at Windsor (Vt.) High's MacLeay-Royce Field, in early August, 34-20. The previous record for longest win streak was a nine-gamer set by New Hampshire from 1989-97.
New Hampshire's 14-point win makes it sound like the game was somewhat competitive. Guess again.
Despite committing seven turnovers, including four in the first quarter, and amassing 165 yards on 18 penalties, New Hampshire never trailed. The 2010 team did, however, twice lead by 20 points and ultimately improved the state's all-time record in the series to 42-13-2.
9. Long time without losing. Speaking of win streaks, Londonderry owns a lengthy one in girls' volleyball. The team clinched its 35th consecutive win by capping a 22-0 campaign that earned the program a second straight Division I championship.
Twin sisters Katie and Megan Schwarz, both outside hitters, were Londonderry's headliners. Katie totaled 21 kills and 10 digs in the title match. Megan tallied 10 kills in the final.
8. Playing hardball. Talents Nick Poore, Josh Treff and Keegan Taylor finalized their college plans to play baseball for Division I programs in the Bay State.
Salem's Poore signed his Letter of Intent to play for Boston College. Poore's battery mate, Treff, committed to Northeastern. Perhaps he'll catch for Portsmouth's Taylor, a pitcher who also decided to sign with the Huskies.
7. The ongoing experiment. The state's governing body for high school sports, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, extended every boys' and girls' soccer team in Division III a postseason invitation, regardless of regular-season record.
The offer is part of a year-long study on using an open state tournament to crown champions. The same format will be used for Division III boys' and girls' basketball and Division III baseball and softball.
6. Engineering his 400th win. Woodsville boys' soccer coach Mike Ackerman celebrated his 400th career coaching win on Sept. 23. The Engineers defeated Groveton, 9-0, in a Division IV match.
Ackerman, 57, has been Woodsville's mentor since 1977. He is one of two coaches with at least 400 career wins. Only Gilford's Dave Pinkham, a 500-win coach, has clinched more career victories.
5. Central's double sweep. The boys' and girls' cross country teams for Manchester Central swept the Division I team titles on Oct. 30 and followed up the feat with wins at the Nov. 6 Meet of Champions.
Senior Sam Gagnon and sophomore Elizabeth Conway paced Central to the Division I sweep at Derryfield Park. The Little Green last celebrated the feat in 2005.
4. Hanover's go-to guy. Leave it to Eric Jayne, the all-time scoring leader in the storied history of Hanover boys' soccer, to clinch the sixth consecutive state title for the Marauders.
The sensational senior striker netted his 50th career goal in the 77th minute of the Division II boys' soccer championship. Jayne's marker lifted the Marauders to the 2-1 victory.
Jayne closed his sensational career with 50 goals and 21 assists.
3. The great gridiron debate. It read like a basketball score – Salem 67, Nashua North 54 – and sparked considerable conversation.
Did these Division I football teams feature unstoppable offenses or downright porous defenses during their Oct. 2 clash at Grant Field?
Salem and North totaled all 121 points in regulation (12-minute quarters). They combined for 1,356 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns. Nine of the 15 offensive scoring drives were, at most, five plays.
2. NHIAA runs a reverse. Deep into the season, the decision was made to discontinue use of the first-year New Hampshire Index Plan – for football only.
The NHIP, in place for all sports, is a point-rating system that decides playoff teams. It best served sports whose teams played an unbalanced scheduled and, therefore, needed an equalizer.
Football was the exception. All teams, in all six divisions, played all their league opponents. But until the NHIAA Executive Council voted on Oct. 21 to use the old tie-breaker system for determining playoff teams, it appeared the NHIP would dictate which squads were playoff-worthy.
And the way football teams earned points under the NHIP easily qualified as a hot-button topic: Five points per road win. Four points per home win. Caliber of competition wasn't considered.
Coaches were outraged. Fans began to take notice as the playoffs approached. After football committee chair Carol Dozibrin met with the NHIAA's 21-member council, it voted to use the old system.
Records in league play and head-to-head outcomes, once again, determined playoff teams.
1. Plug pulled on Plymouth's streak. For a short time, Division IV Plymouth Regional owned the nation's longest active win streak in high school football. The Bobcats built upon their 55-gamer with wins in the season's first two weeks.
Rival Kennett High of Conway ended Plymouth's record run at 57 games. News of the five-time defending champion's unexpected 20-9 upset loss on Sept. 17 quickly spread throughout the state.
Four turnovers buried the Bobcats. Penalties that cost them close to 100 yards of field position hurt them mightily, too.
Such miscues were quite uncommon for Plymouth, whose average margin of victory was 26.2 points during the streak that grew while competing in Division III (2005-07) and Division IV (2008-present).
HOLIDAY HOOP CHAMPS
In the 48 years of the Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament, no boys' program has dominated the holiday competition like Manchester Central.
It continued this season. The Little Green outlasted the eight-team field and won their 23rd title by defeating Merrimack, 49-41, in the championship game played at Manchester Memorial on Dec. 30.
John Wickey (21 points) and Gabe LaCount (15 points) paced Central in the final – and throughout the tournament. Wickey, named tournament MVP, totaled 52 points in three games. He also became the 24th player in tourney history to score 100 career points. LaCount netted 44 total points.
Joe Stisser sank arguably the biggest bucket. Back from his second ACL injury, the guard converted the game-winning free throw with 31 seconds to play in the semifinals. Central beat Queen City rival Memorial, 37-36.
Central opened the QCIBT with a 49-42 win over fellow city rival Manchester West.
Meanwhile, Central's four-year reign in the Central Girls' Christmas Basketball Tournament is over. Memorial outlasted seven foes to claim this year's crown.
Ashley Gendron connected for a tourney-high 22 points in the final, as the Crusaders beat Bow, 51-43. Gendron earned tourney MVP honors. The senior averaged 16.3 points in wins over Hollis/Brookline (37-32 first round), Trinity of Manchester (36-32 semifinals) and the finalist Falcons.
Danny Cannone led the attack for Windham, winner of the White Division crown at the Cheshire Tire/Autocare Center Holiday Basketball Festival in Keene. Cannone's 20-point effort in the final paced the Jaguars to a 62-54 win over ConVal Regional of Peterborough.
After losing last year's championship game in the Oyster River Holiday Classic, Spaulding of Rochester clinched the crown in the sixth annual event. The Red Raiders beat Portsmouth, 51-40, at Durham's Oyster River High. Brian Cronin scored 13 points in the final. Teammate Ian Christie (11 points) was named tournament MVP.
Pembroke Academy's boys defeated Concord, 37-33, to win the Capital Area Holiday Basketball Tournament at Concord's New Hampshire Technical Institute. Matthew Pearson nearly notched a double-double in the final, finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds. Merrimack Valley of Penacook won the girls' Capital Area hoop tourney. Megan Hardiman (12 points, tourney MVP honors) paced the Pride, which comfortably beat Concord's Bishop Brady, 59-20.
HOLIDAY HOCKEY CHAMPS
Sam Daley was simply sensational in the title game of the Concord-hosted Capital City Holiday Classic. There's no other way to describe the netminder's performance between the pipes.
Bishop Brady's last line of defense turned aside 69 shots in a 3-2 win over Concord at Everett Arena. The game was decided in a shootout – after a pair of 15-minute sudden-death periods failed to produce a winner.
Take one guess who earned tourney MVP honors?
Hanover traveled from the Upper Valley and climbed to the mountaintop at the Manchester High Schools Christmas Hockey Classic. Behind tournament MVP Max Woods, who scored twice in the final at JFK Coliseum, the Marauders skated to a championship-clinching 5-1 win over Memorial.
Jaret Canney led a powerful attack that lifted Somersworth to a lopsided 8-1 win in the championship round of the Brian Doucette Memorial Tournament at Rochester Arena. Canney collected the tourney MVP award. The senior scored three points (two goals, assist) in the title game against Noble, Maine.
Exeter won the 33rd annual Christmas tourney it hosts, skating past Seacoast rival Winnacunnet of Hampton, 3-0, to finish first in the four-team round-robin competition at The Rinks at Exeter. Cam Tufts, Matt Gunst and Dakota Evans scored for the Blue Hawks. Goalie Nolan Daley made eight saves to earn the shutout.
Nashua North outlasted Alvirne of Hudson to win the Nashua Holiday Tournament title, 3-2. Brendon Robbins factored in every goal for North, scoring twice and adding an assist.
HOLIDAY KING (OF) PINS
Timberlane Regional of Plaistow pinned the wrestling competition at the George Bossi Lowell (Mass.) Holiday Tournament. The Owls celebrated five champions.
The title-winning quintet included Zach Bridson (112), Matt Morris (135), Nate Lawrence (160), Nick Lawrence (171) and Ben Tammany (285).
Nine others placed in their weight classes, helping the program clinch its fourth consecutive LHT crown, the seventh in eight seasons.
David Owens of Derry's Pinkerton Academy also won a title. He was tops in the 140-pound tier.
Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.