LONDONDERRY, N.H. –- Bob Slater subscribes to a very specific philosophy regarding competition. The sixth-year girls' lacrosse coach for Londonderry High doesn't believe extending a win streak by playing a soft schedule takes priority over facing the toughest foes he can find for his team.
He won't hesitate to accept a stern test.
The Lancers received one Saturday morning. New Hampshire's two-time defending Division I champions clinched their state-best 44th consecutive win, defeating Duxbury with a down-to-the-wire 12-11 decision.
Londonderry (7-0) erased an early three-goal deficit, played a back-and-forth and end-to-end contest, and survived a frenetic final minute against Duxbury (6-3). The game was, quite frankly, filled with situations Slater's squad hasn't seen on the in-state scene in some time.
“We knew it would be a dogfight,” Slater said. “The kids were prepared for it. They worked hard at practice. We got behind, made a few adjustments … and I couldn't be more proud of them.”
Londonderry freshman midfielder Alexa Bedell scored a game-high seven points (four goals, three assists). She showed poise in traffic and speed in space. Meanwhile, Duxbury's Stonehill-bound senior attacker Keri Gould was killer on crease rolls, pacing the Dragons with a game-high six goals.
Gould scored three times in the opening 5-plus minutes. Her quick cuts to the cage, often around the right post, gave Duxbury an eye-opening 4-1 advantage.
“When we work together, it's awesome,” Gould said. “All my teammates set me up and know my strong side.”
Duxbury's strong start was a direct result of winning draws. Boston University-bound center-midfielder Siobhan McCarthy earned her team possessions.
That prompted a significant in-game adjustment: Londonderry junior midfielder Jenny Thompson (three goals) moved to the circle and matched up with McCarthy.
“Draws are key. That's where it all begins,” said Thompson, arguably New Hampshire's top college prospect. “The first thing to do is win the draw, then settle the offense and get it going.”
The Lancers -- winners of their previous six games by a 14-goal average –- regrouped. Moments after a crease violation denied Duxbury its fifth goal, Julia Wasserman (two goals) buried Bedell's feed. The pass was the third in a sequence that started with goalkeeper Sarah Ford (four saves) finding Thompson.
Thompson later knotted the game at 5-apiece with a 45-yard burst toward Sophie Fitzpatrick (13 saves). Bedell's free-position goal gave Londonderry a 6-5 halftime lead.
Neither side created separation in the second half. Over the final 25 minutes, the game was tied six times. Goals from Gould and Emily Giumetti in a 23-second span midway through the stanza briefly earned the Dragons their lone lead after halftime, 10-9.
“We travel far because we need to see more competition like (Londonderry),” Duxbury coach Kelly Jurgens said. “They're a great team. It's great preparation for tournament time.”
Leah Walter scored the game-winner with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left in regulation.
But Amy Johnson's late-game play on defense truly kept Londonderry's streak alive. Johnson knocked down a pass near the crease with 23 seconds to play, forcing a critical turnover.
A failed clear, however, gave Duxbury renewed hope –- until Johnson drew a turnover-inducing charge, with 14 seconds on the clock.
“Charges are the worst,” said Johnson, who earned the team's game ball. “You see them coming at you and you say, 'I have to stand here and take this.'"
The collision, she confirmed, was well worth it. It's 44 and counting for the Lancers, who return to league play with two games apiece against fellow powers Pinkerton Academy and Concord High.
“We were definitely aware of their win streak. We wanted to kill it. We were close,” Gould said. “We would love another shot at them.”
Knowing how Slater operates, it wouldn't be a shock if he accepts the challenge.
Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read his blog, "New Hampshire GameDay" and follow him on Twitter @marc_thaler.