There’s a good reason Manchester High School Central’s boys and Keene High’s girls can expect to hear considerable footsteps this fall.
And the fact they compete in cross country is only half of it.
The squads for Central and Keene last week learned they earned the statewide preseason No. 1 ranking, according to New Hampshire Cross Country. The weekly newsletter, in its 16th year, bases rankings on returning runners and team success from the previous season.
“It’s very subjective,” said Larry Martin, co-editor of the newsletter with Amy Sanborn. “But the neat thing is it creates controversy.”
It also paints a giant bull’s-eye on two teams.
“We’ll see if it’s a blessing or a curse,” said 11-year Keene coach Bill Derry, whose Blackbirds finished second in last year’s final poll. “This is exciting and this is neat. But we have to stay healthy, and things have to come together at the right time or the ranking doesn’t mean anything.”
Third-year mentor Mike Hennessy, who co-coaches Central’s boys with Coby Jacobus, echoed Derry’s sentiments. Central’s surge a year ago created enormous expectations.
“I knew we were going to be strong (this season). We made New Englands last year and didn’t have any seniors on varsity,” said Hennessy, whose 2009 team closed at No. 5 in the poll. “What we did last year with sophomores and juniors was surprising.”
Central returns its top seven runners from the team that finished fourth at the ’09 Meet of Champions. Sam Gagnon leads the group. The newsletter ranks Central’s senior with Jeff LaCoste (Bishop Guertin of Nashua), Anthony Anzivino (Pinkerton Academy of Derry), John Conlin (Merrimack) and Jack Collopy (Oyster River of Durham) as top runners.
Seniors Zach Chabot, Max Tucker, Dan Ouellette and Ryan McHugh, and juniors Sean Brown and Matt Becker round out Central’s stellar cast. McHugh is back from a broken right femur suffered in a ski accident last winter.
“Last year, we weren’t even ranked to start the season. Now we have a target on our back,” Hennessy said. “Hopefully it raises their game up.”
Four of Keene’s top five runners return. Chloe Maleski, formerly a girls’ soccer player, is among them.
In her first full cross country campaign last year as a junior, Maleski earned all-New England honors. Garnering interest from Georgetown and Boston College, she is joined by Jacy Christiansen (Mascenic Regional of Ipswich), Kelsey Smith (Exeter), Alexandra and Elizabeth Conway (Central), Brianna Tevnan (Merrimack Valley of Penacook) and Corey Dowe (Coe-Brown Academy of Northwood) as the publication's top runners.
Juniors Brie Boden and Anna Fay, and sophomore Rachel Klaski complete Keene’s quality quartet.
“Our question mark is how big is our (gap) going to be from our first to our fifth runner,” Derry said. “That’s going to be the factor that determines how good we are.”
Running backs Jordan Garron and Mike Kelly found the end zone with frightening frequency in football’s first week.
Garron, a junior at Bedford High, scored six touchdowns. The Division III Bulldogs torched Division II Manchester West, 51-6, in non-league action on Sept. 3.
“The most (touchdowns) I’d ever scored in a game was three,” said the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Garron. “And that was in Pop Warner.”
The next day, Kelly, who has since suffered a season-ending foot injury, enjoyed a career contest. The 5-foot-9, 176-pound Bishop Guertin senior tallied five TDs. The Cardinals, a perennial Division II power, scorched Division I Salem, 48-21.
In total, the dominant duo totaled 529 yards of offense on 37 touches. And that’s without tacking on the 200-plus combined yards in kick- and punt-returns.
Production provided by Garron was impressive considering his number wasn’t called consistently in preseason scrimmages. Bedford changed its offense from a combination straight-T and pro set to the spread.
“We didn’t get the ball to him enough, so he couldn’t get his stride,” said Bedford head coach Kurt Hines, whose Bulldogs have since improved to 2-0. “He’s obviously a force to be reckoned with.”
Garron’s bloodlines trace to the NFL. The 16-year-old’s father, Andre, played briefly for the Kansas City Chiefs (1986-87). The teen’s grandfather, Larry, enjoyed a lengthy career with the Boston Patriots (1960-68).
Clearly inheriting athleticism, Garron gained 219 yards on 17 carries in the opener. Five touches turned into TDs. He ran for double-digit yardage on seven consecutive carries and finished with nine rushes of 10-plus yards.
He also returned the second half's opening kickoff 85 yards for a TD.
Running behind a new-look offensive line that returned just three of seven starters, Kelly spent the preseason building cohesion with BG's boys up front.
“We struggled a little in the preseason,” said Kelly. “But that made us realize we’re young. We have to work hard at it.”
Diligence paid dividends.
Kelly amassed 193 yards and four TDs on 17 carries. He also caught three passes for 117 yards and a score.
On the game’s first play from scrimmage, Kelly celebrated a 65-yard catch-and-run score. His first rush, on an option-pitch, turned into a 45-yard TD.
But Kelly’s promising season was cut short in BG’s 21-6 Week 2 win against Timberlane Regional of Plaistow. BG head coach Tony Johnson told UnionLeader.com on Sept. 14 that Kelly was diagnosed with a Lisfranc injury.
“He’s out for the season,” Johnson told the website. “He pulled and tore the ligaments in the mid-portion of his foot. It’s not a very common sports injury. But the way he landed, and the way his foot was positioned when he got hit, he tore the major ligament in the mid-foot, which displaced some bones.
“It’s a very serious mid-foot ligament injury,” Johnson added. “There’s no fracture. It’s a ligament tear.”
DIGGIN’ HER ROLE
Goffstown High libero Gav Risman-Jones recorded an eye-catching 48 digs in a 3-1 Division I girls’ volleyball win against Exeter High on Sept. 13.
The junior’s digs total, however, didn’t set a single-match program record. Amelia Raymond (Class of 2010) tallied 49 digs three times in her high school career.
“After graduating a two-time all-state libero, we thought libero may be a bit of a liability,” said Goffstown coach Matt Leonard. “In truth, the position will continue to be a strength of our team for at least two more seasons.”
Risman-Jones recorded 88 digs (29.3 per match) in Goffstown’s first three matches, all wins. Fueled by the star’s play along the back row, the Grizzlies dropped just one game.
“I didn’t even know what the (digs) record was,” said the 5-foot-3 ½ talent. “I was just playing to win and help the team. I like being the defensive specialist.”
Quarterbacks were football’s second-week stars.
Mike Luks and Jon Queen, senior signal-callers in Division III, proved they can sling it.
Luks, of Amherst’s Souhegan High, completed 29 of 45 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns in his team’s 23-14 win at Portsmouth on Sept. 10. The first-year starter’s totals for completions, attempts and passing yards set single-game program records.
“He did this all with some back spasms,” said Souhegan head coach Mike Beliveau, whose two-time defending champion squad is 2-0. “He was a game-time decision, having not practiced much during the week. It was a pretty gutty performance.”
Consider this: Souhegan’s 6-foot-3, 215-pound QB twice had 30-plus-yard TD tosses negated due to holding penalties.
The same night, Queen, of Peterborough’s ConVal Regional, completed 7 of 12 passes for a single-game program record 426 yards. The 6-foot, 195-pound field general tossed TDs of 76, 74 and 65 yards.
Queen, a starter for two and a half seasons, also ran for 98 yards on six carries. The Cougars (1-1) amassed 726 yards of offense in a 45-0 win over Pelham.
“Anytime you get a guy who throws for that many yards … it’s pretty darn impressive. But I was more impressed with how he ran our triple-option (offense),” said ConVal head coach Greg Leonard. “Everything clicked for him from start to finish.”
The boys’ soccer team at Gilford High is overpowering its Division III competition.
The Golden Eagles take a 6-0 record into their Sept. 17 match. They have outscored opponents, 40-1. They’re clearly motivated by last year’s championship loss — the lone blemish on their 2009 resume.
Senior Andrew Kwist, a coaches’ association first-team all-state player last season, leads a defense that is unafraid to attack, according to 34-year Gilford coach Dave Pinkham. Kwist is joined on defense by seniors Connor Sanborn and Connor Hillsgrove, the goalkeeper, plus junior Garrett Workman and sophomore Guy Rice.
Stefan Defregger, a senior midfielder, has 15 goals. Dominant at both ends of the pitch, he tallied 45 markers and 16 assists as New Hampshire Union Leader Player of the Year in 2009. Senior striker Michael Workman, a returning all-state pick, has six goals and six assists.
“Our ability to possess the ball and move the ball with short passes, both forward and backward, is nice to see this early in the season,” said Pinkham, who has guided the program to 13 championships and nine runner-up finishes.
SMALL SCHOOL, BIG TALENT
Fifty-six schools across three divisions field varsity field hockey teams. Only one, however, has played at least four matches and won them all without allowing a goal.
That’s the Division III squad from The Derryfield School of Manchester — the second-smallest school in the sport. DS has a student enrollment of 248.
Tayla Satkwich and Ann DiPastina, senior midfielders and co-captains, are instrumental in the team's penalty-corner offense. Both players, with four goals apiece, are garnering extreme interest from college field hockey programs, Satkwich from Middlebury and DiPastina from Cornell, according to DS coach Lenny McCaigue.
Freshman forward Colby Vaillancourt has three goals. Her twin sister, Berklee, teams with sophomore Atlee Coler to provide solid defense.
"Our philosophy is defense starts from the front, with the forwards," said McCaigue, whose Cougars outscored their first four foes, 16-0. "If we can keep games close, we give ourselves an opportunity to win near the end."
For the first time in football’s Union Leader/WGAM/WMUR Power Poll — the weekly Top 10 as voted by this reporter and colleagues from the statewide newspaper, Nashua-based sports-radio station and statewide television station, respectively — three teams have topped the rankings in the season’s first three weeks.
Division I Nashua High School North was No. 1 in the preseason/Week 1 poll.
But Division II Bishop Guertin controlled the poll in Week 2. It resulted from North’s 27-21 season-opening overtime loss to Division II Winnacunnet of Hampton and BG’s big win at Salem.
Yet Guertin, a record-setter last season by remaining No. 1 for the final 12 weeks of the season, slipped from its perch. BG struggled to top Timberlane, ultimately powering Division I Pinkerton, 23-14 winners at Nashua South, to the top.
The Astros, with just 10 seniors listed on their roster, enter Week 3 as New Hampshire’s first four-time No. 1 team. They’re also 0-3 when ranked in that slot.
Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He has been the high schools reporter for football and lacrosse since joining the statewide newspaper in 2006. A graduate of Syracuse University (2000), he wrote about the state’s football history for an exhibit at The Hall at Patriot Place. The Bedford, N.H., native has covered the Little League World Series, NCAA men’s lacrosse championships, UNH athletics and New Hampshire Fisher Cats baseball. He can be reached at email@example.com.