Going Brogue: Hanover Soccer Takes Irish Trip

  • Hanover's Henry Kahl and Londonderry's Josh Rutina struggle for control of the ball during their game in Hanover, N.H. on Aug 25, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover goalie Hans Williams makes a save as Londonderry's Josh Ryan and Hanover's Gary Li move toward the goal during their game in Hanover, N.H., on Aug. 25, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover's Charlie Adams steers the ball with Londonderry's Luke Cava beside him during their game in Hanover, N.H. on Aug. 25, 2017.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Friday, August 25, 2017

Hanover — Longtime Hanover High boys soccer coach Rob Grabill sometimes feels he must go a long way to prepare his Marauders for the coming season. The journey occasionally covers several thousand miles.

For the second time in four years, Grabill spent a small chunk of August shepherding a group of 16 Hanover soccer players on a weeklong trip to Ireland. Whereas his 2014 collection went to Galway, on the Emerald Isle’s west coast, for a tournament, this year’s group spent as much time absorbing the city’s culture as training and competing in friendlies.

Of course, Grabill wasn’t entirely writing off the soccer experience.

“There was a phrase that was going around: ‘Coach is gathering data,’ ” Grabill admitted on Friday after Hanover dropped a 2-1 decision to Londonderry in an NHIAA Division I season opener at Merriman-Branch Field. “That’s all I was doing, gathering data. … This was when we really got a look at some of the boys who were going to be stepping into new roles.

“They were the ones who were joking about it. Clearly, whether it’s summer soccer, a trip like this, when you have tryouts and you don’t want to have this one-day, hello-goodbye evaluation, you’ve got a body of work to look at.”

Fourteen of the trip-takers have since made the Hanover varsity and suited up for the Marauders (0-1) on Friday. That included junior center back Gary Li, who scored Hanover’s lone goal and is part of a rebuilt defense that will have a large say in the Marauders’ progress this fall.

None of the five players starting in the back against the Lancers (1-0) did so for Hanover last year. The same goes for goalkeeper Hans Williams (two saves). As they grow, so will the Marauders.

“I think just communicating is very important,” Li said. “A lot of us are really shy; we’re not really up to the task of stepping up and being a leader on the field. That’s something we all need to work on.”

Li wasn’t planning on making the Ireland trip, to which Grabill committed back in December. With former Oyster River boys soccer coach Tom Johnson doing the planning and Southern Maine Community College soccer coach Brian Dougher handling the football end of it, all Grabill had to do was chaperone … and take notes.

The Salthill Devon Football Club, which welcomed Hanover for its Galway Cup tournament in 2014, couldn’t invite the Marauders this time because the tourney was limited to U15 players. Instead, SDFC set up a couple of friendly matches with its youth squads and added one with a neighboring club, Colga FC, when Grabill’s gang wasn’t practicing or sightseeing.

“It’s tremendous opportunity for a number of things,” Grabill said. “We try to mix soccer and culture. If it was all soccer, it would be just a slog. We might as well just stay home and go to a soccer camp.

“We got to walk the city of Galway, see cathedrals that are 800 years old. We got to get a real feel for the Irish people. We had arrangements to have sit-down conversations with folks. … We got familiar enough with the city, staying at a hostel right in the middle of it; we could walk anywhere. We’d turn the boys loose for three hours, four hours, say, ‘Hey, go get a meal, meet us back here at 8 o’clock.’ They really had a lot of independence.”

As important as the soccer was, time spent getting to know potential teammates served Li best.

“I just wanted to have some fun and play with this great group of guys,” said the junior, who went to Ireland as a fill-in for an injured teammate. “I wasn’t expecting to make the (varsity) team; in fact, it wasn’t really on my radar at that moment. But I’m happy I got the opportunity to play with everyone here. Most of these people went on the trip; I’m really good friends with almost everyone now.”

Against Londonderry, Grabill sent out a starting defense of Li, senior Ben Parrado, sophomore Noah Pikielny and freshman Matty Gardner in front of Williams, a junior, with withdrawn junior midfielder Dillon Bradley providing additional cover. The group played effectively as a unit but showed some room for development, challenged most by Londonderry’s speed and propensity for direct play.

Hanover should have scored in the third minute of the match, as the Marauders’ Charlie Adams found Elias Zinman for a bid against out-of-position Londonderry keeper Alex Hufford (two saves) that missed the mark. The Lancers nearly pierced Williams four minutes later, Owen Creed’s sinking 30-yard drive rattling the crossbar. Tyler Van Avery eventually gave Londonderry the lead in the 36th minute, running around Parrado on the left wing and solving Williams from a sharp angle.

The Marauders, who held a slight edge in first-half possession, equalized in the 57th as Li nodded home a far-post corner kick from Liam Collins. Overtime beckoned until Hanover’s defense left Josh Ryan alone long enough to permit a 20-yard side-footed drive from the right flank to sneak past Williams with 6:10 left.

Striker Henry Kahl, one of a half-dozen starters on Friday back from a Hanover squad that graduated 16 players last season, smacked the crossbar with a last-minute free kick. With that, Grabill had a fresh set of data to contemplate.

As did Li.

“I honestly think it’s communication; that’s kind of where we broke down on our two goals,” the center back said. “That’s a failure to communicate with one another. If we just work on that, be able to be where we are told to be, that will make our defense more compact and prevent any more goals in the future.”

Corner Kicks: Londonderry held a 13-8 edge in shots, while Hanover owned a 5-3 advantage in corners. … Hanover was missing senior back Sam Pych, who is still recovering from a preseason ankle injury. Grabill said Pych, who participated in pregame warmups, should be back by mid-September. … Adams, the Marauders’ leading scorer last year as a freshman, also played with an ankle brace and was held to just one shot. … Williams made an outstanding save eight minutes into the second half, racing to edge of his area to rob Ryan on a partial breakaway. … Hanover dealt with the Lancers’ speed better by inserting sophomore Kyle Doucette to start the second half. ... Londonderry’s winner came during the only two minutes of rest Li took all afternoon. … Hanover returns to Merriman-Branch on Tuesday evening to host defending D-I state champ Exeter at 6 p.m.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.