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Kearsarge Growing Through Adversity

  • Kearsarge goalie Colleen Mitchell keeps her eye on the puck as she goes to clear a rebound recently against Moultonborough-InterLakes. The coed Cougars team, now in its third season, is learning as they take their lumps. At left, defender Lauren Adie  moves in for support. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Kearsarge goalie Colleen Mitchell keeps her eye on the puck as she goes to clear a rebound recently against Moultonborough-InterLakes. The coed Cougars team, now in its third season, is learning as they take their lumps. At left, defender Lauren Adie moves in for support. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kearsarge sophomore Kelsie Dalton keeps an eye on the play from the bench during a recent game. The Kearsarge coed team is taking its lumps as it makes progress. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Kearsarge sophomore Kelsie Dalton keeps an eye on the play from the bench during a recent game. The Kearsarge coed team is taking its lumps as it makes progress. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kelsie Dalton, center, congratulates Kearsarge High teammate Ben Newbern (6) after he scored against Moultonborough-Interlakes. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Kelsie Dalton, center, congratulates Kearsarge High teammate Ben Newbern (6) after he scored against Moultonborough-Interlakes. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mark Cashin, head coach of the Kearsarge High hockey team, watches the action. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Mark Cashin, head coach of the Kearsarge High hockey team, watches the action. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kearsarge goalie Colleen Mitchell keeps her eye on the puck as she goes to clear a rebound recently against Moultonborough-InterLakes. The coed Cougars team, now in its third season, is learning as they take their lumps. At left, defender Lauren Adie  moves in for support. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)
  • Kearsarge sophomore Kelsie Dalton keeps an eye on the play from the bench during a recent game. The Kearsarge coed team is taking its lumps as it makes progress. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)
  • Kelsie Dalton, center, congratulates Kearsarge High teammate Ben Newbern (6) after he scored against Moultonborough-Interlakes. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)
  • Mark Cashin, head coach of the Kearsarge High hockey team, watches the action. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

Andover, N.H. — The Kearsarge High hockey team was mostly quiet during the third period of last week’s game against Moultonbourough-Interlakes. The visiting Renegades led, 6-1, and had ended virtually any suspense about the contest’s outcome when they scored four goals during a 5-minute span of the opening stanza.

For Kearsarge, this was another in a long line of defeats. The Cougars, a third-year varsity program, won once in 18 games last winter and were on the verge of an 0-3 start to the current campaign. There wasn’t a lot over which to get excited or chatter about.

Except, suddenly, there was. War whoops erupted from the home bench, sticks were whipped over the dasher and pounded against the sideboards. A loyal contingent of roughly 150 parents and peers applauded vigorously and pounded on the glass at Proctor Academy’s Teddy Maloney Rink.

The Cougars had scored. More notably, the goal came courtesy of Ben Newbern, a sophomore forward who joined the NHIAA Division III program last year, when he could barely skate, let alone play hockey.

“Everybody loves Ben; he’s a sweet kid,’’ said senior defender Lauren Adie, whose team wound up losing 7-2. “Obviously, we want to win, but it’s the little things like (Newbern’s goal) that keep us going, and that was definitely the case tonight.’’

Kearsarge, which bounced back with a 4-2 defeat of Portsmouth in its next game and is now 1-3, won 11 contests and made the playoffs during its first varsity season in 2010-11. However, the corps of 10 seniors from that team graduated, and it’s been hard times since. The Cougars were outscored, 102-30, and shut out five times last season — absorbing losses of 12-3 and 8-0 to start the current campaign.

But there are mitigating circumstances. This season’s opening setback was against Souhegan, one of the division’s best teams. Then there’s the issue of ice time. The Cougars are insured through Kearsarge High but are otherwise funded by community donations and a minimum contribution of $800 per family. Because of this financial burden, the team can’t afford the ice time to practice more than a few days per week.

Plus, eight of the 17 players are sophomores, only five are seniors and two skaters have been out recently because of discipline issues. Also a factor is the presence of six girls on the roster, a few of whom are more skilled than some of their male counterparts. But still, the team is comparatively undersized.

“People make a lot of the coed element of our team,” said coach Mark Cashin, who helped start the program at the club level several years ago. “They may think we’re not as good because of that, but after we play, I don’t think they feel that way. The girls pick up the mental parts of the game and the positioning so quickly and they drew so few penalties.

“They may give up some speed and size, but they tend to put themselves in the right spot at the right time.’’

When it comes to team chemistry, the girls are on equal footing with the guys, said Adie, a New London resident and second-year varsity player who previously competed in the Kearsarge and Hanover youth hockey organizations. Senior forward Allie Folcik, a transfer from Proctor, is one of the team’s tri-captains and goaltender Colleen Mitchell started against Moultonborough-Interlakes.

“Our guys don’t alienate the ladies,’’ said Adie, who hopes to study nursing at either Colby-Sawyer or St. Anselm next year. “We put them in their place very early in the season. They know where the line is and that we don’t put up with anything that crosses it. They’re good about treating us with the respect that we deserve.’’

That’s evident as the Moultonborough-Interlakes game progresses. Despite a mounting deficit, the Kearsarge players don’t bicker or express frustration with each other. Mitchell struggles at times, but not a word of criticism is heard from the bench and her teammates all share pats on the helmet or back with her when the game ends.

Even opponents are deferential to Kearsarge’s girls. It’s clear as the game progresses that although the Renegades will gladly take a run at the male Cougars, they scale back body contact when matched up with a girl in blue and gold.

“They’re more careful with us,’’ said sophomore Delaney Stone, a first-year varsity player. “The last game, a guy hit me and then said ‘I’m sorry; I didn’t know you were a girl’. I said it was OK. I’m grateful that they’re careful about it, but getting hit is fine, too.’’

Said Cashin: “Other teams really respect that we need girls at this point and very rarely do I see any of them get hit harder than is needed to get the puck.’’

There’s hope the Cougars can climb out of the Division III cellar in coming seasons. Cashin said all involved with starting the program knew that once that initial senior class moved on, a few lean years would follow. The coach believes his squad’s fortunes will improve as its young players mature and an expected talent influx arrives from youth hockey.

“We have numbers coming,’’ said Jeff Adie, Lauren’s father. “For now, playing hockey and losing is better than not playing hockey at all.’’

Steve Ricker, a junior forward from New London and perhaps the team’s best player, said he’s come to roughly the same conclusion.

“It’s sad to say, but I’ve gotten used to it,’’ he said. “I’m not too worried about the score, and I still have fun.

“The last two years, we’ve had a lot of first-year players and kids who haven’t played together before, so it’s more difficult to make those subconscious connections on the ice.’’

There’s hope that the future holds more competitive seasons and at least partial school funding. Cashin dreams of Kearsarge one day fielding separate boys and girls teams, but that appears to be a long-term goal. For now, the Cougars enjoy playing as they are, the chance to use Proctor’s impressively refurbished rink and the camaraderie they’ve built together.

“The best part is becoming a big family and being accepting of each other,’’ said Lauren Adie, whose team’s next home game is Jan. 9 against Laconia. “It’s definitely difficult to lose, but we have to keep our heads up. We play as a team and we try our best and that’s all that matters.’’

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.