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Stepping up to a new challenge

  • Hanover High School girls soccer Capt. Sage McGinley-Smith, center, celebrates with her teammates after winning a timed challenge during practice in Hanover, N.H., Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. The Marauders are NHIAA Division II defending champions. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photos — James M. Patterson

  • Ellie Stannard takes a question from a Hanover High soccer teammate during practice in Hanover, N.H., Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. Stannard presented a set of corner kick plays she designed while in rehabilitation from ACL surgery during the practice. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

  • Skouly Kachikis, right, clears the ball up the field after stealing from teammate Charlotte Johnson, left, while scrimmageing at a Hanover High School girls soccer practice in Hanover, N.H., Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 9/19/2020 9:26:54 AM
Modified: 9/19/2020 9:26:52 AM

HANOVER — Hanover High girls soccer coach Doug Kennedy had started a whiteboard dissection of defending an opponent’s corner kick during a Thursday afternoon practice when Charlotte Johnson got his attention.

“One of the four goals we allowed last year,” the senior forward pointed out, “was a corner.”

Let that percolate for a moment. The Hanover girls played 1,531 minutes of soccer last fall, won every one of their 19 games, gave up all of four goals, recorded 16 shutouts, owned a plus-77 goal differential and posted a 0.21 goals-against average. The Marauders’ team photo should be attached to the definition of defense in Webster’s.

Clearly, Hanover needed a bigger test, so how’s this: After winning two straight NHIAA Division II state championships (and four of the last six), move up to D-I … and do it during a pandemic that is taking a big bite out of the Marauders’ schedule.

Challenge accepted.

“It’s very, very different from what we expected,” said Kennedy, who enters his 13th season at Hanover’s helm. “Division I was going to be a big, big challenge. I think this year is going to be a big, big challenge in that it’s unexpected. We’re playing teams we’d normally not play. I don’t think that means it’s going to be easy, that we’re going to roll over anybody.”

Kennedy has been “really balanced,” in his words, about the issue of moving up the past few years, not taking a side either way. That changed as 2019 evolved.

The on-field results were one thing, but Kennedy said a variety of folks suggested petitioning to D-I as the season progressed and lopsided shutouts became the norm. An informal poll he took of parents and alumni yielded 75-80% in favor, which tipped Kennedy’s opinion in favor of the move.

“It is a bummer that we don’t get the full game schedule, but just being able to play two D-I teams is going to be exciting for us,” junior central defender Elsa Bolinger said. “I think it will be a good transition into D-I, get a little bit of a taste for it.”

As the numbers attest, Kennedy builds his Hanover game plans from the back. Keep the other team off the scoreboard and you’ve set the foundation for a good result, he figures.

Much will change this fall. The graduation of four-year goalkeeper Bella Bardales has thrown two newcomers, Rebekah Rudd and Emma Kleber, into the breech. The Marauders’ four-back set brought back Bolinger but lost another returnee, Ellie Stannard, to a summer knee injury, so the defense made need some time to grow.

“It starts with defense,” Kennedy said. “You have to be rock-solid back there in order to create an offense. If you have a porous defense, it doesn’t matter what your stars up front can do. I don’t think you can’t get the ball to them.”

The Hanover defenders will have plenty of potent targets to hit on counterattacks. Johnson’s 21 goals and 15 assists led the Marauders last year and ranked second in the Upper Valley. Fellow strike partner Sage McGinley-Smith is also back after a 13-goal campaign.

“Coach really emphasizes the communication that the defense has to give in order to control the team on the field,” Bolinger said. “I think, obviously, every player has an important role, but defense holds the team down.”

D-I step-ups have been the thing in recent years at Hanover, which has seen boys soccer, girls tennis and boys tennis all move to the NHIAA’s big-school division. The Marauders have fared well — boys soccer won D-I honors in 2019 — and that gives Kennedy encouragement.

The Marauders will see just two D-I teams in their regionalized schedule. Goffstown recently claimed a date for next week that was originally filled by D-III Fall Mountain. Hanover will close its truncated 11-match slate with a home-and-home against Keene.

They technically aren’t defending champions anymore. But the Marauders know success still begins and ends with defense.

“The interesting part about this is you normally come into a season and know exactly what your goals are,” Kennedy said. “That’s less clear this year.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.

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