×

Longtime Sunapee Coach Finally Gets His Title

  • The Sunapee Lakers celebrate their victory against Newmarket in the NHIAA D-IV championship at Souther NH University on Saturday, November 3, 2018. (Alan MacRae/Valley News)

  • Sunapee senior Gabe Hastings (17) settles the ball as Newmarket sophomore Mitchell Tilton closes in during the NHIAA D-IV soccer championship at Southern NH University on Saturday, November 3, 2018. (Alan MacRae/Valley News)

  • Sunapee seniors Gabe Hastings (17) and Matt Nangeroni (5) move the ball away from Newmarket senior Fred Holmes in the NHIAA D-IV soccer championship at Southern NH University on Saturday, November 3, 2018. (Alan MacRae/Valley News)

  • Sunapee sophomore Garrett Rumrill (11) moves the ball down the field in the NHIAA D-IV soccer championship at Southern NH University on Saturday, November 3, 2018. (Alan MacRae/Valley News)

  • Sunapee senior Matt Nangeroni heads the ball away from Newmarket junior Keenan Mills during the NHIAA D-IV soccer championship at Southern NH University on Saturday, November 3, 2018. (Alan MacRae/Valley News)

  • The Sunapee Lakers celebrate their victory against Newmarket in the NHIAA D-IV championship at Souther NH University on Saturday, November 3, 2018. (Alan MacRae/Valley News)

  • Sunapee junior Mike Mullen celebrates with a fist pump after scoring the game winning goal with seconds left on the clock in the NHIAA D-IV soccer championship at Southern NH University on Saturday, November 3, 2018. (Alan MacRae/Valley News)

  • The Sunapee Lakers celebrate their victory against Newmarket in the NHIAA D-IV championship at Souther NH University on Saturday, November 3, 2018. (Alan MacRae/Valley News)



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, November 04, 2018

Hooksett, n.h. — Of the 36 goals that Sunapee High junior striker Mike Mullen scored this fall, the one that clinched his team’s first NHIAA Division IV boys soccer title might have been his easiest.

Mullen’s job was simple: wait and be patient. Top-seeded, undefeated Newmarket had dominated No. 3 Sunapee for much of Saturday’s D-IV final at Southern New Hampshire University, using a lethal combination of speed and skill up front that nobody in the division had yet solved. The Mules heavily outshot Sunapee.

It was going to take a wacky defensive mistake, and a little bit of luck, to finish the job.

Mullen got his chance in the 78th minute on a defensive miscue by Newmarket sweeper Fred Holmes and goaltender Colby Foster that sent the ball rolling toward Newmarket’s goal line. He tapped it in, allowing the nervous sea of Sunapee green to begin its long-awaited celebration.

Sunapee 1, Newmarket 0. Finally, the Lakers were state champions.

“It feels great,” said longtime Sunapee head coach Jack Iacopino, in his 22nd season at the helm. “It’s awesome. I can’t believe it.”

The game-winning play began with a lob over Newmarket’s defense that was pounced upon by Mullen and Newmarket’s Holmes. Holmes’ speed won out, and he put his head on a bouncing ball back to his keeper, Foster, for the safe defensive play.

But the ball skipped through Foster’s legs, and the goalie collided with Holmes at the edge of the box. Mullen broke free alone and scored.

“I mean, pretty much my entire job today was playing their mistakes on defense,” Mullen said. “I was just so happy.”

Iacopino’s long-term tenure with the program made the title victory a little bit more special. The Lakers (17-3) had been to four state championship games since 1978 before Saturday, falling short each time.

Sunapee’s players knew their history.

“This is incredible,” Sunapee senior captain Lane Smith said. “To know how long its been without the school winning one, our coach not having won one before, this is just incredible.

Added Mullen: “Before we came here today, we were saying like, ‘Ike deserves it.’ He’s been doing this for so long.”

The victory was Sunapee’s fifth straight shutout, including four consecutive postseason matches. The Lakers walked away with 1-0 victories in the quarterfinal (vs. No. 11 Wilton-Lyndeborough), semifinal (vs. No. 2 Littleton in overtime) and final for the D-IV crown.

Against Newmarket, Sunapee’s defense was exceptional. The Mules finished the game out-shooting Sunapee, 23-8, with an 8-2 advantage in shots on goal and a 10-2 advantage on corner kicks.

“A few touches that got away from us at key times might have made a difference,” Newmarket head coach Nate Dowst said.

The Mules also saw an apparent goal called off in the 69th minute — a floating shot over Sunapee goalkeeper Justin Claus’ head from streaking Newmarket striker Nick Berthiaume. A celebration ensued, but officials determined that Berthiaume was offside on the play.

“He said he was in an offside position,” Dowst said. “His explanation was kind of weird: he was in an offside position, but he wasn’t sure if the ball was deflected on the way through. It was, but the guy over there (on the sideline) couldn’t see it and put his flag up. … I’m not sure. I didn’t understand it.

“It seemed kind of late. If it happened right away, the flag is up, OK, we get it. But we were already into our celebration. After a discussion (the goal) comes off.”

Newmarket made its first appearance in a state final since it took back-to-back trips to the Class A championship game in 1982-83.

Sunapee keeper Claus made eight saves in the victory, including a fingertip dive with 5:25 remaining in the second half off of a strike by Newmarket’s Declan McCarthy. Seven different Mules finished the game with shots on goal. All of them were rejected.

“Clearing the ball, we kept it locked down and we didn’t leave anyone open,” said Claus, who completed his first season of boys soccer after moving to the Upper Valley from North Carolina. “It was panic mode for them the whole time. They didn’t get many good shots.

“This is pretty thrilling. That’s something special. I’m going to remember this for a long time.”

Sunapee graduates seven from his roster in the offseason: Smith, Claus, defenders Matt Nangeroni, Jake Austin, Liam Gurney and Brendan Kelleher and midfielder Gabe Hastings.

“Today we just played with heart,” Iacopino said. “They played with intensity. You could see it, they went to every ball hard.”

A championship, said Smith, completed the comeback for a team that did not qualify for the playoffs his freshman season. But it’s not the four-year turnaround he’ll remember most. Instead, it’s the legacy of his coach, finally winning a championship that seemed long overdue.

“We told (Iacopino) after the game: this is for you, man,” Smith said. “The amount of work he’s put into this program, into this school and everything. Nobody deserves it more than him.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.