Sunapee Girls’ Reign Ends on Overtime Penalty Kick

  • Sunapee's Abby Polari (9) and Mary Beth Groton (13) come close to a goal with Epping's goalie Ashlyn Vensel making the save during their NHIAA D-IV in Laconia, N.H., on Nov. 1, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sunapee's Star Lucas and Epping's Kaitlyn Nichols make conntact during their NHIAA D-IV in Laconia, N.H., on Nov. 1, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/1/2018 11:59:13 PM

Laconia, n.h. — Not too many teams over the last few seasons have been able to solve Sunapee High’s girls. The Lakers won back-to-back state championships in 2016 and ‘17 and powered their way to a top seed in this year’s NHIAA Division IV tournament using the same overpowering formula.

What No. 4 Epping did defensively during Thursday’s D-IV semifinal match was nothing short of a master class in shutting the Lakers down.

Top-seeded Sunapee was stymied, frustrated and worn down in a 1-0 overtime loss to the Blue Devils at Laconia High School. The Blue Devils outshot Sunapee and held the Lakers’ high-powered offense at bay, keeping particular eye on Sunapee sophomore scorer Abby Pollari.

When its chance came, Epping made the Lakers pay for not figuring things out earlier. Blue Devils senior midfielder Casey Needham connected on a penalty kick into the right corner, sending Epping to only its third championship game in program history. The Blue Devils have never won, last falling to Derryfield, 4-3, in 2015.

Epping will face No. 2 Newmarket in the D-IV final on Sunday afternoon at Laconia High.

“We knew we couldn’t let them have space and a through ball for their top strikers,” said Epping head coach Meghan Fiore. “No. 9 (Pollari), the sophomore, she’s an incredible player. She’s quick, and she comes out of nowhere. ... We knew if we gave them any type of space with her, she would be behind our defense before we even knew we were beat.”

The game-winning play came off an Epping counterattack.

Sophomore midfielder Emma Roussel took a pass in the midfield and went one-on-one with Sunapee defender Liz Nichols, who reached in for the ball when Roussel got too close to goal. The tackle tripped Roussel up in the box. Needham lined up to take the deciding penalty kick.

“I always kick it to the same side,” Needham said of her game-winner. “I have the spot picked before every game just in case it happens. We practice all the time as a group. I was lucky I was the one who got to kick it.”

Sunapee (15-3-0) had its best chance to score moments earlier, senior forward Mary Beth Groton hitting the crossbar on a free kick from just outside the box. Pollari headed the rebound over the net, one of her cleanest chances to score. It was only the third time this season Pollari was held off the scoreboard.

But by overtime it was too little, too late for a Lakers team that just seemed out of sync. They had trouble connecting passes and finding through balls past Epping’s defenders. The two teams did not face each other in the regular season.

“They defended well,” Sunapee head coach Myles Cooney said. “We had trouble controlling the ball. Eventually, it hurt us.

“We struggled with — composure isn’t the word — but it was just our touch. We got too frenetic with the ball. We turned the ball over a lot. ... If we handled the ball a little bit better out of the back, we probably would have saved ourselves a lot of heartache.”

Sunday’s D-IV final marks something of a shifting of the tide in the division. Only three teams have brought home titles in the last decade: Sunapee (4), Derryfield (5) — now in D-III — and Littleton.

“It’s a disappointing, hard loss,” Cooney said. “The girls are going to be hurting for a while from this one.”

Sunapee graduates eight — defenders Louise Groton and Elizabeth Bennett; midfielders Erin Moynihan and Star Lucas; forwards Hannah Cooney, Mary Beth Groton and Robyn Salvitti; and goaltender Abby Rowell. Pollari and her 41 points (30 goals, 11 assists) return next year, as does playmaking midfielder Ellie Frederick.

The Sunapee coach has his work cut out for him, picking up the pieces after a disappointing loss.

Fiore, on the other hand, said her team feels like it slayed the giant.

“We were actually excited,” the Epping coach said on the opportunity to play Sunapee in the semis. “I can’t pick a better team to go up against to show the level that we’re at and the work that it took to get there. To take down the No. 1 seed, two-time defending champs, they just have a great program. They’re well-coached; they have great athletes.

“For us to be able to hang like that, to have a game like that, it’s a testament to the work the girls have put in.”

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




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