SWANZEY — It was rainy, cloudy and cold at Monadnock Regional High School on Monday as the Conant boys soccer team shut out the Huskies, 3-0, in the first round of the NHIAA tournament.
But this is playoff soccer, so, despite the miserable weather, the Orioles brought the energy.
“I think the excitement is there. The energy is there. The buzz is there,” said Conant head coach Tom Harvey. “I think [the team is] really up for the tournament. They were very excited on the bus and they were very excited pregame, so the energy was really good.”
Juniors Noah Mertzic and Mason Devost and sophomore Jacob Sawyer all scored a goal for the Orioles.
“We’re pretty deep in our shooters,” Harvey said. “And it’s an attribute to the way they play with the passing schemes and the high-possession soccer. That is all about them working really hard in practice and getting it done.”
The win sends Conant to the second round of the tournament, where they will face Fall Mountain on Wednesday.
“It’s only going to get tougher from here,” Harvey said. “We need to work on moving the ball out from the middle of the field and work on a little better finishing process in the middle.”
The Orioles put up three goals against the Monadnock defense, but missed opportunities to add more, particularly in the first half when Conant was putting lots of pressure on the Husky defense, but could not seem to find the sweet spot.
“We let quite a few of them get by us in front of the net, so we just need to work on a better touch in front of the goal,” Harvey said. “One more touch in front of the frame would make a huge difference.
“Every time we went down the field today, [Monadnock] packed it in,” Harvey added. recognizing the Huskies’ stout defense in the first half. “They just came in the middle, they condensed, and they made it very difficult with the bodies they had in there to get through.”
That was the game plan.
“I think [the defense] played pretty darn well,” said Monadnock head coach Josh Guion. “I think the thing we got away from in the second half, but did very well in the first half, is staying organized. We just lost our discipline a little bit and let some in in the second half.”
From the very first whistle, Conant’s offense put pressure on the Monadnock defense. The Orioles used great ball movement and precision passing to consistently get deep into Monadnock’s zone.
But it was the Husky defense that stood tall and kept the ball out of the net, despite some prime scoring opportunities for the Orioles.
That was the story for almost the entire first half, up until the 32nd minute, when Mertzic ripped the ball into the back of the net and gave Conant a 1-0 lead.
Although Conant would have a few more scoring opportunities before the end of the half, it was just a one-goal lead after 40 minutes.
The story stayed the same in the second half, with Conant creating those scoring opportunities early. This time, it didn’t take them as long to break through the Husky defense as Devost gave his team a 2-0 lead off a corner kick in the 48th minute.
Four minutes later, Sawyer followed suit, scoring off another corner kick.
“I’ve been coaching a lot about … being aware of who’s around you,” Guion said. “And all three of those goals were just mental lapses where … we let someone slip by us and they got a tap in the goal. So, we just have to be aware in the future.”
Even though there was still almost a half hour left to play, the game felt all but over, with Conant in the driver’s seat holding on to a 3-0 lead. But the Huskies fought until the final whistle that marked the end of their season, creating some scoring opportunities in the final minutes, but could not convert.
“Keep your head up,” Guion said was his message to the team. “We have a young team. It’s a young team that’s going to have a good core going forward for the next couple of years, so just keep your head up and keep working at it. Don’t get discouraged and use this as motivation to succeed and get better in the offseason.”