It was the day before their final regular season game when the Keene High boys soccer team found out they weren’t going to compete in the postseason.
“We [told them] right before training, and [Keene athletic director] Mike Atkins relayed that message,” said Keene head coach Ben Pierce. “Then I sat with the guys, we had a brief conversation, and there were definitively some questions to be answered, but I think the kids understood it.”
The Blackbirds were scheduled to take on Concord High School in the first round of the NHIAA Division I tournament, but because of the Keene’s school board’s previous travel restrictions, the team was not allowed to travel for the game.
Pierce and Atkins reached out to Concord’s coach and athletic director to see if they would be willing to move the game to Keene, but Concord had restrictions of their own, so Keene was forced to forfeit, ending their season.
“I’m glad that we just got to play at all,” said senior captain Jonas O’Mara, who led the team with six goals and six assists this season. “But yeah, expecting the playoffs and then not — it sucked.
“Being a senior, you know, definitely tough. That’s all I can say about it,” O’Mara added. “But, at the end of the day, there’s not a whole lot I could do about it, so I just kind of have to take it.”
Plus, the team still had another game to play. They cruised to a victory, as they had done for much of the season, a 9-0 victory against Division III opponent Conant High School.
“Once we realized this was our last game ever as seniors, we just decided to do whatever we could in our last game,” O’Mara said.
“I think it speaks to their competitive nature,” Pierce said. “They all like to compete. So I wasn’t surprised. These kids, once they’re playing, they don’t want to lose.”
Conant was one of the many lower-division schools that Keene competed against this year. An adjusted schedule pitted the Blackbirds against regional schools, all of which are in lower divisions.
Pierce said Keene also had the opportunity to compete against Brattleboro High School this year, winning 3-0.
“That felt good, they’re a good team,” Pierce said.
The team was looking forward to two games against Hanover High School, last year’s Division I state champions, scheduled for the end of the year, but those games were kicked to the curb when Hanover announced a positive COVID case at their school.
Even with the less-competitive schedule, the Blackbirds were undefeated this year and felt that they could have competed for the state title after losing to the eventual state champions in the quarterfinal round last season.
“Most people on the team that were here last year felt that … we were better this year than we had been,” O’Mara said. “So, yeah, it was tough, because we felt like we could make a run.”
O’Mara’s successful senior campaign earned him a spot on the All-State First Team.
“It’s nice to be recognized as one of the better players in New Hampshire but compared to missing playoffs — it kind of makes up for it, but not totally,” O’Mara said. “I wish our team could’ve been recognized.”
Senior Charlie Zwierzchowski and junior Brady Belden were also recognized. Zwierzchowski made the All-State Second Team and Belden earned an honorable mention.
“I think that kind of speaks for what we could’ve done in the playoffs,” O’Mara said.
“These players had every excuse not to go as hard as they went,” Pierce said. “They didn’t need to train as hard as they usually do because we’re not part of the traditional Division I schedule, but these players … had goals in mind that they wanted to reach.”