For the past two years, the Division III semifinal round has been the bane of the Monadnock boys’ lacrosse team’s existence.
The Huskies were eliminated both times, falling to Laconia last year and to Kearsarge the year before.
Meanwhile, the state tournament has been very good to Hopkinton. Each of the last two seasons, the Hawks have beaten the team that defeated Monadnock in the semis in the final round, and are now the two-time defending Division III champions.
But with a more experienced squad that features seven seniors — including four members of Monadnock’s state champion football team and three from its state runner-up boys’ hockey team — the Huskies are looking to flip the script on Hopkinton in this year’s semifinals.
No. 3 seed Monadnock takes on the No. 2 Hawks today at 4 p.m. at Exeter High School’s Bill Ball Stadium. The game was originally scheduled for Wednesday at Bank of N.H. Stadium in Laconia, but was postponed because of weather.
“I think we feel pretty confident,” Monadnock Coach Rob Hart said. “I think we match up well against Hopkinton.”
The two teams faced off April 22 in Hopkinton, and gave each other their tightest contest of the year. The game went into overtime, with the Hawks prevailing, 15-14.
“They’ve seen us, and they know how we play and we know how they play,” Hart said. “So now it’s just getting out there and just seeing who can execute better.”
Hopkinton runs a very movement-based offense, centered around players cutting into open space without the ball for a catch-and-shoot opportunity, as opposed to fighting and dodging around their defenders with the ball.
It’s a very similar style to Trinity, the team Monadnock smothered in Saturday’s quarterfinal game, 17-4, so Hart expects the keys for his defensive players to be much the same as that game: stay with your man, don’t get fooled by picks and switches, and push them out to the edges when possible for lower-percentage shots.
Hopkinton presents a formidable challenge, regardless of style. Trinity averaged just 7.4 goals per game during the season, while the Hawks scored nearly twice that at 14.5 per game.
Hart said that higher level comes from an established system of success, and had nothing but praise for seven-year Hopkinton Coach Deacon Blue and his program.
“They learn things while in their program,” Hart said of Hopkinton’s players. “I think they’re athletic — very athletic — and they just play well together. They come out of a good system, and they learn how to play good lacrosse. They don’t take a lot of penalties, they just play hard.”
Hopkinton’s defense — which smothered its quarterfinal opponent, Kearsarge, 10-2 — is nothing to sneeze at either, running a strong man-to-man scheme that held all but one opponent to single-digit scoring this season.
“They’re good sticks; they’ll stay right with you, they clear well; good goalie,” Hart said. “Just a notch up from what Trinity was at each position.”
But the Huskies used their physical, matchup-based attack to punch holes in the Hawks’ protective wall. Their 14 goals in the earlier contest is the most Hopkinton has given up in the past three seasons.
Monadnock had one of its most balanced offensive efforts that day. Tim Hart, Chris Boucher, Dominic Dow and Justin Joslyn each scored three goals, and Hart and Boucher tallied three assists apiece.
Hart, Dow and Boucher are having a big postseason. Hart and Dow recorded six goals and one assist each against Trinity; Boucher added two goals and five assists.
On Saturday, the Huskies showed what a difference a good start to a game can make. After a sloppy start in their regular-season game against Trinity led to a close 13-9 win, a hot start in the playoffs resulted in a blowout and a nine-goal margin of victory.
Coach Hart said he expects the start of today’s game to be a deciding factor.
“In a game, if you can get out to a good start and get the feel and get into a comfort zone and feel comfortable in the game, get the butterflies out, and really feel like everything you’re doing is going your way, I feel like that’s important,” Hart said.
He said his squad, despite today’s stage, is feeling less intimidated by the specter of the big game and more eager to take to the field.
“The guys are ready, more than ready,” Hart said. “We just want to get it on. You get to that point where, let’s just play.”