August 19, 2009
HENNIKER— Championship games have a way of ratcheting up the pressure when it's you against the goalie. When Reannan Gardner received a perfect pass from teammate Alyssa Bailly from 18 yards out, she knew how important this chance was for North Country United in the New Hampshire Soccer Conference's women's division 2 title game.
"I got the ball middle-18, right corner," said Gardner, who will be a senior at Littleton High. "Trying to stay calm is a big one. I don't always do it. Just stay calm, look for the goal. Just put it in."
On a 90-degree day at the Henniker Soccer Club Fields, Gardner was much cooler just 16 minutes into the match. She rammed home the opening goal and NC United went on to defeat Hillsboro-Deering 2-0 to claim the crown last Saturday.
NC United (13-3-1) was making its third-straight to the finals. It claimed the championship two years ago and was runner-up last season. Gardner and her teammates took command early, controlling the action and keeping the ball in Hillsboro-Deering's half of the pitch.
"They've been like that all summer," said NC United coach Kris Pinard.
Defender Katie Boivin paced an active NC United defense, which kept Hillsboro-Deering's scoring opportunities to a minimum.
"Our defense is amazing. Katie Boivin is our sweeper. She's a machine," Gardner said. "They just cleared it to the side well today, good passing."
Brittany Raymond added an insurance goal with five minutes left in the match to cap the scoring. Raymond said NC United had no intention of letting Hillsboro-Deering back in the game.
"We weren't going to come home with a loss. It was crucial to get a goal at that point. We needed to walk the win in," said Raymond, a recent graduate of Gorham High who plans on trying out for the soccer team at Plymouth State University this upcoming season.
Pinard said the plan was to force the action and Gardner's goal was a big one.
"It takes the wind out of them. And then they have to work harder to get back in the game," Pinard said.
Gardner led NC United in scoring this season, tallying 19 goals and adding four assists. Pinard said most teams double- and triple-team Gardner. Pinard hoped Gardner could score against Hillsboro-Deering before she drew the defense's attention.
"It's very hard for the defense to try and beat her," Pinard said. "Once they realize that she's the main person to get, they double- and triple-team her. Then she drop passes, she crosses, she learns to set other people up."
Raymond said the team's streak of three consecutive trips to the finals is no accident.
"It's definitely competitive up in the North Country," Raymond said. "It's great that all of us can come together and play as a team. We play those girls in the regular season, Gorham plays Littleton, it's nice we can all come together."
Raymond said NC United's defense was a key.
"Our defense was No. 1, obviously, because we won," Raymond said. "They were very composed. We're getting the passing down."
Goalkeeper Courtney Boisselle, who will be a senior at Gorham, and Taylor Glidden, a rising sophomore at Littleton, split time in the net and combined for the shutout.
"We have eight Gorham girls, one Lisbon kid, one Lancaster," Pinard said. "It's important having a combination, having a bunch of kids playing together, and a lot of good players, and also getting to know each other. "
Once she was handed the championship trophy, Pinard immediately passed it off to her players.
"They deserve it," Pinard said. "I just did the subbing."
While NC United won the summer title in the NHSC, Pinard said the benefits should keep rolling along this fall.
"It gets these kids prepared to step into their upcoming programs," Pinard said. "So they're ready to go. And for the younger kids, especially, they're a step ahead of the kids they have to play with."
The team spent plenty of nights and weekends playing soccer this summer.
"All summer, every weekend, weekdays — there wasn't a weekend we weren't playing soccer," Raymond said.
Gardner said the final result is what counts.
"It totally makes it worthwhile," Gardner said. "The haul is not long at all. It's so much fun playing ball."