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Belmont AD reflects on fall season

The Red Raiders put together an outstanding start to their athletic year

Joe Boles had an outstanding season to help lead Belmont to the Final Four. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
November 15, 2011
BELMONT – Rick Acquilano can't remember many seasons like it.

The Belmont High School athletic director saw his Red Raider teams put together quite the fall, with deep postseason runs in three sports making for a busy two-week span to close out the season.

"It's really probably one of the most memorable falls recently for us," said Acquilano. "It was exciting and there was a buzz in the building during the playoffs. I think on top of it all, those programs also saw their sportsmanship go to a new level as well and that's part of the commitment on our part."

The boys' soccer team, led by head coach Mike Foley, made the deepest postseason run, as the Red Raiders reached the Division III semifinals before falling to eventual state champion, Bow High School. Belmont got there thanks to quarterfinal win to remember, as the squad outlasted Somersworth in penalty kicks on the road at Portsmouth High School.

"Mike Foley and the boys….that kind of shocked us all with that level of success," said Acquilano. "It's success I think they expected but watching that team put it all together was great. The quarterfinal game at Portsmouth was probably the best game I've seen in 10 years. And against Bow, I think we all felt like we didn't give our best effort in the first half. But we absolutely had them on the ropes in the second half. It makes you kind of wonder what would've happened if we played the whole 80 minutes."

The girls' soccer team got a new coach in former Winnisquam boys' soccer coach Amy Dutton, and the energetic Dutton wasted no time making her mark on the program. The Lady Raiders reached the D-III quarterfinals, falling in a dramatic game to Prospect Mountain, 4-3, in overtime.

"They really took off this year," said Acquilano. "Those girls really bought into Amy and what she was selling them on…hard work and commitment. And she's willing to put the work in from her end so that's what the kids respond to. I think you saw that program really heading in the right direction.

"Watching them fight Prospect like that, tooth and nail, was something," he continued. "Both teams played a hard fought game. I sat there late in the game when you didn't know who was going to win and you just thought that no one was going to lose that game. And that's how I felt walking away."

The girls' volleyball team rounded out the postseason runs with an impressive journey to the D-III quarterfinals under new coach Karen Hoey. Thanks to a persistent Acquilano, Hoey joined the program and the team responded in a big way. Belmont, seeded 13th in the postseason, knocked off fourth-seeded Hillsboro-Deering on the road in five sets to reach the quarters after falling behind 2-0. The Raiders fell to eventual state champion Moultonboro Academy three days later, but Belmont managed to take a set from the powerful Panthers.

"Those girls going to Hillsboro and being down 2-0 to a four-seed…that's a moment where you're kind of looking at a program and seeing what happens next," said Acquilano. "I think in years past, the program might've ducked their heads and gone away. But to come back like that shows me the fire that burns in Karen burns in those kids. They had a moment where they decided to go win it and those moments don't happen all the time. I saw a program grow up in that match."

Having Dutton and Hoey come into the program proved to be home run hires for Acquilano, and he hopes they become fixtures in the Belmont culture.

"When you've been around for awhile, you know a coach when you meet one," the AD said. "And right when I talked to both of those ladies, I thought they were perfect for us. They brought discipline, tremendous enthusiasm. You knew the kids were going to just grab it. When you have coaches that just wear it on their sleeves, people respond to that and those two just came in here and ran great programs."

While the golf and cross country teams saw solid performance from several individuals, Acquilano has high hopes that those teams continue to grow with another season under their belts.

"From an athletic director standpoint, you want to win those banners but ultimately it's about the pursuit of banners even more than that," Acquilano explained. "Even when the girls' soccer team lost at Prospect, I couldn't have been more proud of them if they had won. It's about doing it the right way and I think we got that right this fall."

The turnover between seasons is quick however, and Acquilano is already focused on the winter, as girls' basketball practice kicked off earlier this week with boys' to follow on Monday.

"If you ask me, the busiest time for ADs is between seasons," he said. "Between wrapping up stuff, awards, evaluations, uniform collection….then at the same time you've got winter coaches ready to go. It's a crazy time. In about three weeks it'll settle down a bit."

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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