Coming into the 2014 season, few folks figured that the Londonderry High girls’ soccer squad had what it would take to finish among the top handful of teams in tough Division I and challenge for a state championship.
And while the Lady Lancers’ wind-whipped, 3-1 quarterfinal-round tournament loss to the rival Pinkerton Academy Lady Astros at LHS Sunday, Nov. 2, negated the Londonderry High squad’s hopes of hoisting a championship trophy this fall, veteran coach Derek Dane and his fourth-seeded charges wound up with a slew of reasons to be happy with what they achieved on the pitch in 2014.
“I’m extremely proud of the group,” said Dane. “We graduated 14 (players) last year and many people wrote us off at the beginning of the season. The group learned and grew together. We had our ups and downs during the season but fought through it and finished in the top four for the first time in five years.”
The Lady Lancers found themselves in an unfamiliar situation at halftime of the quarterfinal match against fifth-ranked Pinkerton, trailing by a 3-0 score after allowing only six goals during the entire regular season.
But that 3-0 deficit should have an asterisk placed on it as the hosts were forced to forge their way into a bitterly cold southerly wind during the entire first half.
Pinkerton bagged a 1-0 lead just seven minutes into the match when LHS goalie Jackie Luckhardt attempted to boot the ball out of her zone while standing on the left wing, outside of her goal-crease. The ball spun, aided by the wind, to Lady Astro Mel Roberge in the middle of the field, and Roberge directed a kick at the open net. With the strong wind behind it, the ball zoomed into the empty Londonderry net as Luckhardt attempted in vain to get back into position.
The PA lead was pushed to 2-0 nine minutes later when Roberge set up teammate Reanna Romano on a wind-aided goal that soared into the upper-left corner of the Londonderry net.
And the third and final PA tally came with 11:59 left in the half when Courtney Velho lofted a long kick from the right sideline – right in front of the Londonderry bench – ahead of a heavy gust and over the head of Luckhardt.
The Lady Lancers expected to benefit from having the wind at their back – and in Pinkerton’s face – during the second half. But the wind died down considerably and went from whipping from north to south to swirling instead during halftime, and it was much less of a factor during the much more evenly played second half.
“The weather was definitely a factor today. But (Pinkerton) took advantage of it far better than we did,” lamented Dane. “I feel bad for our goalkeeper, Jackie Luckhardt. On any other day those goals are not conceded.”
Londonderry bagged the only goal scored in the second half on a penalty kick by Erin Barnes with 11:24 remaining. And the 3-1 final score left Dane thinking about what the 2015 campaign might bring after graduation subtractions.
“We had 14 sophomores or freshmen on our playoff roster. That bodes well for the future,” said the coach. “I had more fun coaching this year than I have in a long time, and I’m optimistically looking forward to next year.”