Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Championship ups and downs

Over the course of the 13 years or so that I've been walking the sidelines of local high school athletic contests in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, I've had the chance to cover more than my fair share of teams that have earned trips to the finals.
In fact, my very first season, back in Spring of 2001, I remember covering one of, if not the most dominating team I've ever covered, the Kennett girls' tennis team. That team just steamrolled everyone and I distinctly remember being at New Hampton School covering their championship match.
The stories that I get to write after those championship games are always the best. Usually it's easy to find a hook, a way to bring readers in to the story. There's usually plenty of great quotes and happy pictures with championship trophies make great front pages.
However, it's the stories on the other side of the championship games that are a bit harder to write. If the stories of the champions basically write themselves, the stories of the runners-up come across as incredibly stubborn. There's usually lots of tears in the photos and that is never a positive thing.
Probably one of the most memorable finals I covered that didn't go the way my readers would've hoped had to be the 2006 Class I baseball final, Jeff Locke's final high school game. The Kennett ace had been drafted by the Braves a few days earlier, but because his team needed him to go the complete game in the semifinals, he couldn't pitch in the finals. Despite a strong effort from Marcus Levin, Kennett dropped that game.
This past weekend I saw both ends of the spectrum from two teams that had eerily similar regular seasons and playoff runs.
On Saturday, it was the Prospect Mountain boys that battled for the championship. The Timber Wolves were undefeated on the regular season and pushed through the first three playoff games without giving up a single goal. It was only fitting that the teams had to go to penalty kicks to determine a winner. And the Timber Wolves picked up their first-ever soccer championship. That story practically wrote itself, though I will admit that I spent a good chunk of the car ride back from Manchester trying to figure out which angle to open with. But once I got that down, the story flowed easily.
On Sunday, it was the Woodsville soccer girls in the championship game. The Engineers had allowed just two goals all season long, both in the same game. They had 15 regular season shutouts and four more shutouts in the playoffs. But Derryfield dominated the scoring chances and walked off the field with the 5-1 win.
That story was a bit harder, but it was also made harder by the fact that I hadn't been covering the Woodsville team throughout the season. I picked them up in the playoffs after our Littleton reporter left, so I didn't have the connections that I had to the PMHS squad, particularly given that I've covered Prospect since it opened.
I give credit where credit is due as well. Woodsville coach Ann Loud was maybe the easiest coach to talk to after a crushing end to a season that I've ever had to talk with. She was upbeat and positive, though I know there must have been part of her that was just ready to get off the field and put the game behind her.
Whenever there is a chance that a team I cover can win a championship, I am always rooting for them, because, it's just much easier to write the story that way. But either way, the story has to be told and I will tell it.

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