Kennett Challenge pays tribute to Soroka

By Lloyd Jones

CONWAY — The local running community took a moment of silence to pay respects to triathlete Jim Soroka, who died in a cycling accident on Saturday, prior to the start of the 26th annual Kennett Challenge on Wednesday on the Kennett Middle School's scenic two-mile course.

"It was the right thing to do," said Bernie Livingston, head cross-country coach at Kennett High. "We did the moment of silence and then Tim (Livingston, head cross-country coach at Kennett Middle School), spoke a little about Jim. Jacques Couture, the (Kennett High girls' varsity) tennis coach, wore a straw hat as a tribute to Jim."

Livingston said he had just corresponded with Soroka on Friday night.

"I'd emailed Jim and six or seven others about helping out at an upcoming cross-country meet," he said. "That night, I got a reply from him, saying I'll be there. It's something I'm going to hold onto. He was a great guy, a great competitor and so inspiring."

At Wednesday's meet, the Kennett girls scored 25 points to take team honors followed stateline neighbor Fryeburg Academy, 51; and the White Mountain Milers, 55.

The White Mountain Milers scored 26 points to top the Kennett High and Fryeburg Academy boys, who were second and third, respectively, with 36 and 75 points.

There were 43 women and girls and 53 men and boys in the meet.

Emily Carty of Fyeburg Academy won the race for the women and girls, breaking former teammate Anna Lastra's 2015 course record by two seconds in 12:28.

Terry Livingston Ballou of the White Mountain Milers was second overall, with the former Eagle finishing in 12:35.

"At 47, Terry would have been our fastest finisher," Livingston said of his daughter who ran cross-country and track for Kennett while in high school.

Riley Steward, a junior, was the top finisher for the Kennett girls, placing third overall in 13:11.

She was followed by teammates Zoe McKinney, fourth overall, 13:12; Melissa Brown, 13:33; Kim Bowles, 13:35; Chole Van Dyne, 13:50; Taylor Petell, 14:26; and Kaitlyn Fay, 14:30.

"We were missing Elidih McKinnon and Jordanna Belle-Isle, but the girls averaged 25 seconds per person faster than last year," Livingston said.

Madison's Jim Johnson led a Milers' sweep of the podium taking first in 10:18, followed by Tim Livingston, 10:19, and Patrick Carty, 10:45.

"The Milers were stacked," Livingston said, laughing.

Nick Whitley was the top Kennett finisher, placing fourth overall, in 10:54. He was followed by teammates Darren Piotrow, 11:16; Colby Livingston, 11:36; Caleb Esmay, 11:40; Aidan Hagerty, 11:43; Chris Desmarais, 11:53; Jonathan Caputo, 11:56; and Logan Hagerty, 11:58.

"Our boys were about six seconds faster than they were last year," Livingston.

Livingston said he likes the Kennett Challenge as the first test for his troops.

"It's a good chance to experience race situations before we do a race," he said. "It's an opportunity to do a warmup, make sure that you're eating properly in a timely fashion before a race and wind down afterwards."

Following post-race awards, the athletes were treated to Subway sandwiches, courtesy of the White Mountain Milers.


Cross-country Eagles to open at Great Glen

By Lloyd Jones

CONWAY — Coach Bernie Livingston is excited about this fall's cross-country teams. The coach, now in his 36th year at the helm of the Eagles, believes if the pieces fall into place that both the boys' and girls' teams can both make it to the prestigious Meet of Champions in November.

"I really think both teams have a shot at making into the top six at the Division II (Championships)," Livingston said, and it's the top six teams from all divisions that qualify for the Meet of Champions. "I think the boys are capable of running an average of 17:45 down at Derryfield Park (in Manchester), and 17:48 got into the Meet of Champions last year."

Last year the KHS boys' and girls' teams had top five finishes to earn their way to the prestigious Meet of Champions — a feat the two teams last achieved at the same time in 1985.

In fact, 1985 was the last time the Kennett boys qualified for the Meet of Champions — that was long before the current flock of Eagles were born.

"We had an absolutely fantastic day," Livingston recalled. "It was 1985 the last time we had both teams qualify. Both teams ran much faster than I had predicted. They had to because all of the other athletes ran real well, too."

From the Meet of Champions, then senior Nick Brown went on to finish 83rd at New England High School Cross-Country Running Championships in Thetford, Vt. Brown ended his cross-country career on a high note.

"Nick ties Seth Burnell in being the No. 1 Kennett runner in every race he ran for us over four years," Livingston said last November. "That's quite an accomplishment to do that for four years — he's been the consummate competitor."

There are 28 boys and 29 girls out for this year's team.

"For the boys, we lost four of top six with the graduation of Nick (Brown), Thomas Welch and Tristan Anderson, plus, Foster Piotrow (a sophomore) chose to concentrate on basketball this fall," Livingston said. "Losing those four and then having a pretty strong showing in the Kennett Challenge (on Tuesday) is encouraging."

Livingston said Jonathan Caputo and Darren Piotrow are this year's team captains for the boys.

"I think we have a nice mix of veterans and younger kids," he said. "The really nice thing about this team, and the girls' team, too, is they all really get along well and want each other to succeed."

Livingston said Nick Whitley, Piotrow, Colby Livingston, Caleb Esmay, Aidan Hagerty, Chris Desmarais and Caputo will toe the starting line in the varsity race in the opening meet of the season, the Paul LeTarte Memorial Invitational, at Great Glen Trails in Pinkham Notch, on Saturday.

For the second year in a row the meet is a week earlier than it has been scheduled in the past. Livingston is a firm believer in at least three weeks of preseason training before his athletes race in a meet. He's making an exception this Saturday when the Eagles run against 19 other schools. Junior varsity racing begins at 10 a.m., followed by the girls' varsity at 11:10 a.m. and the boys' varsity at 11:45 a.m.

"I'm not happy with a meet this early, but it was moved up a week to accommodate another race the following weekend," Livingston said. "It seems to be the norm that more and more teams are racing after only two weeks of preseason. You know me, ideally I'd like to have three to six weeks before the first meet, but I'm also a realist and realize that's not possible with high school cross-country. Three weeks is the minimum for me, but I know the (LeTarte) family, and really like Great Glen. If it were any other race we probably would have bypassed it and waited another week. Great Glen is one of my favorite cross-country courses. It's a very difficult, but fair course. The second mile can be a real bear, if you're not prepared."

Livingston calls the girls' team "a young veteran team," with just one senior, Zoe McKinney, in his starting seven, but the cast of characters saw plenty of varsity action last year.

McKinney and fellow senior Jasmine Schmidt are this year's team captains.

"They're both good leaders," Livingston said and added the team is having a spaghetti dinner at Schmidt's house on Friday.

"That's how we bond, we eat," he said, smiling.

Riley Steward, McKinney, Melissa Brown, Kim Bowles, Chole Van Dyne, Taylor Petell, and Kaitlyn Fay will run the varsity race on Saturday.

The Eagles have great depth with Elidih McKinnon, Jordanna Belle-Isle, Hannah Thelemarck, Ashley Vajentic and Lea Thelemarck.

"We're looking pretty strong," Livingston said, "and we've got kids coming out. I think we have talent, depth and youth. The girls have more depth than the boys' team.

"The girls can make it (to the Meet of Champions), but they're going to all have to be running their very best at the right time. There are just so many girls' teams in the state this year."


Division II football relaignment planned

By Lloyd Jones

CONWAY — Division II high school football will go from four conferences (East, West, North and South) to just two (North and South) this fall, which means Kennett High will play a few new schools on its schedule.

The Eagles, who are the two-time North Conference champs, previously had Plymouth, Laconia, Lebanon, Hanover and Kearsarge in its conference.

Under the new realignment there would be 11 schools in the North Conference and 11 in the South Conference.

Kennett will be in the North along with Plymouth, Kingswood, Belmont/Gilford, Lebanon, Hanover, Merrimack Valley, Pembroke, Bow, John Stark and Laconia.

The South would feature state champs St. Thomas, ConVal, Trinity, Sanborn, state runners-up Windham, Pelham, Milford, Souhegan, Hollis-Brookline, Manchester West and Hillsboro-Deering.

Kearsarge and Monadnock have dropped down to Division III this fall.

Kennett's schedule has the Eagles playing Belmont/Gilford at home on Sept. 2 (7 p.m.); at Plymouth on Sept. 10 (1:30 p.m.); at Merrimack Valley on Sept. 16 (7 p.m.); host St. Thomas on Sept. 23 (7 p.m.); at Lebanon on Sept. 30 (7 p.m.); host Bow on Oct. 7 (7 p.m.); host Laconia on Oct. 14 (7 p.m.); at Hanover Oct 21 (7 p.m.); and at Kingswood on Oct. 28 (7 p.m.).

KHS will not have a bye week under the realignment.

The Eagles opened their preseason on Aug. 10. Coach Vaughn Beckwith's troops returned from football camp last week to host Spaulding on Saturday in a controlled scrimmage. Kennett is scheduled to head to Spaulding for a jamboree on Thursday, beginning at 5 p.m., for its final tuneup for the regular season.

The Eagles reached the Division II semifinals, whey traveled to Windham. The host Jaguars scored 22 straight points between the second and fourth quarters to defeat the boys from Conway 28-12 to advance to the state championship game.

The Eagles lost seniors Jackson Campo, Kherry Rober, Will Pollard, Nate Emerson, Drew McDonald, Ryan Stevens, Josh Shackford, Kyle MacDonald, Axel Olson, Theo Scarlett, Christian Nestell, Devon Parcons, Dylan Eldridge and Whipple Roberts to graduation last spring.

Kennett was well represented on the Division II North All-Conference First and Second teams last fall while Coach Beckwith was chosen as the Coach of of the Year for the conference for the second year in a row.

The Eagles placed eight players on the First Team (seven last year) and another made Honorable Mention. Named to the First Team on offense were Pollard, quarterback (second year in a row); McDonald, wide receiver (second year in a row); Nestell, guard; and Emerson, slot.

Four KHS players were selected to the First Team on defense — Scarlett, defensive end (second year in a row); junior Bowen Wales, linebacker; junior Aaron Lamar, safety; Rober, cornerback.

On Honorable Mention, senior Ryan Stevens, outside linebacker.

Young soccer Eagles to open at home Thursday

By Lloyd Jones

CONWAY — The Kennett High girls' soccer team will be among the youngest in Division II this fall, but new head coach Don Germain is enthusiast about the Eagles and eager to build a foundation for the program.

"It's been interesting," Germain said by phone Monday. "I'm really enjoying it. The girls have been awesome. We've got an enthusiastic bunch."

Germain brings a wealth of soccer experience to the nest for the Eagles, having coached everything from Peewees to elite level teams in New York over 35 years. The past four years he's coached at the Kennett Middle School.

Coach German takes over the program from Michael Skelton, who guided the Eagles to post-season play each of the past two campaigns, but now is an assistant college coach in North Carolina.

The Eagles are scheduled to open their season at home this Thursday (4 p.m.) when the Saints of St. Thomas come to town. The Saints edged KHS 1-0 late in the season in Dover last year.

The Eagles lost 12 players in Victoria Burns, Isabelle Doucette, Dana Levine, Ariana King, Caroline Jaeger, Maddie Glavin, Maggie Rockett, Jessica Hodgkins, Juliauna Dunlop, Tessa Greenhalgh, Nora Miller and Sydney Perk to graduation in the spring.

There are 24 girls out for the program this year (down from 29 in 2015), of which 12 are freshmen.

"We don't have the numbers yet to warrant a full junior varsity schedule," Germain said. "We'll arrange to play a number of JV games with other schools."

No one applied for the vacant junior varsity coaching post for the second year in a row. Last year Skelton coached both teams, and Germain envisions doing similar this year.

"I do have a couple of people who can volunteer some time which will be a big help," Germain said.

"We have a really young squad," he continued. "We have 12 freshmen out and only a few seniors and juniors who played last year. Hopefully we can continue to grow the program."

KHS went 4-12 last year for the second consecutive season and secured the final playoff spot which meant an opening round tournament game at No. 1 Oyster River. The Bobcats beat the girls from Conway 5-0 to advance in the Division II playoffs.

"We had the same record as last year, which is a little unfortunate because I thought we played better," Skelton said at the end of the 2015 campaign. "We scored less goals this year, but we also gave up less. Last year when we were losing, almost every single game we lost we'd roll over and lose by four or five goals. This year, with the exception of the first Pembroke and Oyster River matches, there weren't too many matches that were one-sided. Look at our last four games, they really could have gone our way just as easily. If we win those we're 8-6 and looking at hosting a home game instead of playing the top seed. Those teams on the right side of the result are teams that are constantly winning in the past and sometimes things just go your way because of that. I think over the last two years we've closed that the gap."

Returning starters Nina Badger, Liz Robert and Rachel Yalenezian, all seniors, have been selected by their teammates as this year's captains. Badger played in the midfield last year while Robert was a forward and Yalenezian helped anchor the KHS defense.

Junior Kelsey Bush, who led Kennett in scoring last season, is also back in the fold and is another leader on the field.

The Eagles, who opened preseason play on Aug. 15, have been doing a few double sessions with morning and evening practices in preparation for the season-opener.

On Saturday the squad traveled to Manchester for a jamboree. Kennett played two 40-minute matches, taking on Central in the opener and West in the nightcap.

"It was interesting experience," Germain said. "We're so young, so initially it was a little deer in the headlights against Central, but that was OK. It was good to get the nerves and jitters out of the way. Against West, we were right in the game the whole way. The transition from the first game to the second was nice to see. You can simulate some things in practices, but there's nothing like the real experience of playing a game."

Germain envisions the Eagles playing a variety of formations this season, including a 4-5-1 (four defenders with two center-backs in the middle, full-backs on the left and right sides; five midfielders with three central midfielders, two wingers on the left and right sides; and one striker), 4-4-2 (four defenders with two center-backs in the middle, full-backs on the left and right sides, four midfielders with two central midfielders, two wingers on the left and right sides; and two strikers) or a 4-2-3-1 (four defenders with two center-backs in the middle, full-backs on the left and right sides; two defensive-minded midfielders; three midfielders with one central midfielder, two wingers on the left and right sides; and one striker).

"I'm the kind of coach who isn't locked into a specific formation," he said. "It all depends on the talent you have and the level of your opponent. We're going to be learning multiple formations and hopefully adjust as the season goes on. Because we're so young I think we'll be more of a defensive team to start the season."

Germain, who has a strong background in goalie training, is happy with the aggressive play of freshman Sylvie Brustin and sophomore Sadie LeBeuf, who have both had solid preseasons.

"There will be some growing pains along the way, but both have great attitudes and want to get better," Germain said. "Every single girl out for the team is working extremely hard. I'm pleased with what we've established in just five days."

The team has talked a bit about goals for the season, but the one players are concentrating on at moment is simply getting better each day.

"We need to be patient," Germain said. "There may be times where we're going to get a little frustrated, but this is a process. If we stick with it, we're going to see the gains."

The team plans to attend media day on Wednesday and later do some carbohydrate loading and bonding with a pizza party in preparation of the first match.

"I'm having a great time," Germain said. "The girls have been very welcoming. The thought of building this program for the future is energizing and exciting."


Eagles tee off Thursday in opener

By Lloyd Jones

CONWAY — The Kennett High golf team is ready to tee off the 2016 season this week.

The Eagles are scheduled to host Merrimack Valley and St. Thomas at North Conway Country Club on Thursday at 3:30 p.m., which will officially kick-off fall sports at Kennett High.

"I hope we're ready," said Julie Rivers, who is in her second year at the helm of the Eagles. "It's been a pretty short preseason."

The Eagles opened preseason on Aug. 17, and will have played six matches by the time the late bus pulls out of the high school campus in Sept. 1.

"It's such a short season," Rivers said. "Once the matches start you really don't have a ton of time to practice and work on things."

The Eagles fell short of the playoff last year, finishing 15th in Division II (just the top 12 make it to the post-season team tournament.

Last year, graduating senior Chris Burton was the recipient of the Golf Award.

The golf award "is presented to that player who demonstrates those intangibles that are part of the game; honesty, integrity, and character. Also, that player who demonstrates that team comes before the individual in a sport where you usually play for yourself."

Kennett lost four seniors to graduation in Burton, John DeVitto, Nick Farinella and Tim Ryan.

Coach Rivers sees improvement every day in the Eagles, both in the physical and mental elements of the game.

"We're doing a lot of work on the mental part of the game," Rivers said. "The kids have still got to learn, if you have a bad shot, get over it, don't let it lead to a bad hole and then a bad round. So much of this sport is mental, you've got to stay positive."

Rivers has 12 athletes (11 boys and a girl) out for the team this year (there was 12 boys in 2015).

Returning players include seniors Kaleb Pepin, Henry Shaw and Clyne Sullivan; juniors Josh Rivers and Michael Seavey; and sophomores Kyle Buffelli, Zach Ferris and Griffin Hill.

Molly Hill is the lone girl on the squad.

"I've got a real good bunch," she said. "The thing I like is they're all eager to learn the game and get better. I've got three freshman (Miles Woodbury, Riley Fletcher and Connor Tofflemoyer) who are going to help us. They've all been playing a lot."

Shaw and Rivers have been selected as team captains.

"They're great leaders," Rivers said. "They're pretty up on the game and want the team to succeed."

Rivers said Rivers, her nephew, will open the season playing in the No. 1 spot in the lineup.

"Josh is very capable," he said. "I think he's capable of shooting in the 30s."

Rivers, Shaw and Buffelli are pencilled into the top three in the lineup for the opening match.

Rivers said the team has spent time on the driving range and has been extended offers to practice at Eagle Mountain House, Linderhoff Country Club, Wentworth Golf Club, North Conway Country Club and Indian Mound Golf Course.

"The local golf course have been great to us," she said. "They invite us to come up and practice there, which is something not a lot of other teams in the state get to do. Everyone has been great to the team."

She and the team are also appreciative of the Valley Originals, who have over the year helped the team with hats, golf bags and team shirts.

Rivers wants her team to be mentally sharp, something that comes with maturity on the links.

"It's not clicking yet for everyone, but I tell them this is a game they can play for the rest of their lives," she said. "What you learn out here will help you for life. It's crazy what golf can do for you."