The only thing standing in the way of a fourth consecutive state championship appearance for the Bobcats was Lebanon.
The Oyster River Highschool (ORHS) Bobcats (12-3-1) take on the Lebanon Raiders (14-1-1) today in the boys’ soccer state semi-final. A battle between two of the top teams during the regular season, the Bobcats have prepared in practice through film, and an overall great energy from their win in the quarterfinals, which has propelled them through the playoffs thus far. While the team stays calm and collected, an increased pressure to perform as the defending state champions adds to the stress levels of the playoffs.
Lebanon, who finished tied for first place in the division two boys’ soccer standings, have been favorites to dethrone ORHS as state champions this year. This will be the first time these teams face off this year as they did not meet during the regular season. To prepare for such a strong opponent the Bobcats have been doing everything they can according to Oliver Sterndale (‘25) a defenseman on the team. “We have been watching a ton of game films on them, going over their formations and players figuring out the best way to guard them.”
Lebanon’s formation was something that the team specifically focused on. Instead of sticking with one formation, which is considered the norm for most teams, Lebanon runs with an unorthodox mix of a 4-4-2, (which is what they start out in) and change into a 2-3-3-2 towards the end of the game. Tommy Aldrich (‘25) said that in practice they ran this morphing formation in a scrimmage between the starters and bench to simulate the in-game change and how the Bobcats will combat it. However, last game Lebanon ran a typical 4-3-3 which the team prepared for in a similar way last practice.
During playoffs, keeping high energy can be a problem as the postseason drags on. However, for Oyster River this has not been the case. Nolan Swiesz (‘26), a playoff JV pull up to varsity, who notched an assist in the 2-0 quarterfinal win over Hollis-Brookline (HB) last Friday, agrees that team energy has been nothing but positive. “Energy’s great at practice. Everybody was having fun and working hard because we know we have got a big game coming up.”
The win over HB seems to be a big factor as to why energy has increased. During the regular season, one of the three games the Bobcats lost was against Hollis. This meant winning in the playoffs meant a lot for the team. “I think our energy and confidence really shot up after we won [against HB] and the quality of practice really increased,” said striker Dylan Bruner (‘25).
Postseason nerves have also been calmed down due to the recent win. “Having that playoff experience, feeling those playoff nerves and getting through them is important, especially for the younger guys. Getting a win in that situation is super important for confidence,” said Captain Corey Handwork (‘25).
Expectation hangs in the air for ORHS as defending state champions. With no excuses for a loss, players are feeling the pressure. “We are known as the soccer school you know, and that means performing to those expectations by at least getting to the final.” Said Sterndale.
“There’s definitely some [expectations]; last year we had a very good season.” Said Handwork. His mindset is unchanged and steadfast going into this game. “Lebanon’s the one seed, we are the four seed. I think we have less to prove than they do. Going into this game we just need to leave it all out there and I think we can get the win.”
If the Bobcats win today, they take on the winner of Kingswood and Bow (who play today as well) on Friday for the division two state title and a chance to repeat as state champions.
– Mairtin Sweetman
Image courtesy of Lily Fitzgerald