Boston High School: Sam Gagnon

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

January, 1, 2011
1/01/11
2:27
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You can't ring in the New Year without a countdown.

New HampshireIn the spirit of the time-honored Dec. 31 tradition – counting down the final 10 ticks of the calendar year – here are the top items this reporter contributed to ESPNBoston.com High Schools since its launch in August 2010:

10. The 6-0-3 sets record. New Hampshire extended its win streak in the annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl to a series-record 10 games.

The Granite State's recent high school graduates topped Vermont in the 57th all-star football game, played at Windsor (Vt.) High's MacLeay-Royce Field, in early August, 34-20. The previous record for longest win streak was a nine-gamer set by New Hampshire from 1989-97.

New Hampshire's 14-point win makes it sound like the game was somewhat competitive. Guess again.

Despite committing seven turnovers, including four in the first quarter, and amassing 165 yards on 18 penalties, New Hampshire never trailed. The 2010 team did, however, twice lead by 20 points and ultimately improved the state's all-time record in the series to 42-13-2.

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

November, 24, 2010
11/24/10
4:08
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On the eve of coaching Pinkerton Academy to its 10th Division I football championship in his 33rd year at the helm, Brian O'Reilly had a conversation that triggered some great gridiron memories.

New Hampshire“The phone call came to me at my house from Ryan Mihalko, down in North Carolina, wishing us good luck,” O'Reilly said on Nov. 20, after his statewide No. 1 Astros shut down Nashua North, 14-7, in front of 2,500 wind-chilled fans at Memorial Field. “It was like, 'There's my 1985 guy who won the national championship at Notre Dame in '88.'

Mihalko, along with Joe Segreti, also led Pinkerton's legendary '85 team to the program's first title under O'Reilly. The group is among the four greatest single-season teams of New Hampshire's 38-year schoolboy football playoff era.

It's arguably the top team of the quartet, too. O'Reilly's '85 team is held in such high historical regard because, just one year earlier, it was a Division II program.

And 25 years after Mihalko helped Pinkerton manhandle the competition en route to a surprise undefeated season, O'Reilly's Astros reached rarefied air.

“We've had a lot of great players over the years. We don't do it with smoke and mirrors here,” said O'Reilly, who improved to 10-2 in Division I title games (10-3 overall) and bumped his career record to 240-98. “We have 3,400 kids (at Pinkerton), although that's recent. We didn't have that back in the old days.

“We are a large school. We have a lot of athletes. We have great feeder programs. We do it with players, and I've had great, great players over the years,” he added, specifically naming Mihalko, Segreti and early '90s star Matt Jordan, a national champion at UMass. “All those championships are a testament to all those players that we've had.”

O'Reilly's 10th title team didn't have individual stars. But the collection of talent, particularly on defense, powered Pinkerton (10-2 overall, 9-1 Div. I) to its first crown since 2007.

Co-captains Luke Somers and Mike Mazzola, among just 10 seniors listed on this year's roster, paced a defense that delivered in crucial spots.

Certainly capable of scoring points, these Astros won by preventing them. They allowed an average of 16.5 points to league foes. The average dropped to 14.8 points after their lone league loss, a 33-7 drubbing in Week 3 by the very Titans they tackled for the title.

In the semifinals, Pinkerton held defending champion Salem, the league's high-scoring team (413 regular-season points), to a TD in each half. It resulted in a 21-14 win, decided on Emmitt Smith's 12-yard run with 21 seconds remaining in regulation.

The bend-but-don't-break defense sure delivered in the championship game. Three times in the second half, including its last two possessions, North was stopped cold in the red zone.

Linebacker Kevin Davies, whose game-high 94 rushing yards and TD were critical, deflected a fourth-down pass attempt at his team's 4-yard line. The play ended North's second-to-last drive. Somers and cornerback Ryan Coombs made key plays in the final minute to keep the Titans out of the end zone.

“We've had a lot of experience stopping (offenses) on the goal line,” said Mazzola, a running back and defensive end whose 15-yard TD with 7-plus minutes to play erased Pinkerton's 7-6 title-game deficit. “We take pride in that. We like to dig deep and we don't want to give up.”

PERCHED ON TOP
Bishop Guertin's Cardinals are again a three-pete champion in Division II.

The Nashua program survived a staggering number of injuries throughout the season to reach its 10th championship game in 14 years. It also claimed its sixth title in seven seasons with a 14-13 comeback win over Winnacunnet of Hampton at Stellos Stadium on Nov. 20.

“This was probably the most challenging team I've coached since '99,” BG head coach Tony Johnson said in reference to the season-long injury bug that ravaged his roster.

Thirty-four players suffered injuries this season, ranging from minor to season-ending. But BG (10-2, 9-1 Div. II) overcame the many changes in personnel.

The defense – anchored by linebacker Jim Kemos – forced a critical late-game turnover in each playoff game. Jim Carver recovered a fourth-quarter fumble against Keene and returned it 30 yards for the game-winning score. The play erased a one-point deficit in BG's 28-21 semifinal win.

Brody Smith pulled down an interception inside BG's 10-yard line in the final minute of the title game. It ended Winnacunnet's potential championship-winning drive and preserved the clutch TD connection between quarterback Steve Cuipa and Nick Pyzocha.

“We had two common denominators through the whole season, one on offense and one on defense,” Johnson said. “'Coop' (Cuipa) on offense, Kemos on defense. Everything else, we were moving parts.”

SUPERB UNDER PRESSURE

Souhegan celebrated a Division III three-peat on Nov. 20. The Amherst squad – trailing by five points late in the fourth quarter – needed an 85-yard drive to do it.

Known for quick strikes through the air, Souhegan (11-1, 10-0 Div. III) orchestrated an uncharacteristic 14-play march. Senior signal-caller Mike Luks capped the drive with a 3-yard run and Denny Desserault added the two-point conversion that lifted the host Sabers past Portsmouth, 24-21.

“There was a lot of drama in the drive. We did it in a pressure-packed situation,” Souhegan head coach Mike Beliveau said. “The best part is we left (Portsmouth's) high-powered offense only 51 seconds to counter.”

Luks completed 31 of a program-record 54 pass attempts for 305 yards and two TDs. But Dessereault and Matt Schagrin made season-saving plays that sustained the drive.

Dessereault pounced on a loose ball that Souhegan fumbled forward after Luks completed a pass to midfield. Schagrin converted a critical third-down pass by launching himself horizontal to the turf.

“The thing about this year's group of seniors, and there are 20 on the team, is they believe they're never out of a game,” Beliveau said. “That's been their M.O. since they were in youth football.”

SECOND-HALF SURGE

The boys from New Hampshire's Upper Valley reached the mountaintop for the first time.

Twenty-four unanswered points erased a 14-point deficit and earned Division IV Lebanon (11-0) its first NHIAA football crown on Nov. 13. The Raiders topped Trinity of Manchester, 24-14.

Star senior Cody Patch scored Lebanon's second and third touchdowns in the second half. Patch's key runs were sandwiched between Chris Barker's short-yardage scores in the second quarter and Justin Judd's fourth-quarter field goal.

Mark Davidson delivered the big blow. The lineman blocked Trinity's third-quarter punt that set up Lebanon's go-ahead score.

“They never give up,” Lebanon head coach Chris Childs told the New Hampshire Sunday News. “They kept plugging along and fighting adversity. That second half was just phenomenal.”

STORYBOOK SEND-OFF
Kearsarge Regional of North Sutton completed an undefeated Division V season on Nov. 13. The Cougars doubled up Dover's St. Thomas Aquinas, 12-6.

The six-point decision earned Kearsarge its first football championship. It also proved the perfect goodbye gift for retiring head coach Dennis Hoffman, who started the program in 1994.

“It's just unbelievable,” Hoffman told the New Hampshire Sunday News. “To be (11-0) in my last season, it just doesn't get any better. What a story.”

Doug Gregory was the difference on offense. Kearsarge's quarterback cracked the 100-yard rushing mark, which included 10- and 7-yard TD runs. His second score snapped a 6-all tie early in the final frame.

BACK ON TOP

Division VI Newport ended its title drought on Nov. 13. The second-seeded Tigers gutted top-seeded Gilford, 35-0, in the championship round.

The championship win was Newport's first since claiming the Division IV crown in 1995.

Newport (9-2) offered a steady diet of Harrison Wade, whose 134 rushing yards and three TDs helped avenge a 40-20 regular-season loss to the Golden Eagles two weeks earlier.

3-FOR-3

Manchester Central's boys won the team title at the New England Cross Country Championships. The trend that started with wins at the Division I meet and Meet of Champions concluded with another solid effort at Thetford (Vt.) Academy on Nov. 13.

Sam Gagnon led the Little Green. He placed 18th overall with a time of 17-minutes, 15.9 seconds. Dylan Lafond (32nd, 17:31.1), Matt Becker (45th, 17:42.8), Zach Chabot (72nd, 18:06.4) and Max Tucker (96th, 18:20.4) also scored points for the winning squad.

DIAMOND NOTES

Keep tabs on Salem seniors Nick Poore and Josh Treff after they graduate. Both will play Division I college baseball.

Poore, a 5-foot 11-inch, 170-pound left-handed pitcher, signed his Letter of Intent to join Boston College. Treff, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound catcher, signed with Northeastern.

Last season, Poore went 8-2 with 1.23 ERA. In 62 2/3 innings pitched, he struck out 90 batters. Seven of his 11 appearances were complete-game efforts. Six times he amassed double-digit strikeouts.

“Nick put himself with an elite group of pitchers that have come through New Hampshire,” Salem head baseball coach Dan Keleher said. “He earned the respect of BC before his junior year started, and then went out and backed it up. The two playoff games against Exeter and (Nashua) North he was dominating, winning both games 2-1.”

Treff last spring hit .378 (28-for-74) with four homers and 16 RBI. He also worked 10 walks and scored 23 runs. He hit safely in 19 of Salem's 23 games. Eight times he recorded multiple hits.

“Josh came into his junior year needing to improve his offensive production; he was already the best defensive catcher in the state,” Keleher said. “He came through to lead the Salem offense, highlighted by his walk-off home run against Timberlane in the (Class L) quarterfinals.”

Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News and UnionLeader.com. He has been the high schools reporter for football and lacrosse since joining the statewide newspaper in 2006. A graduate of Syracuse University (2000), he wrote about the state's football history for an exhibit at The Hall at Patriot Place. The Bedford, N.H., native has covered the Little League World Series, NCAA men's lacrosse championships, UNH athletics and New Hampshire Fisher Cats baseball. He can be reached at marc.thaler@gmail.com.

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
2:26
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MacKenzie Anderson earned the respect of teammates long before she cracked the goal line in her team's Division IV football finale.

New HampshireA back-up defensive tackle for Hanover High, Anderson carried the football on consecutive goal-line plays in a 42-7 home win over Merrimack Valley of Penacook on Oct. 29.

Calling Anderson's number was the coaching staff's way to recognize a player who didn't miss a practice as an upperclassman.

It was an important behind-the-scenes feat. She helped prepare Hanover's starters as a member of the scout team.

“One of the only seniors that hadn’t scored a touchdown [this season] was Mackenzie. We just decided to give it a shot,” said Hanover head coach Mike Ivanoski, who rewarded members of the offensive and defensive lines with goal-line carries in the final week's of the season. “The first time she got hit hard at the 1. We had to make a decision to do it again. We went again on second down and she powered it in.”

Anderson's second effort was a microcosm for Hanover's season.

A perennial playoff team, Hanover (3-6) opened with five consecutive losses. Three setbacks were by seven or fewer points. But, the Marauders finished with three wins in four games.

Ivanoski said Anderson, the first female he coached in 16 seasons, never sought attention. She relished playing an important – but often anonymous – role in the trenches. The coach also said she recorded a crucial quarterback sack in Hanover's 24-21 Week 3 loss at Lebanon.

But Anderson's touchdown was a truly memorable moment – for herself, her teammates and Hanover's fans.

“Her work with the scout teams,” Ivanoski said, “she just gained that respect.”

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

October, 13, 2010
10/13/10
2:42
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There were two ways — for one game, anyway — to view the reigning Division I football finalists after their first meeting since last year's title game.

New HampshireDefending champion Salem and Nashua North could have conducted a seminar on scoring, or they needed to take a course on tackling.

The latter best described these talent-rich teams in Week 5. Each squad's defense did a disappearing act in Salem's 67-54 home win at Grant Field.

“It was a great basketball game today. Great basketball game,” North head coach Jason Robie said with supreme sarcasm on Oct. 2, before attempting to explain how his then-No. 2 Titans posted 54 points and lost by 13.

No, several overtime sessions didn't help produce this points pile-up. All 121 points were scored in regulation (12-minute quarters in New Hampshire).



Save for one play – a 103-yard interception return for a touchdown by North's Andre Williams – defense was sub-par. And that's being kind.

Salem set single-game program records for points scored and allowed. North set a record in the points-allowed department.

“I, never in my life, in all my coaching years, would believe we played an ugly game and scored 67 points,” said Salem's defensive-minded head coach, Jack Gati, after his then-No. 5 Blue Devils won the tough-to-stomach contest.

How ugly was it?

Nine of the 15 offensive scoring drives, including five for North, lasted five plays or fewer.

Salem scored the game's first 34 points in the opening 13 minutes, four seconds. It led at halftime, 54-28.

The preseason picks to again meet in the league final combined for 1,356 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns. Salem gained 712 all-purpose yards and tallied 10 touchdowns. North notched 644 yards via the run, pass and return game.

Salem's Max Jacques, the New Hampshire Union Leader Player of the Year last season, recorded 338 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns. The senior halfback's totals included 224 rushing yards and four scores, and a program-record 90-yard punt-return to paydirt.

Jerickson Fedrick added 169 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Matt Cannone threw for 120 yards. Abner Rodriguez took a kickoff 83 yards to the house.

North's Williams stopped the 34-point blitz with his pick-six. He also rushed 21 times for 181 yards, including a 49-yard burst to the end zone.

Brandon Karkhanis accounted for six scores, two on QB keepers and four through the air. Anton Marinchik (five catches for 109 yards, two TDs), Eric Muite (four catches for 72 yards, TD) and Jamar Gathright (two catches for 66 yards, TD) combined for four touchdown grabs between 20 and 47 yards.

"I think when you don't have an experienced group like we had last year, it's difficult going in and out of your base defense to a special defense for spread (offense) teams," Gati said. "We've just got to get better at that because we face spread teams and we face traditional teams."

Gati's group rebounded in Week 6 with a 48-7 win over Division II Timberlane Regional of Plaistow. Salem, currently No. 3 in New Hampshire, stands at 4-2 overall and 3-1 in Division I.

Now No. 6 in the state, North (3-3, 3-2) faced a tougher foe. The Titans lost to current No. 4 squad Nashua South, 38-21, in Week 6, meaning this statement from Robie after the Salem game still applies:

“We can do one of two things: We can keep reading the articles saying we're a terrible defense,” Robie said. “Or we can say 'This one's behind us,' let [the media] talk about that, and try and fix what's broken. We'll do the latter.”

GANG GREEN
Manchester Central dominated the Manchester Cross Country Championships at Derryfield Park on Oct. 12. Alexandra Conway won the girls' race, and Sam Gagnon, Zack Chabot and Sean Brown recorded the same winning time in the boys' run.

Central, as a result, clinched girls' and boys' XC city titles for the third straight season, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Conway ran the 3.1-mile course in 18 minutes, 45 seconds. She finished 68 seconds ahead of her closest competitor. Gagnon, Chabot and Brown completed the run in 17:02. Teammate Matt Becker was one second off the pace.

MONUMENTAL MARKER
Striker Eric Jayne scored his 10th goal of the season on Oct. 5. The tally helped Hanover beat Concord's Bishop Brady, 5-0, in Division II boys' soccer.

Jayne's marker was significant. It was the 43rd goal of the senior's career, which set a new program record. The previous career goal-scoring record stood since the mid-1960s.

Hanover (11-0-0) and Division III Gilford (13-0-0) are the state's only unbeaten/untied teams.

CHAMPIONS CROWNED
Golf was the first fall sport to finish its season, making it the first to crown champions.

Keene (Div. I), Bedford (Div. II) and Moultonborough (Div. III) celebrated team titles. Keene's Chelso Barrett, Bedford's Jake Nutter and Gilford's Chris Houston won boys' individual crowns in Divisions I, II and III, respectively.

Lebanon's Colette Schmidt (Div. I) and Newmarket's Chelsea Walker (Div. II) won girls' individual championships.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Londonderry won its final 13 matches last season to clinch the program's first Division I girls' volleyball championship.

The Lancers, now senior-laden, are poised to repeat in their 15th varsity campaign.

Coach Peter Willis and his powerhouse squad are 14-0 this season. They take a 27-match win streak into their showdown tonight (Oct. 13) with reigning runner-up and fellow 14-0 force Spaulding of Rochester.

“One of the big factors in us (winning) last year was this group really played to the moment,” said Willis, who leads eight seniors and two juniors. “They wouldn't get too up, they wouldn't get too down. They were very business-like on the court. In that sense, they really deal well with pressure.”

The breakdown of Londonderry's 14 wins includes 11 three-game sweeps. The remaining matches went four games. That means the defending champ played 45 games, just three games over the minimum.

Identical twins and outside hitters Katie and Megan Schwarz lead the Lancers along with setter Amy Johnson.

The 5-foot 10-inch Schwarz sisters are “both the total package,” Willis said. They consistently lead the team in kills per match. Katie averages 14 per contest. Megan's per-match average is 17.

They're the program's only members of the 500-kill club.

Johnson recently became the second Lancer to record 1,000 career assists. She averages 30 per match.

Lyssa Winslow, Nicole Williams and Shay Collins split time as middle-hitters. All are difference-makers.

“We've certainly met a lot of people's expectations so far. The trick is do we meet our own expectations?” Willis said. “It's a very self-aware group.”

CENTURY MARK
Campbell's Shawna Trunca tallied her 100th career goal in girls' soccer on Oct. 12, according to the school's athletics director, Dan Kiestlinger. Trunca, a senior striker, helped lead the Litchfield-based squad to a 6-0 Division III win over Hillsboro-Deering.

Campbell is 14-0-0 and the only remaining unbeaten/untied team in the state's four soccer divisions. Trunca & Co. have one regular-season game remaining on Oct. 18.

DOUBLE DUTY
Play-calling for Laconia is territory of head football coach Craig Kozens, who serves as offensive coordinator for the Sachems.

In Week 6, however, Kozens doubled as defensive coordinator. Longtime assistant Bob Ewell was recovering from surgery. Ewell's appendix burst one day before Laconia hosted Plymouth Regional, winner of five straight titles between Divisions III and IV.

“It was hectic. I had a lot of help from my assistant coaches,” Kozens told the New Hampshire Sunday News after Laconia beat Plymouth, 30-20. “Because we have a consistent staff of 11 guys, everyone helped me keep my thoughts together.”

Laconia hadn't beaten Plymouth since 1999. The 10-point win on Oct. 8 also marked the first time Kozens, in his 10th year as Laconia's head coach, led the Sachems past the Bobcats.

THE 400 CLUB
Mike Ackerman readily admits he can't recall the details of his first career coaching win.

The reason is understandable. Ackerman, the head coach at Division IV Woodsville since 1977, has won more than 400 boys' soccer matches.

He reached the 400-win milestone when the Engineers defeated Groveton, 9-0, on Sept. 23. His career record through Oct. 12 was 404-134-36, according to UnionLeader.com.

“It's a few,” Ackerman, 57, said while chuckling about the whopping total. “I'm just worried about the team playing well, what the kids are learning from playing, and that they're good people and graduating from high school.

“Four hundred wins is four hundred wins,” he added. “But the important stuff is what they're getting out of their experience, and that it's making a difference in their lives.”

Gilford's Dave Pinkham is the lone member of the 500-win club. Exeter's Jim Tufts has 300-plus wins. They both began coaching boys' soccer the same year as Ackerman.

Longtime Hanover coach George Merrill retired two wins shy of 400. Ackerman said he once asked Merrill why he called it a career with 398 wins on his resume.

“He said, 'You'll know when it's time,'” Ackerman said. “It isn't time yet for me.”

Woodsville won consecutive championships in the former Class S under Ackerman. He also coached his sons, Ryan and Matt, in the late 1990s. His wife, Glenna, never misses a match.

At a recent school assembly, Ackerman said he was presented with a game ball. It marked the accomplishment three-plus decades in the making.

To think, it all started when his original team manager from the '77 season announced during a booster club banquet that Ackerman was close to clinching his 400th win.

“I was just going to let it slide by if I could,” Ackerman said. “But (this year's players) loved dumping a big bucket of ice water over my head.”

Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News and UnionLeader.com. He has been the high schools reporter for football and lacrosse since joining the statewide newspaper in 2006. A graduate of Syracuse University (2000), he wrote about the state's football history for an exhibit at The Hall at Patriot Place. The Bedford, N.H., native has covered the Little League World Series, NCAA men's lacrosse championships, UNH athletics and New Hampshire Fisher Cats baseball. He can be reached at marc.thaler@gmail.com.

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

September, 15, 2010
9/15/10
3:27
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There’s a good reason Manchester High School Central’s boys and Keene High’s girls can expect to hear considerable footsteps this fall.

And the fact they compete in cross country is only half of it.

New HampshireThe squads for Central and Keene last week learned they earned the statewide preseason No. 1 ranking, according to New Hampshire Cross Country. The weekly newsletter, in its 16th year, bases rankings on returning runners and team success from the previous season.

“It’s very subjective,” said Larry Martin, co-editor of the newsletter with Amy Sanborn. “But the neat thing is it creates controversy.”

It also paints a giant bull’s-eye on two teams.

“We’ll see if it’s a blessing or a curse,” said 11-year Keene coach Bill Derry, whose Blackbirds finished second in last year’s final poll. “This is exciting and this is neat. But we have to stay healthy, and things have to come together at the right time or the ranking doesn’t mean anything.”

Third-year mentor Mike Hennessy, who co-coaches Central’s boys with Coby Jacobus, echoed Derry’s sentiments. Central’s surge a year ago created enormous expectations.

“I knew we were going to be strong (this season). We made New Englands last year and didn’t have any seniors on varsity,” said Hennessy, whose 2009 team closed at No. 5 in the poll. “What we did last year with sophomores and juniors was surprising.”

Central returns its top seven runners from the team that finished fourth at the ’09 Meet of Champions. Sam Gagnon leads the group. The newsletter ranks Central’s senior with Jeff LaCoste (Bishop Guertin of Nashua), Anthony Anzivino (Pinkerton Academy of Derry), John Conlin (Merrimack) and Jack Collopy (Oyster River of Durham) as top runners.

Seniors Zach Chabot, Max Tucker, Dan Ouellette and Ryan McHugh, and juniors Sean Brown and Matt Becker round out Central’s stellar cast. McHugh is back from a broken right femur suffered in a ski accident last winter.

“Last year, we weren’t even ranked to start the season. Now we have a target on our back,” Hennessy said. “Hopefully it raises their game up.”

Four of Keene’s top five runners return. Chloe Maleski, formerly a girls’ soccer player, is among them.

In her first full cross country campaign last year as a junior, Maleski earned all-New England honors. Garnering interest from Georgetown and Boston College, she is joined by Jacy Christiansen (Mascenic Regional of Ipswich), Kelsey Smith (Exeter), Alexandra and Elizabeth Conway (Central), Brianna Tevnan (Merrimack Valley of Penacook) and Corey Dowe (Coe-Brown Academy of Northwood) as the publication's top runners.

Juniors Brie Boden and Anna Fay, and sophomore Rachel Klaski complete Keene’s quality quartet.

“Our question mark is how big is our (gap) going to be from our first to our fifth runner,” Derry said. “That’s going to be the factor that determines how good we are.”

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