LACONIA — Although the Laconia High School Sachems will be representing the smallest school in Division II on the gridiron for the next two seasons, Coach Craig Kozens said, "We will get kids and we will compete."
The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association has yet to finalize the schedules for 2016, but Division II, consisting of schools with enrollments between 590 and 945, will shrink from four conferences to two — North and South— with 11 schools, which remain to be determined in each. Eight teams will qualify for the playoffs with the conference champions as top seeds followed by the next best six teams from either conference as determined by a rating system.
Tentatively, Laconia is slated to play in the North Conference, along with Kennett, Plymouth, Kingswood, Gilford/Belmont, St. Thomas Aquinas, Lebanon, Hanover, Merrimack Valley, John Stark, and Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton.
While Gilford has competed in Division III, next season will be the first for the cooperative Gilford/Belmont program after playing at the junior varsity level for the past two years. Likewise, the Hillsboro-Deering Hopkinton cooperative program will make its debut in Division II.
Each team will play a nine-game schedule, likely including eight games against conference opponents and one against a team from the South Conference.
Kozens said that with teams from 22 schools — all larger and some much larger than Laconia — competing for a spot in the playoffs will be challenging. He said that last season the Sachems drew from a pool of less than 50 players and with injuries and illness fewer than 40 closed closed the season.
"I'm guessing they looked at our reputation and not our numbers," Kozens said, adding that he would prefer enrollment of 600 to qualify for Division II.
However, Kozens said that Laconia's game against Gilford/Belmont, tentatively scheduled to cap the season, will offer a rivalry between neighbors that is likely to attract a large crowd.
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