MANCHESTER — Today will go down as a historic one in New Hampshire high school sports as local legend John Fagula, set to retire at season’s end, coaches his final game.
His second-seeded Londonderry squad plays top-seeded Bedford in the Division 1 final today at 6 p.m. at Southern New Hampshire University.
Meanwhile, senior star point guard Aliza Simpson also hopes to depart Londonderry High as a champion. The Gatorade New Hampshire Player of the Year has starred for the Lancers for four years. She will play at UNH next year and looks for her first state championship. She played on state runner-up Londonderry teams as a freshman and sophomore.
Fagula feels some emotion already. He glanced at the score during the semifinals Thursday against Pinkerton. In a close game that ended in a Lancers’ four-point victory, Fagula wondered to himself, “This could be it.”
“You’ve spent 32 years of doing this, it obviously is the type of thing where it comes into your mind,” said Fagula, whose club outscored the Astros 6-0 late to pull out the win. “But I’m ready to accept that.
“Now obviously, you can’t win it until you get in it. And we’re in it. Hopefully, we give it as good a shot as we can.”
Fagula spent the first 20 years of his coaching career with the Nashua High girls, going 432-72, including winning 120 straight games against New Hampshire teams at one point. He won 11 Class L titles with Nashua and had five nationally ranked teams. His 1987 Purple Panther squad won the USA Today national title.
How sweet would victory No. 624 be? That goes without saying for a coach whose legacy was solidified long ago.
Fagula admitted his personality has changed since his days coaching Nashua.
“I’m not as inflexible,” Fagula said. “For the most part back then, I was a little harder and a little more demanding.”