College Journal: Rivier hoop teams find in-state talent

Photo courtesy of Rivier University Nashua North alum Nathan Hale is off to a good start this season for Rivier University.

NASHUA – Last winter was one to forget for the Rivier University men’s and women’s basketball

programs.

As both their seasons are underway, will things improve?

It looks that way, but one thing is for certain – whatever both Raider teams end up doing this season, they’ll be doing it with a lot of New Hampshire players, as there are seven on each squad.

The desire to get more in-state, home-grown talent was one of the reasons Raider men’s coach Lance Bisson was willing to play the University of New Hampshire in what, as far as Division III was concerned, was a glorified 108-54 scrimmage even though it was the official opener of the Wildcats scrimmage.

“Why not? Bisson said. “Why not have some of the best players stick around?”

The Raiders at last look were 1-3, with a win over Lesley University, but Bisson feels his team has improved in a plan that has steps to it.

“I think this is the first year when we can compete for one of the last playoff spots,” he said, “whereas next year I think one of those will definitely be ours.”

As for locals, Nashua North alum Nathan Hale heads the list. The 6-foot-5 junior transferred from Plymouth State and was leading the Raiders in points per game (23) and rebounds (five).

“He’s become a big piece of what we want to do,” Bisson said, adding that 6-4 Milford alum Josh O’Laughlin, a junior, also will help out as the Raiders lack size

otherwise.

The Raiders second-leading scorer is Sunapee’s Issiah Chapell, who is at 16 points a game, a 6-foot guard. “He will be a surprise,” Bisson said of the junior, adding that he also wants Stamford, Conn.sophomre Tarik Rivers to take some of the pressure off Hale and Chapell in terms of scoring.

Another local on the team is freshman guard Alex Hill of Amherst, a Souhegan alum.

Bisson says it’s time to push forward with the program, even though it’s in the highly competitive Great Northeast Athletic Conference.

“When I took over, we didn’t have any uppeclassmen,” he said. “No seniors. When you’re rebuilding, you just want to focus on work ethic.”

The talent, he says, comes in waves. The Raiders have to be selective with the right fit academically. “We call them ‘Riv Kids’,” Bisson said. “And whatever talent we’re able to get, we have to maximize that as coaches.”

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As for the women, they missed the GNAC tournament last year for the first time in eight years.

This year, head coach Paul Williams said, that shouldn’t be the case, once the Raiders get organized. The early start – it used to be November 15 was the first date to play and now it’s a week earlier – has shortened the preseason and conditioning time.

“It’s been an adjustment,” Williams said. “We used to spend the first two weeks (still the same Oct. 15 allowed first practice) on just conditioning.”

There’s no doubt who the Raiders have built around – 5-8 Dracut senior Kaylee Kacavas.

“She continues to get better,” Williams said. “Last year she had a devastating injury in the second game – she broke her wrist – came back in January and managed to lead the conference in scoring. Amazing.

“She’s a special player. She’s the only other player I’ve coached that’s in the Deanna Purcell category.”

Purcell, of course, was the former Raider great scorer from earlier in the decade out of Hudson. Like Purcell, Williams says Kacavas, who has averaged 25 points a game on the young season, has worked hard to try to make the other players around her better. Like, for example, North alum Alexis Ivory, a 5-7 junior. “She’s fun to watch,” Williams said, adding that he’s got four freshmen who will likely be forced to contribute right away, including Pinkerton alum Cyndey Lessard. Another senior, 5-10 Meg Hamel out of Colebrook, had a 25-point game recently.

Williams has 11 players currently on the roster, but is expecting about three more for second semester, when GNAC play begins. Meanwhile, the Raiders won’t be discouraged even though they started out 0-2, and play only two games in December.

“We have a tough non-conference schedule,” he said. “It’s all part of the process.”

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Still at Riv, the conference runnerup Raider women’s volleyball team placed five on the GNAC All-Conference team, including Litchfield’s Courtney Collins.

First teamers were senior Hayley Macken and junior Taylor Dunster out of Sutton, Mass. Macken was second in the GNAC in assists with a 9.42 average, and her career total of 2,885 is second all-time in Raider history.

Dunster, meanwhile, had a team high 281 kills and 2.6 kills per set average.

Freshman Sydney Racevicius (Woodbury, Conn.), a two-time GNAC Rookie of the Week, was second on the Raiders in kills and digs.

Collins, a grad student, earned Third Team honors with a team high 20 solo blocks. At 6-1 she had 221 kills and a team best 2.63 kills per set average. She also had 74 blocks on the season.

Finally, senior Taylor White (Dunstable, Mass.) had a career high 202 digs as Riv’s primary libero and was named to the GNAC All-Sportsmanship team.

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Here’s a look at what some other locals have been up to at their respective schools:

Alvirne alum Jacen Hudson caught a big touchdown late in UMass-Dartmouth’s 32-29 loss to Fitchburg State. On the season, Hudson, a junior wideout, has caught 12 passes for 139 yards and three TDs…

Nashua North alum Emily Sweet was a double winner for the Bentley University swim team in a 165.5-96.5 win over Merrimack College. Sweet, a freshman, earned wins in the 200 yard freestyle (2:02.01) and the 200 IM (2:17.87)…

Litchfield’s Angela Valenti saw her college career for St. Joseph’s of Maine end in a first round NCAA women’s soccer tourney defeat at the hands of Swarthmore College. Valenti, who played two years at Bishop Guertin and then her junior-senior years at Campbell, finished with 64 games played with two goals and two assists over her career. This year she had a goal and an assist…

Former Hollis Brookline basketball standout Cassandra Staplefeld has transferred from Endicott College (Beverly, Mass.) to Boston’s Simmons College. She scored 18 points for Simmons in its season opening 78-46 loss to MIT. It was the most points in a women’s hoop debut by any player in Simmons history, and she added five rebounds and two steals…

Hudson’s Amanda Wetmore, a sophomore at WPI, earned NEWMAC Academic All-Conference honors while competing for the school’s women’s volleyball team this past fall.