Rivier’s Kacavas had a Raider career to remember

Photo courtesy of Rivier University Rivier women's basketball standout Kaylee Kacavas finished her Raider career leading the nation in scoring in Divsion III.

NASHUA — When it comes to Kaylee Kacavas, Rivier University women’s basketball coach Paul Williams doesn’t mince words.

“She’s the best player who has ever played at Rivier,” Williams said. “Or at least she’s in the conversation.”

Williams is careful not to insult Hudson’s (and former Alvirne standout) Deanna Purcell, who is the school’s all-time leading scorer. But Kacavas led the Divsion III nation in scoring at 27.3 points a game, and was a Great Northeast Athletic Conference First Team selection, and was also named to the D3hoops.com All-Northeast Region team. It’s the first time a Raider women’s player has received that honor since, well, Purcell in 2015.

The sad thing is that Kacavas, a 5-8 senior from Dracut, Mass., has seen her Raider career come to an end.

“She’s the most unselfish scorer I’ve ever had,” Williams said. “But to have the nation’s leading scorer to be right here in Nashua, N.H.is pretty cool.

“She didn’t even know toward the end of the year until one of her teammates told her. She was shocked.”

“It’s really crazy,” she said about being the nation’s leading scorer. “I didn’t think I could do it.”

Kacavas was in double figures in every game. She shot 46.4 percent from the floor and set the program best for single game scoring with 43 points against Lesley University.

Kacavas injured her wrist the second game of her junior year, and decided while rehabbing that and in the summer before this season she decided “I wanted to come back better than I was before. I worked really hard.”

Williams wonders just how much better things would have been for Kacavas had the Raiders had a more successful team around her. The last two years they struggled, and went 4-19 overall this year, including 2-12 in the GNAC.

“She was the focus of everything we did offensively,” Williams said. “But she did all that with other teams focusing on her.”

Williams feels Kacavas excelled as a rebounder (5.6 boards per game) and distributed the ball well (2.8 assists). And, he felt she was a superb defender. “Defensively she was outstandig,” he said, “and she’s an absolutely lights out shooter. She averaged 11 free throws a game. But she would get fouled so often they stopped calling fouls.”

Williams felt that the fact Kacavas played on a struggling team hurt her in terms of GNAC Player of the Year voting. But he made sure that her young teammates paid close attention to everything she did.

“I’d have my freshmen watch her every move,” he said, “from the moment she’d walk into the gym.”

What’s even more amazing about Kacavas is she excelled on the court while student teaching in the Nashua school system, working at a local restaurant, and maintaining a 4.0 grade point average. Knowing all that, it’s tough to argue with any accolades she receives.

How important was playing for Riv to her? She actually had enough credits to graduate after the first semester, but took a class this current semester just so she could play the full season.

And now knowing that her Rivier career is over is a bit of a jolt.

“It’s really tough,” she said. “I’m glad I stuck it out for the full four years.”

What’s next? Williams thinks that Kacavas may not be done playing.

“She’s good enough to continue playing,” he said, referring to perhaps playing overseas. “She has some decisions to make. We’ve talked about it, and I’ve told her to be careful, that some coutries she may not want to play in because of quality of life.”

Kacavas has been invited to a Euro League tryout in Tampa, Fla.in August. She says she’s still deciding whether or not to go and has to inform the league by March 19 if she will attend the tryout. “I still haven’t figured that out,” she said.

In any event, it’s clear Rivier will miss her big time.

“It’s going to be different,” Williams said when asked what life will be like without Kacavas on the team. “I think anybody who didn’t see her play while she was here really missed out.”

There are more accomplishments from locals in the world of women’s college basketball, and here’s a look:

Nashua’s Taylor Choate is back in the NCAA Division III women’s basketball Final Four.

Today at 5 p.m. the team Choate is the third leading scorer, Bowdoin University, will take on the University of St. Thomas (30-1) in the semifinals in Salem, Va. It’s Bowdoin’s third trip to the finals, and the Polar Bears lost in the national championship game a year ago.

Should Bowdoin win, Choate’s team will face either Thomas More University of Kentucky or the University of Scranton (Pa.) in the national title game on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Choate, the former Nashua North standout, led the tourney win over Ithica with 21 points last weekend that punched Bowdoin’s ticket. Earlier in the tournament, she tied a school record with 38 points and seven three pointers in a win over Smith. She’s averaging 13.1 points a game overall.

“We worked really hard, and we knew that we wanted to get back there and get better every day,” Choate told the Times Record of Brunswick, Me, adding “We wanted to go out with a bang, knowing we will never do this again. It hyped us up.”

Choate says that her game and others on the team has improved because of the quality of player on the team, and its work ethic.

“In practice, we’re playing against some of the best players in the nation,” Choate told the Portland Press Herald the other day.“We don’t take it easy on each other.”

Some of the toughest competition I face is when Sam Roy is guarding me in practice.”

Friday’s game will be live streamed on NCAA.com.

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Meanwhile, back to the GNAC as former Hollis Brookline standout Cassandra Stapelfeld had a superb season at Simmons Univerity after transferring in the summer from Endicott College.

Stapelfeld was named to the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Second Team. Stapelfeld was the first Shark named to the All-Conference squad since 2010

Stapelfeld was one of the most prolific scorers in the NCAA, ranking seventh in the nation with 21.8 points per game in 25 games, while ranking second among GNAC players. She established herself as one of the region’s best players early in the season after being named the New England Women’s Basketball Association Player of the Week and was tabbed to the D3hoops.com Team of the Week for the week of November 19-25. The sophomore averaged 25.0 ppg vs. the top three teams in the GNAC (No. 12 Saint Joseph’s College (Maine), Emmanuel College and Albertus Magnus College) and finished the season with a school-record 546 points.

She was one of the conference’s most consistent scorers, netting 11 or more points in all but two games, including the first 18 games to start the season. Staplefeld broke the school record with 42 points in a game back on Jan. 29.

Also she was one of the best free throw shooters in NCAA Division III, ranking 15th in free throw percentage with an 86.5% (128-148) mark and also placed second among GNAC leaders. At one point she had the nation’s longest streak sinking 31 consecutive free throws.

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Finally, there’s former Campbell standout Hannah Neild of Litchfield, who started her college career at Merrimack College, but this past season she scored her 1,000th point for Gallaudet University. That was just after just a season and a half for the Bisons after transferring two years ago.

The accolades keep coming in. She was named to the D3hoops.com East Region First Team, was named the North Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year as she averaged 25.0 points a game and was third nationally in scoring behind Kacavas. She was also third in the nation for field goals made (226), fourth in free-throw percentage (88.5), field goal attempts (507) 12th in minutes played per game (38.03) and 31st in 3-point field goals made (74).

Neild also scored in double digits every game, 30 or more in six, and 20 or more in 10. She also led the NEAC in scoring a year ago.

The senior Neild, with a 3.98 GPA, was also named to the Google Cloud Academic All-America Division III team, as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America. Also, she was named a finalist for the 2019 Jostens Trophy, awarded to the outstanding NCAA Division III men’s and women’s basketball players who excel on the court, in the classroom and in the community. She was one of 10 women’s finalists and the first Jostens Trophy finalist in Gallaudet history.

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