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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Eagles looking to make improvements next year

Chris Gilmore has no problem in citing a moment where he was proud of his Daniel Webster College Athletic program this year.

It was the New England Collegiate Conference championship game between his Eagles and Endicott College held down in Beverly, Mass. ...

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Chris Gilmore has no problem in citing a moment where he was proud of his Daniel Webster College Athletic program this year.

It was the New England Collegiate Conference championship game between his Eagles and Endicott College held down in Beverly, Mass.

“The atmosphere,” Gilmore, the first-year DWC athletic director, said, “was off the charts.”

Coach Braden Zamore’s team lost in the finals in five sets, and Endicott was a team he said prior to the start of the season that likely stood in the way of a potential title.

It was the only conference title game for the Eagles athletic program, but that didn’t mean Gilmore’s first year wasn’t a busy and memorable one. It was probably one of the more remarkable in the school’s history.

The highs: Both volleyball programs, a very competitive men’s and women’s basketball season, a men’s soccer team that produces numbers and is on the verge of perhaps returning to postseason success, a baseball player, Kyle Brigham, that pro scouts should at least have on their radar coached by a former local standout, Nate Goulet, who once was.

Not to mention the announcement of the expansion of the athletic program to add three varsity sports, elevating men’s ice hockey from club to varsity, adding women’s ice hockey and wrestling.

The lows: In general, a women’s athletic program that is suffering in many areas, hurting for numbers with the cancellation of one season (women’s lacrosse), another NCAA violation, the school’s second in four years, this time an alleged administrative error in men’s basketball, and the departure of a coach, former baseball head man J.P. Pyne, who behind the scenes was the glue of the athletic program.

“The low point is the numbers in some of the women’s sports, definitely,” Gilmore said. “We’ve made adjustments to fix it, things won’t be perfect a year from now.

“And any time you have a violation, it’s definitely not a high point. We did what we had to do (forfeit eight games), which wasn’t great.”

It wasn’t, as the season began so promising for head coach Dave Faucher’s team at 9-0 until transfer Eric Webster became academically ineligible and then, according to sources – the school by rule can’t reveal the nature of the violation – it was discovered he was ineligible from the beginning, reportedly unbeknownst to the coaching staff and athletic administration until a routine internal audit was done.

What should have been a 16-8 season with perhaps an ECAC berth at least ended up being 8-18. But the school was proud to have celebrated the career of a four-year standout, shooting guard Daris Cosby, and there’s the Nashua native nucleus of Ray Farmer, Ryan Gauthier and Kevin Perez.

“Daris Cosby getting Athlete of the Year was definitely a highlight,” said Gilmore, of the award given out by DWC.

Just like over at Rivier, men’s volleyball, in Gilmore’s eyes, was the benchmark.

“They played five or six nationally ranked teams,” he said. “They played a tough schedule and didn’t avoid anybody. They played the top schools and it showed. Against Endicott, we were right there.”

A year of new coaches

The Eagles year started off right away in semi-crisis mode when Gilmore realized something had to be done with women’s soccer and immediately convinced an old friend, former longtime Bentley men’s coach Pete Simonini to take over just at the start. Simonini’s team, lacking much
experience, went 0-15.

Baseball had a down year at 12-20 after two straight seasons with NCAA tourney appearances, despite former assistant Goulet’s guidance, but that wasn’t out of the realm of possibility going in with 18 new players. The team was still anchored by Brigham, the Hudson native who hit .426 as the NECC’s top player for a second straight year.

Pyne left in late December to take an assistant’s job at the University of Maine, and Goulet’s official hiring didn’t take place until over a month later.

“Nate’s transition was a little bit easier (than Simonini),” Gilmore said. “He knew the players. But still, he had to raise a lot of money (for the team’s Florida trip, etc.).

“I can say this – we’re extremely happy given our time constraints, with those people, very happy with what we got.”

That includes new softball coach Casie Runksmeier, who was another last-minute hire at the start of the season – actually well after it was supposed to have started, but just in time to begin the NECC portion of the schedule. The Eagles finished 2-20, but Runksmeier, a former New England College assistant, has an extensive softball background and the program should be in good hands.

Programs on the bubble

Will women’s lacrosse get off the ground next season? Will field hockey have a season? Both were coached in the past by Phoebe Hopkins but she has left, and women’s lacrosse numbers were not viable and Gilmore couldn’t find a coach.

“We were really close to doing it,” he said of having a season. “Our numbers were at the point where they were just under what we needed, but they may level out next year. But the hiring process (for a coach) was very difficult.

“I don’t make any promises with it. But we’re confident right now that both field hockey and women’s lacrosse will move forward.”

Gilmore is impressed with the job that men’s soccer coach Matt Correia has done, bringing in large numbers and last fall making the conference semis.

Clean sheet of ice

This is the year Merrimack’s David Downie can’t go unnoticed. Downie was the men’s hockey team’s leading scorer with 28 goals and 18 assists while doing the same for lacrosse with 34 goals and 11 assists.

He’ll certainly be a centerpiece of the varsity men’s ice hockey program, which, although a head coach hasn’t officially been named, is holding its own in recruiting.

“The numbers for men’s ice hockey is off the charts,” Gilmore said, while expressing cautious optimism that women’s hockey will be able to take the ice next season as head coach Dave Fimiani was just hired a week ago.

Gilmore said the new teams will take their time.

“Especially at the Division III level, we’re not going to go out there and knock people off right and left,” he said. “Our goal is to bring in our new faces, get them acclimated, and we’ll be fine.”