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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Less fanfare, but plenty of talent

Tom King

There was no huge throng at the Muldoon Fitness Center on Tuesday night. No tip-off just after the stroke of midnight. No madness.

Just good basketball. That’s what the Daniel Webster College and Rivier University women’s basketball teams have been quietly providing Greater Nashua for the last few years. ...

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There was no huge throng at the Muldoon Fitness Center on Tuesday night. No tip-off just after the stroke of midnight. No madness.

Just good basketball. That’s what the Daniel Webster College and Rivier University women’s basketball teams have been quietly providing Greater Nashua for the last few years.

There was one hiccup – Paul Williams’ first year as the Raiders head coach two seasons ago. But during that same year the Eagles made their first ever NCAA tournament appearance. The season before they were the top seed in the New England Collegiate Conference and lost.

Last year, Williams, riding the talents of the Purcell sisters of Hudson, fell just short in the GNAC semifinals and got an ECAC invite. This year they should be able to take the next step, or at least they hope. Amandra Purcell has graduated and now Deanna, one of the best freshman in the country in Division III last year, will have the spotlight.

And she may even be better than last year, when she averaged 20.8, according to Williams.

“I really feel that way,” Williams said. “She came into my office the other night, talking about her free throws. She was upset she missed a free throw over the weekend.”

A weekend during which the Raiders took on Southern Maine, seen by some as a national contender, and lost 74-49. They play Plymouth State University next week. There’s no ducking anybody as Williams tries to build a power.

Meanwhile, you look across town and the Eagles are on their third coach in four years, with MaryLynn Skarzenski at the helm for year two. What they lack in numbers they make up for in the return of one of the region’s best players, Vanessa Bosques. After missing last year with a blown-out knee, Bosques has returned (fifth-year eligible) with a vengeance, already winning her first NECC Player of the Week award after averaging 31 points and six rebounds in two losses.

“She is a tremendous player,” Williams said. “A tremendous basketball player who can do everything with the ball.”

Thus, on Tuesday night at the Muldoon, you had two of the best players around in Purcell and Bosques going at it. Williams remembers the days when the two programs would square off and have barely enough players for a bench.

“Yes, and often it was Riv,” he said. “And a lot of the women were on the team just to fill out the roster, they weren’t basketball players or even athletes. I’m fortunate now I have 14 basketball players.”

That’s the deal.

“I think Paul does a great job over there,” Skarzenski said. “I know he’s part-time, but you wouldn’t know. He’s out recruiting all the time, and I’m full-time here, so it’s easy to go out recruiting, it’s my job and definitely helps.

“You get some talent, you start to win, and it makes it easier to recruit. It’s easier to sell a program that is winning versus a program that isn’t doing so well.”

Williams says that local women’s college hoop still needs to catch on.

“I don’t think people truly know (the talent),” he said. “Nevermind the Nashua community. I don’t think the average person at Daniel Webster or Rivier that sit in class know they’re sitting next to a women’s basketball player that has great athletic talent. And the average local high school player that’s being recruited, you have to see this to realize it. It’s an eye-opening experience for someone to come in and see it. It’s pretty good.”

It was an eye-opener for Williams, an alum who had played and assisted on the Raiders men’s team before taking the women’s job two years ago and realizing he was coaching “more of a pure game. ... Some of the women I wouldn’t hesitate to put in a shooting contest with some of the men.”

Something was going to give on Tuesday, as the Eagles and Raiders were seeking their first wins in their third game, not because of a lack of talent but because the schedules are upgraded and competitive to match the improved ability.

“It’s definitely a turnaround, it’s definitely good,” Skarzenski said. “It’s good that both schools are doing well, it’s good for the area.”

Nothing wrong with that.

Tom King can be reached at 594-6468 or
tking@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow
King on Twitter (@Telegraph_TomK).