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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rivier women’s lacross turns corner

NASHUA – Rivier College athletic trainer Keith Rupp turned to Kate Gaudreau one day recently and said, “Do you ever thank your sister for these freshmen?”

“Every day,” Gaudreau, in her first year as the Raiders head coach, responded.

Her sister is former Raider coach Mary Maruszewski, who left the job after one year to coach and teach high school in Kent, Ohio. And the 30-year-old Kate Gaudreau, who recently gave birth to her second child, thanks her other sister, 25-year-old assistant coach Ellen Maruszewski, the youngest of the three, for occasionally filling in for her as head coach this year during her pregnancy. Ellen worked as an assistant with the Raiders last year under Mary, the middle sister at 28, as well.

Yes, it’s all in the family for Raider women’s lacrosse, and it has helped the program achieve remarkable improvement from year one (three wins) to year two (nine wins). They will face No. 3 Emerson on Wednesday as the No. 6 seed in the GNAC tournament.

The freshmen that have made a difference? Well, you start with 59-goal scorer Rebecca Wickens, who hails from nearby Tyngsborough, Mass., and include Merrimack’s Hannah Wyatt (20 goals), East Providence’s Jessica Amiral (33 goals) and defensive specialist Vanessa Viola from Nashua South. But there are eight of them, and they’ve all contributed.

How did a team so young get so good?

“It’s a second-year program, and last year they only had three wins,” Gaudreau said. “I was still learning about the league (the Great Northeast Athletic Conference) and the players and my expectations were to win a couple of games and see how it goes.

“Then my sister Ellen, after a couple of days of practice, said ‘They look really good.’ And I said something like, ‘Yes, they’re coming along.’ And she said ‘No, they look really good.

“Then we played our first game and I said to her, ‘OK, we do look really good.’

“Every day we’re surprised by this team.”

“Last year, they were just learning how to catch and throw,” Ell Maruszewski said. “But this year they came right in ready to go. It helped that we had players who had played the game.”

In fact, they started out by outscoring the opposition in their first three games 64-14 before better competition appeared on the horizon. They have some upperclass leadership, too, as lone senior Natalie Bonvie out of Salem has 40 goals as the team’s second leading scorer “and the kids look up to her,” Gaudreau said.

But perhaps the main thing has been the smooth transition thanks to the family approach. Interestingly enough, all three sisters never played the game but have coached it well.

“Mary did such a great job recruiting,” said Gaudreau, who was an assistant at St. Anselm College for two years before becoming the interim head coach there for the 2010 season. She also coaches field hockey at Rivier, and had a great three-year run at St. A’s where they made the conference semis in 2009.

Ellen Maruszewski, meanwhile, actually played field hockey for Gaudreau for a couple of seasons at St. A’s. “Mary and I brought Ellen into the coaching community,” Gaudreau said. “When I got to St. A’s, she had already established herself (as a player). The three of us, we get along. … Mary and I are very similar, but we’re also different. … But we wouldn’t be having the season we’re having if it weren’t for (Ellen).”

“Mary taught them the fundamentals, and then it carried over,” Ellen said. “Both Mary and Kate have similar coaching styles, so the kids knew what to expect.”

In fact, Ellen Maruszewski had to coach the team on a two-game weekend swing through Maine, with Gaudreau unable to risk that long of a trip due to her pregnancy.

All the Raiders did was win a night game at St. Joe’s and then downed UMaine-Farmington the very next morning.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Gaudreau said. “But I knew Ellen, and I had no worries. That made it easier (to stay home).”

Gaudreau is married to former Nashua lacrosse standout Steve Gaudreau, formerly the Bow High School head coach and now the head men’s coach at St. Anselm, and he urged her to pursue the Riv job.

Wickens, meanwhile, has done her scoring from the midfield position, which makes it even more remarkable.

“She’s got great ball control and good field sense,” Gaudreau said, “and her goals have been beautiful one-timers. Her stick work is good and her teammates have been able to find her. You know she’s enjoying herself out there but she’s also the first one to give the ball up and set someone up.”

The future looks good for the Raiders, who despite their overall success are in the middle of the pack in the GNAC (3-4 at last look) and hope to begin conference tourney play this week.

But what makes this season even more remarkable is the fact that in the first game the team lost midfielder Lauren Brett, one of the best if not the best player in the conference a year ago as a freshman, for the season with a torn ACL. Add her back to the mix and the future is bright.

“We’re also hoping to bring in a couple of more players,” Gaudreau said. “Now that we’ve had this season, the kids know they can have success.”

And the sisterly approach hasn’t hurt, either.

“It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me,” Ellen said. “Coaching with both of my sisters.”

Probably the best thing for a young Rivier women’s lacrosse program as well.