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Monday, January 30, 2012

Purcell sisters resume Alvirne roles for Rivier women’s hoop

NASHUA – Enjoying New Year’s Eve at Disneyland with one another, and their Rivier College women’s basketball teammates, they paused to savor a sisterly moment.

“We’ll never do this again,” Amandra Purcell said. “Spend New Year’s Eve with my sister in Disneyland? I don’t think anyone can say that.”

And most basketball-playing sisters can’t say they’ve been teammates as a senior-freshman combination twice in their basketball careers, but Amandra and Deanna Purcell can. In fact, the Alvirne High School alums can say they’re the mainstays of Rivier College’s successful women’s basketball season. The Raiders go into Monday night’s game against Mount Ida at 12-6 overall, 6-1 in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference.

“They’re teammates, but they’re definitely sisters first,” second-year Riv coach Paul Williams said. “They’re the first to point out each other’s flaws and the first to pick each other up when one of them is down.”

There have been down moments in a year that included the holiday week trip to California, organized by Williams, to compete in a tournament and see some fantastic sights. Deanna is one of the top Division III freshman in the country, averaging 20 points a game while shooting 55 percent from the floor. Amandra, the senior guard, is the floor general, averaging nearly 14 points a game while providing several intangibles.

“Amandra is the best player the school, or the program, has seen in many years,” Williams said. “And Deanna is the best scorer this program has seen, maybe ever.”

That’s saying a lot. The irony is both took roundabout routes to get to Rivier. Amandra began her college career at Fitchburg State, and was happy playing there, but a couple of summers ago helped out at a basketball camp at Riv and fell in love with the school.

“Everyone made me feel like I belonged,even though I didn’t go here,” she said.

Plus, besides the obvious money-saving advantage of living at home, it made things much more convenient for her parents, who also had Deanna at Alvirne and another sister, Sandi, who was playing at the middle school level, to see everyone play.

“Trying to get to every game with three different girls, there were conflicts,” Amandra said.

But, Deanna still wasn’t set to attend Riv, instead having committed to Stonehill. But she was there this past summer to attend a camp and decided it just wasn’t for her.

“It just didn’t feel right,” she said.

So, she called Williams, who had heavily recruited her but apparently lost out, and asked if there was a chance for her as a Raider after all. He joked that he had a ticket already in her name for the California trip. Not true, of course, but eventually it was.

“It’s awesome,” Deanna said. “It’s nice to have your sister on the court at all times. Of course it can get a little catty (at home) at times. But I like it better the second time. We’re older, and the flow is better.”

The flow in college is definitely better in Amandra’s mind, especially for her game.

“I think my game has completely changed,” she said. “I was always a scorer in high school, but now I’m looking for my shot.”

“Amandra is one of my favorite people,” Williams said. “It was obvious from day one that she was the leader of this team.

Meanwhile, Deanna’s constant improvement and scoring touch may be a symptom of her comfort level playing with her sister.

“I didn’t do this in high school, and the competition is much better here than it is in high school,” Deanna said. “The thing that impresses me the most is that she’s a student of the game,” Williams said. “You didn’t expect 20 points a game.”

Amandra remembers when Deanna was a freshman at Alvirne, “just this lanky little player who barely weighed 100 pounds. Now she has the power game and she knows what she’s doing.”

This whole situation could repeat itself down the road. Sandi is a sophomore at Alvirne, and if she decides to attend Rivier, she would be a freshman when Deanna is a senior. But right now her older sisters won’t put any pressure on her.

Still, if she sees the fun her sisters are having, it’s a no-brainer.

“It’s awesome,” Amandra said. “I wouldn’t change this setup for the world.”