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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Back to the future for Rivier women’s hoop

Tom King

It’s funny how things work. Perhaps the Rivier College athletic program has come full circle.

Two decades ago, women’s college basketball was mainly (along with softball) what the Raiders had to offer their few student athletes. Remember, back until the early 1990s, the school wasn’t co-ed.

Then, the program expanded, and a lot of sports had passed women’s basketball by. Volleyball has had conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances, as has softball. Men’s basketball made it’s first NCAA trip ever five years ago.

But now it could be the women’s turn. Second-year head coach Paul Williams’ team hosts a postseason game for the first time in years on Tuesday, a Great Northeast Athletic Conference quarterfinal game against Johnson & Wales.

“It’s extremely special for all of us,” Williams said. “After struggling last year, we tried to set a foundation. It began to blossom a little sooner than any of us could’ve thought.”

The Raiders are the third seed in the GNAC with an 11-2 conference and 17-8 overall mark, and barring first-round upsets they’d have to go on the road after this. Of course, they can’t take J&W lightly, despite a 25-point win over it last Saturday.

“We’ve had a couple of losses in games that we felt we were the better team going in,” Williams said. “They know what this means.”

When the Rivier men made their historic post season run five years ago, they were 17-8 overall going in and the third seed. And Williams was an assistant on that club.

“Maybe we can have the same karma,” he said. “The team we have is the definition of a team. They really pull for each other.”

In fact, Williams said, the team adopted the term “Ohana” as their slogan, which is the Hawaiian word for “family.” But the reality is this Raiders team will go so far as the Alvirne alum Purcell sisters, Amandra and Deanna, will take them, as they combined for over 38 points a game during the season.

They are athletes that over two decades ago, Rivier never would have seen at the school. Maybe not even 10 years ago, when sometimes the Raiders struggled to put eight players on the floor.

But times have changed.

“It’s a different culture now,” Williams said. “There’s now a lot of investment, and a lot of pride.”

Over at DWC

Still on college hoops, great jobs at Daniel Webster by men’s coach Dave Faucher and his women’s counterpart, MaryLynn Skarzenski, are resulting in a Tuesday playoff doubleheader at the Vagge Gym.

Faucher’s team had to beat Lesley in its final regular season game to secure a tourney berth in the New England Collegiate Conference, and will host Newbury at 8 p.m. Meanwhile, Skarzenski’s injury-riddled club, a shadow of its NCAA self from last year, also finished 17-8 overall, 13-5 in conference play, and will host Becker at 6.

Both teams certainly had their ups and downs during the course of the winter. Led by Daris Crosby’s 15 points per game, the Eagles men average four players in double figures while the women have last year’s NECC Player of the Year Alycia Gervais leading the way with 15 points and 10 rebounds per game. It hasn’t been easy.

Baseball talk

The Eagles baseball program will hold its annual Hot Stove Dinner on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Nashua Country Club with Futures Collegiate Baseball League commissioner Chris Hall the keynote speaker.

Hall can certainly trumpet the off-season accomplishments of his league, which included adding yet another franchise last week when the North Shore Navigators of Lynn, Mass., with an ownership change, bolted the New England Collegiate Baseball League to join the FCBL.

This brings the FCBL from four to nine teams in just one year. And yes, they can play with an odd number because it’s mainly single game meetings.

It also will resume the Nashua-Lynn baseball connection, last seen when the Nashua Pride downed the North Shore Spirit in the finals of the Can-Am League at Fraser Field in September, 2007. Hall was the Pride general manager at the time.

Big loss

The sport of high school boys volleyball lost a pioneer late last month when longtime Pinkerton Academy faculty member and coach Ralph Van Nostrand passed away after a bout with cancer.

Van Nostrand was instrumental in the push to get the sport sanctioned by the NHIAA, but also had been an assistant or sub-varsity coach in several other sports. Van Nostrand was always the voice of reason when observing a game and his quick wit was unmatched. He is sorely, sorely missed.

Tom King can be reached at 594-6468 or tking@nashuatelegraph.com.