Murphy Helps Stonehill Stride to the Front of the Pack

Jimmy Murphy
Former Mansfield soccer standout Jimmy Murphy (No. 865) helped Stonehill win the program’s first ever New England Championship and finished fifth as an individual. (Stonehill Athletics)

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On Saturday, Oct. 7 at Franklin Park in Boston, the Stonehill College men’s cross-country program achieved a new milestone. The Skyhawks raced past 26 other teams, including Div. I programs such as the University of Massachusetts (Amherst and Lowell), Northeastern University, and Central Connecticut State to win the NEICAAA New England Championship team title.

Leading the pack for Stonehill was senior Jimmy Murphy. The Mansfield alum finished in fifth place overall in his first season competing in the varsity version of the race (he finished fifth in the junior varsity race last year) in a time of 25:29. He earned his first cross-country All-New England honor in the process.

Stonehill totaled 119 points, winning the race by five points over second place MIT.

“It was awesome,” said Murphy in a phone interview from the Easton campus this week. “It was humbling. To be the first, it was just a really cool experience.”

He added, “This is something I’ll always remember. It was a total team effort.”

While on the course, Murphy had no way of knowing where Stonehill stood as a team, but passing the three-mile mark he knew that he was in 15th place individually and still feeling strong. Murphy started to push and started to pass other runners, eventually moving up 10 places into the top five, surprising even himself.

“It came as a total surprise,” Murphy admitted. “I’ve been dedicated over the last year. I knew I was in better shape than last year and I just wanted to score as high as I could for the team.”

As the race drew to a conclusion, the Skyhawks huddled together waiting for the final results to see where they ended up. The expectation, judging by where everyone finished, was that the Skyhawks were around the top five.

“One of the guys heard it kind of quietly, so I went up and asked,” said Murphy about the wait for the announcement. Once the team had the victory confirmed, Murphy said, “We just lost it. Guys were jumping around…We’re going up against DI teams. It was awesome.”

What makes Murphy’s impact on the team surprising is that he did not compete in cross-country until he arrived on the Stonehill campus. Despite the efforts of the Mansfield track and field coaches to persuade Murphy that he would be successful on the already strong Hornets cross-country team, he refused to hang up his soccer cleats.

Murphy was twice named a Hockomock League all-star on the pitch and his senior year was named a HockomockSports.com Best XI performer and Eastern Mass. All-Star in the heart of the Hornets midfield. While he ran indoor and outdoor track, Murphy also played club soccer in the spring and summer and was considering continuing soccer at the collegiate level before deciding on Stonehill.

When asked about switching from soccer to cross-country, Murphy admitted with a chuckle, “Soccer will always be my first love. Running is a close second though.”

Even during his high school track career, Murphy was more of a middle distance runner, so there was a transition period for him in college, as he stretched into longer distances and started running cross-country for the first time as a sophomore.

“The training really got ramped up,” he explained. Now, he was running as much as 80-85 miles a week, about double what he was running at any point in high school. “A long as you can handle the training, you’ll make improvements,” he continued.

Murphy said that it clicked for him during his junior year, while running the steeple, and that his mental toughness is much higher than it was when he first started. “My coaches said that I was running not to lose,” he said. “I wasn’t being aggressive enough. Now, I don’t get too nervous when I’m out there.”

That improvement showed earlier this year when he finished second in the Div. II/III Challenge at the Kutztown University (Pa.) Farm Course, helping the Skyhawks bring home the team title. The New England Championships were another step for Murphy, but he admits that the upcoming Northeast-10 Conference Championship on Oct. 22 at Stanley Park in Westfield, Mass. mean a little more for the team. “It’s more personal,” Murphy said.

Coming off the team title at the New England Championships, Stonehill is the favorite heading into the NE-10 race. The Skyhawks are now ranked No. 1 in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Association (USTFCCA) East Region poll and 15th in the national rankings. A poll of the league’s 15 coaches had Stonehill on top with 180 points, four more than American International College (AIC).

Murphy knows that polls will not mean victory. He said, “We know that teams, especially AIC, are gunning for us,” adding, “They don’t have a bad day twice. (AIC finished in 11th at the New England Championships; the second best NE-10 team.). We’ll be ready.”

Black Knights Clamp Down on the Hawks for Road Win

Stoughton football
Malachi Green-Hightower (52) leads the way for Justin Ly (3) on what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown late in the first half against Milford. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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MILFORD, Mass. – Twenty minutes into Friday night’s regular season finale at Milford High, Stoughton had only managed three first downs. Another short drive came to a close after Jonathan Medina was sacked by several Hawks and offensive lineman Malachi Green-Hightower was forced to jump on a fumble to keep the possession alive.

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Paul Feeney hit a towering punt downfield towards Ryan O’Toole, who was unable to come up with it cleanly. Matthew Hadley pounced on the loose ball and put the Black Knights at the Milford 25. On the next play, Justin Ly bounced outside the tackle and raced down the Milford sideline for a 25-yard score with 1:31 left in the first half.

The score turned out to be the game-winner, as the Black Knights defense smothered the Milford offense, limiting the Hawks to only eight first downs in the game (only three in the second half), in a 14-3 victory that sets up a three-way tie for second place in the Davenport division and most likely a home game for Stoughton in the Div. 3 South playoffs.

“That’s a good team,” said Stoughton coach Greg Burke, “they played very hard, and they’ve been excellent the last couple weeks and luckily we got them and I’m glad we did it by running the football.”

The Black Knights were without starting quarterback Evan Gibb, who was injured in the loss to North Attleboro, and Burke praised Medina (2-6, 25 yards) for managing the game. Burke said, “You’ve got to make some tough plays and the toughest job, he did a great job for us, was our quarterback. The kid hasn’t played a lot and…everything’s a little different.”

Milford started the game in a spread formation with sophomore Colby Pires (7-16, 118 yards) in the shotgun. On the first possession of the game, Pires hit Shapel Feaster for 20 yards and the Hawks moved the ball into Stoughton territory, but on fourth and nine Pires scrambled and hit Lucas Rosa for eight yards and the drive stalled at the Black Knights 29.

On the second possession, backed up to their own 11, the Hawks hit their biggest play of the game. Pires looked deep down the near sideline to Joey Everett, a senior who transferred in from St. George’s School (Newport, R.I.) midway through the season, and the wideout made an incredible 41-yard catch just keeping a foot in bounds. On the next play, Pires was intercepted by Ryan Semler.

“When you have three turnovers and a muffed punt deep in your own end, it’s hard to get anything going,” said first-year Milford coach Anthony Vizakis. “We tried our spread, we tried our war, they did a really great job. They have a great defense.”

Vizakis admitted that the touchdown before halftime was a turning point. He said, “Unfortunately, sometimes all it takes is one play. We were hoping to put a drive together and we had some things ready to go, but you could feel the momentum shift. Against a tough team like that, it’s hard to come back from it.”

The Black Knights went into the locker room with energy after the late touchdown, but in the end both defenses were too strong to keep the momentum going. A sack by Josh Ligor ended the second Stoughton possession of the third quarter and gave Milford the ball back at its own 30.

The Hawks turned to junior Ryan Pearl at quarterback in a compact power set that worked the week before in the comeback win over Foxboro. A six-yard completion to Will Pointer got a rare third down conversion for a first down and Pointer followed it with a 20-yard burst around the end. Once again the drive stalled, but Milford turned to junior kicker Sean Lehane, who split the upright with a 46-yard boot (with room to spare) that cut the lead to 7-3.

“He’s unreal,” said Vizakis of Lehane. “That’s automatic for him. He kicks 50-55 [yards] in practice and I think we have to utilize him even more when we’re close. He’s clutch.”

The home crowd was starting to get into it, especially after Ruben Gonzalez was stopped on the kick-off return at his own 17, but the Black Knights settled down and put together the best drive of the game.

Alex Sjoquist (15 carries, 91 yards) was the main threat, getting the ball eight times during a 13-play, 83-yard march that took seven minutes off the clock and sealed the win. The big play was a 41-yard burst straight up the middle from Sjoquist that Tyler Joyce kept from being a touchdown with a diving, shoestring tackle. In the end, Sjoquist plunged into the end zone with a three-yard score.

Any hope of another late comeback by the Hawks was dashed by a Colin Sanda interception.

Burke said of the team’s ability to matchup with Milford’s bunch sets, “We got hurt a little bit but…we worked very hard at that all week. It’s a very effective offense, if you get one long play. You’re in tight, so they’re hoping someone cracks one and gets out. So, you have to really protect against the bounce out.”

Despite the defeat, it looks like Milford (3-4, 3-2) has qualified for the Div. 3 South playoffs and could face possible trips to North Attleboro, Duxbury or Hingham. Vizakis is proud of how far the Hawks have come from the opening game of the season.

He said, “We’re 100 percent getting better every week and that’s what we tell them, get better every day. The kids are improving, they’re getting more comfortable in the system, and once we see where we fall in the playoff bracket we’ll be ready to go next week.”

Stoughton (5-2, 3-2) appears to be in line for the third or fourth seed in Div. 3 South.

Burke said, “We’re 5-2 with a couple of our starters out…and I’m just happy we’re getting in the playoffs for our fourth consecutive year. I don’t know, if you had said at the beginning of the year that we’d be 5-2 I would’ve called you crazy, but that’s the type of kids I have, tough kids.”

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Lanzillo Nets Two in Mansfield Shutout of Attleboro

Mansfield boys soccer
Mansfield senior Sean Lanzillo (17) scored a pair of first half goals to help the Hornets beat Attleboro and stay within three points of first place OA. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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MANSFIELD, Mass. – For the opening 15 minutes, the visiting Bombardiers controlled the play, dominating the midfield and pushing Mansfield back on its heels. In the 10th minute, Will Halben cut inside on his right foot and found space on the edge of the box. His shot beat Mansfield goalie Nick Ferraz, but not the post.

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Five minutes later, Hornets senior midfielder Sam Hyland had the ball bounce to his foot inside the 18-yard-box and also saw his shot carom off the post, but the rebound went straight to classmate Sean Lanzillo and he buried his shot into the open net.

The opening goal changed the entire outlook of the game and propelled the Hornets to a 3-0 victory over Attleboro that moves Mansfield within three points of division-leading Oliver Ames with three games remaining in the regular season.

“Our first 15 minutes, I don’t think we played well at all,” admitted Mansfield coach Steve Sheridan. “We were lucky on that goal and that’s why I called a timeout after it to settle everybody down. After that first 15 minutes, I thought we played great. They were attacking us and we played good defense, it was a great game.”

Attleboro coach Peter Pereira said, “Us hitting the bar right away was tough. If he had gotten that then it would’ve been a totally different game. The first 20 minutes we ran and we denied them from playing so they couldn’t get going.”

Following Sheridan’s timeout, the Hornets settled into the game, started to possess the ball better, and played through the midfield. In the 28th minute, the hosts almost doubled the lead when Cullin Anastasia started a break with an outlet pass to Lanzillo, who then fed Hyland but the shot was saved by Nick Hasenfus. Seconds later Anastasia beat the offside trap but again Hasenfus made the stop.

“You can’t sustain it that long, it’s just too much running,” said Pereira about his team’s drop off after the midway point of the half. “You go a goal down and your energy level disappears.”

In the 29th minute, Mansfield got another break on a deflection. Luke Devine’s run was cut off by Attleboro center backs Aidan Lancaster and Colin Levis, but the ball bounced out to Lanzillo who hit a perfect, first time shot from 19 yards that curled over Hasenfus for a 2-0 lead.

“He curled it in,” said Sheridan with a laugh. “That was nice, I can’t wait to watch it.”

In the second half, Mansfield pressed its advantage and created a series of chances. Lanzillo’s cross from the right wing was headed on target by Anastasia but saved by Attleboro back-up keeper Andre Menard and two minutes later another low cross into the middle to Hyland was cut out by a sliding Levis.

In the 55th minute, central defender Sam Nugent slid a pass to spring Lanzillo down the touchline, but his cross was just behind Hyland in the middle. That turned out to be a warning for the Attleboro defense, as just a minute later Lanzillo played in Anastasia on the right and he picked out Hyland with a low cross that was side-footed in.

Pereira said, “We work hard and even after that we continued to work hard. We can play touch, but it gets into your head. Losing breeds losing and winning breads winning, we’re not confident.”

It could have been more for the Hornets. Jared Gabrilowitz cut in from the left side and had his right-footed shot saved by Menard at full stretch. From the ensuing corner, Michael Russo was forced to clear a shot off the line.

“We should’ve had more goals but…we can’t finish,” said Sheridan. ”To have that many opportunities, especially in that second half, and we’ve got to finish them.”

Attleboro struggled to sustain a consistent attack. Russo had a shot saved early in the second half and David Medeiros had an 18-yard shot comfortably saved by Ferraz (four saves).

The best chance for the Bombardiers came in the 70th minute, as Russo got forward down the left wing and sent an inch-perfect cross to Halben at the back post only to see the shot come back off the crossbar.

“The good news is this is a two-year project,” said Pereira about his young roster. “The starting lineup is back. Now we’re going to have some fun, work hard, get better as individuals and if they do that then we’ll be a better team.”

For Sheridan, it was a positive to see his team get on the score sheet multiple times, especially with the playoffs right around the corner. He joked, “Oh yeah, it was nice. I liked it. I would like to score more than three goals a game but we’re stubborn and we like to make it hard on ourselves.”

Mansfield (8-2-5, 8-1-4) will host Franklin on Thursday, while Attleboro (1-8-4, 1-8-4) will try to play spoiler when it hosts league-leading Oliver Ames.

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Rodman Scores Brace, Canton Beats Milford

Canton girls soccer
Canton senior Riley Duserick (22) pushed the ball forward from midfield during Monday night’s win against Milford at WWII Vets Memorial Field. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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CANTON, Mass. – Canton had a chance to cut North Attleboro’s lead in the Davenport division to just a single point last week, but a loss to the Rocketeers on Friday opened that lead back up to five points and made each of the remaining league games a must win if the Bulldogs were going to keep up the race for a title.

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On Monday night, the Bulldogs bounced back with a strong overall performance in a 3-0 win against Milford, sparked by a pair of unassisted goals from freshman phenom Olivia Rodman and a composed defensive effort.

Milford started the game well, combining well in the midfield to create opportunities in the final third. Sophomores Ashleigh Starks, Juliana France, and Annie Flanagan passed their way through the Canton midfield in the opening few minutes and Maggie Boyle and Hannah Martin each forced saves out of Canton keeper Briana Murphy.

“They connect passes really well,” said Canton assistant coach Sarah Handman of Milford. “I think we weren’t winning the 50-50 balls in the first 15 minutes and from then on that’s what made the difference.

The Hawks only struggle was finding the right pass to turn half chances into goals. Milford coach Jay Mastaj said, “That’s been our struggle all season, we’re playing with everybody but then the ball gets into the final third and we’re missing that little extra. We had our chances.”

The Bulldogs started to get a foothold in the game and in the 19th minute Rodman changed the momentum completely. The freshman ran onto a ball down the far touchline and cut infield onto her right foot before unleashing a rocket just under the bar and out of the reach of freshman keeper Carly Ferreira.

The goal turned the game on its head and the confidence started flowing for the hosts, who took control. Three minutes after the goal, Riley Duserick saw a 25-yard free kick smack off the crossbar and out and then right back Leianna Brune intercepted a pass on the right and sent a perfect early cross to an unmarked Rodman on the edge of the six, but the shot went over the bar.

“That’s where we start,” said Handman. “We work on building on the outside from the back.” In addition to Brune down the right side, central defender Sarah Connolly and left back Sarah Collins frequently stepped forward in possession and created space for the midfielders and forwards to take advantage.

Milford’s best chance of the game arrived in the 25th minute when sophomore Madeline Boyle lined up a 35-yard free kick and forced a stretching save out of Murphy, who managed to catch the ball just under the bar.

Madeline Boyle showed off her defensive ability a few minutes later when she reacted first to a low cross from the left to deny Lilah Sullivan a chance at the back post and then Rachel LeBlanc stepped just in front of Rodman to deny a goal scoring opportunity.

The chances kept coming for Canton with freshman Elisa Diletizia showing her strength to shoulder aside her defender and run onto a through ball from Juliana Agnitti before sending in a hard cross that Rodman just missed getting a foot on.

Diletizia had chances to extend the lead either side of halftime but sent both shots wide. Sullivan had another shot when Rodman’s run deflected off a defender’s leg and fell to the senior inside the box but Ferreira came up with one of her seven saves (six in the second half alone).

“The defense has been playing great all year,” said Mastaj. “Carly is a freshman goalie and being a freshman and stepping up to varsity isn’t easy and I think she’s been good back there.”

In the 54th minute, Rodman sealed the win for the Bulldogs. Diletizia sent a through ball over the top and Rodman got fortunate as she raced to the ball with Ferreira, as the ball deflected off her leg and rolled the ball past the keeper. Rodman hustled to the end line to keep the play alive and was able to cut the ball back towards the goal from an acute angle and, with the help of a defender’s foot, into the net.

Canton nearly added a third in the 74th minute but Brianna Braza cleared a Morgan McCabe shot off the line at the near post and then got up to block a shot from Lauren Fitzpatrick as well. The third did finally arrive with the final kick of the game, as McCabe finished a breakaway with a well-taken shot on the run.

Handman said, “Our goalkeeper only had to make two or three saves in the second half and I think we could have scored three or four goals with our runs up top. We had really good chances.”

Canton (7-4-2) is three points behind league leader North Attleboro with three league games remaining. The Bulldogs will try to stay in the title race on Thursday when they travel to Sharon. Milford (4-8-2) needs eight points from its remaining four games to get into the state tournament and will start its closing stretch with a trip to Foxboro on Thursday.

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Brown Rugby Turns Out to Be Perfect Fit for Clifton

Beth Clifton
Attleboro High alum Beth Clifton (running with ball) has found a home on the Brown University women’s rugby team, a sport that she had never played until college. (David Silverman/Brown University)

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While working at camp the summer before her freshman year at Brown University (Priovidence, R.I.), Attleboro High alum Beth Clifton was approached by one of her fellow counselors, who had an interesting proposal. Clifton was asked if she had any desire to try out for the women’s rugby team, which was about to compete in its first season as a varsity sport.

In high school, Clifton was a three-sport student-athlete, competing in soccer, basketball and outdoor track, but had no background in rugby. Still, there was now an opportunity to play a sport at the collegiate level, which was always a dream.

Although she decided to not to participate in the fall season as she got acclimated to college life at the Providence campus, in the spring Clifton showed up for practices ahead of the Sevens season (rugby union is typically played with either teams of 15 aside, as at the Rugby World Cup, or seven aside, which is the Olympic version). She instantly fell in love with the game and helped Brown win the Ivy Championships that season.

Looking back on that decision four years later, Clifton, now a senior, struggles to imagine what life at Brown would have been like without rugby and the teammates that became friends while playing.

“I think about that a lot and I honestly don’t know what would have taken that spot because it’s such a big part of my life.” said Clifton in a recent phone interview. “It would’ve looked so different and I don’t know that I would be nearly as happy as I am right now if I didn’t play rugby.”

She added, “I’m definitely thankful for the girl who recruited me that summer.”

How does a player transition from high school soccer or basketball into collegiate rugby? As it turns out, almost all of the Brown roster had little to no experience with the sport before joining the team in college. Even Brown coach Kathy Flores, who coached the U.S. national team from 2002-10 and was inducted into the U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame in 2016, played basketball in college and only became involved in rugby after graduating.

“Basketball is one of the closest sports to rugby,” Clifton explained. “You’re calling plays on the fly, you’re running a lot of cut lines, and you’re passing and running. There are a lot of moving parts. I used to play fly-half and I would always compare it to being a point guard.”

Most people assume that the closest comparison to rugby would be football, but Clifton said that even the tackling is unlike that on the gridiron. Without need to worry about blocking, which is penalized as obstruction in rugby, close tackling is the norm rather than the type of hitting that takes place in football. The strategy and flow of the game suited Clifton’s background on the court or the pitch.

“I was made to play rugby more than any other sport I played in high school because the parts I was really good at in the other sports are all together in rugby,” said Clifton. “One of my attacking strategies in rugby is I’m a kicker and I was a goalkeeper, so I’m used to punting and kicking. Between soccer and basketball, I feel like it went well into rugby and I liked the more physical parts of those games.”

The first practices and games were intimidating for Clifton as a freshman just picking up a new sport, but the hitting was something that she got used to right away.

“The first time I tackled someone in a game it was like, wow, that’s something I can do,” Clifton recalled. “I’ve definitely fallen more in love with contact as the years have gone on. I was just like, oh wow that’s awesome. Once you throw yourself into it, you just keep going.”

Rather than be stymied by her lack of experience in the game, Clifton joined a team willing to spend time teaching the skills, laws, and nuances of the sport. In some ways, being inexperienced took the pressure off games because mistakes were expected.

“It was almost liberating in a sense,” Clifton said. “When you don’t know what you’re doing, because it’s very confusing, the only thing you can control is your effort. So, you just work really hard and that’s going to be enough.”

She continued, “One of the things about rugby is that even when you’re tackled, your job isn’t done. You have the ball in your hands and it’s your job to make it playable to your team, to make it easy for them to get it out of the ruck. There’s always a next job. If you mess one little thing up, there’s always something you can fix going forward.”

That was wisdom that her teammates imparted on her during that first spring Sevens season and then again when she took part in her first season of 15s as a sophomore the following fall. Now, as a senior, it is Clifton imparting the wisdom on a new crop of players, including freshman Lexi Nelson, who is another Hockomock alum from Foxboro High that joined the team this fall.

When asked if she prefers 15s (which involves scrums, typically less scoring because of a more crowded field, and is more of a strategic version of the game) or Sevens (which is played on the same size field with half the players, so involves a lot more running in open space), Clifton struggles to decide.

“I love them both. They’re very different games,” she said.

“One of the things I love about Sevens is that the emphasis is so much on running and passing that you get to focus on the skills. It’s a great game for people who are just starting to play rugby,” Clifton explained. “In 15s, it’s great to have both forwards and backs and have that dynamic of working together. I like to say that it’s both brains and brawn in rugby.”

The season started with series of scrimmages that Clifton said went very well as the Bears enter a rebuilding phase after losing a number of key players to graduation. Brown lost its Ivy League opener against Harvard, but followed it with a dominating 69-10 win against Princeton. Next up is the Ivy Championships, which will be held on Saturday, Oct. 28.

“It’s a very competitive league for rugby,” Clifton said, “so we play against really great teams. It’s been very good in that we’re moving forward, but it’s tough because we’re not used to losing. I’m optimistic about the future of the team though.”

For Clifton, the results are less important than just being back out on the field competing and being back with her teammates. “I didn’t get to hit anything all summer and I came into preseason thinking, I want to hit something, I want to tackle someone,” she said with a laugh.

She was asked what the best part of accepting that seemingly random invitation at summer camp four years ago.

“You have this group of people who have been through what you going through,” Clifton said. “Having these people around you who understand what you’re going through because they’ve gone through it or they’re currently going through it.

“These are the people I go and hang out with outside of rugby, they’re the people I study with, that we do movie night or go out with. They’re definitely my friends and my family here on campus.”