Oliver Ames grad and former Hockomock League MVP David MacKinnon record his first career hit and first career RBI for the Los Angeles Angels in a win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night.
MacKinnon, who was the league MVP in both soccer and baseball during his senior year, made his MLB debut over the weekend in Seattle after the Angels purchased his contract earlier in the day. He started in the game, and then made an appearance in the first two games against the Royals as a pinch hitter in the following two games.
He started at first base on Wednesday evening and his first career RBI gave the Angels the lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, MacKinnon hit one deep enough to right field for a sacrifice fly to score Taylor Ward to make it 1-0.
“It’s so awesome to help the team and get two RBIs,” MacKinnon told the LA Times’ Mike DiGiovanna. “It’s wild that I’m in the Show. It’s just crazy to me. I’ll probably be awestruck for the rest of my career that I’m here, because I’ve dreamed about this forever.”
MacKinnon got his first career hit in the bottom of the seventh, coming through two outs and a runner on second. On a 2-2 count, he got just enough of a 95.3 fastball from Royals reliever Amir Garrett, sneaking a ground ball through the right side to bring the run in for a 3-0 lead. The Angels won the game, 5-0, behind a career-high 13 strikeouts from star pitcher Shohei Ohtani.
He was a 32nd round pick in the 2017 draft (955 overall) out of the University of Hartford and went on to play for a handful of teams in the minor leagues, including the Rocket City Pandas last year and the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate the Salt Lake Bees this season. He was named the Pacific Coast League Player of the Month for May after hitting .344 with 33 hits, 25 RBI, seven home runs, and 16 walks. He was also selected as the PCL Player of the Week on May 23.
During her high school career, former Sharon standout Sabrina Robbins was a dominant presence in the midfield, scoring 175 goals and racking up 78 assists over her four-year varsity career. When she walked onto the field for her first practice as a freshman, it was a little surprising that she found herself lining up as a defender.
Colorado coach Ann Elliott Whidden saw something in Robbins’ game that made her a fit on the defensive end of the field and four years later that instinct has proved to be correct. Robbins started the first game of her career against Florida and played in four other games that season. By her sophomore season, she was a starter and last season helped Colorado put together one of the stingiest defenses in the Pac 12.
“You have to understand that you’re not the best player on the field when you walk in as a freshman,” Robbins said. “My coach saw the value in putting me at defense and I trusted my coach because she could see my strengths, my weaknesses and see where I was best.” She laughed and admitted, “I would still love to get my first goal in college maybe this year but I was never the person who cared about being the flashy goal scorer so I didn’t mind being moved to defense.”
When asked what characteristics the coaches saw in her game that would make her a good defender, Robbins laughed again, “I’m very loud and I’m able to get people to listen to me on the field and that’s very helpful on defense. You need that one anchor and communicating where the slides are and where the ball is at. I also saw the field really well.”
Robbins started 12-of-14 games as a junior and was tied for third on the team with 10 caused turnovers and tied for sixth with 15 ground balls. Colorado allowed 10.93 goals per game, which was second best in the conference.
This season, Robbins has been even better. A senior captain, she has started all 11 games and helped Colorado put together an 8-3 start. She leads the team with 23 ground balls (fifth in the Pac 12) and is third on the Buffaloes with eight caused turnovers. Following a loss at league-leading Stanford, Colorado is currently third in the Pac 12 standings and has rematches coming up against both Arizona State and USC.
“The two losses were tough on the road to USC and ASU,” Robbins said, “but if you said we were going to be 5-2 after seven games, I would’ve been happy with that. The good thing about our league is we get to play everyone twice, so we get a redemption game against them both.”
Colorado responded to those losses by going on a three-game win streak, which included a home win over the Cardinals. The Buffaloes are one of only three programs west of the Mississippi to be ranked in the top 25 (No. 23).
“It’s fairly new, so now I think we’re seeing a lot more kids come to visit and taking a serious look at these schools,” said Robbins about playing in the Pac 12, which only started conference play in 2018. Colorado’s program began in March 2012. “I’ve seen a lot of changes since coming in as a freshman, and good changes I think. It’s great that we have three, four, or five teams that can win it every year. It’s really a toss-up. It really helps that competitive mindset.”
Prior to recent changes in the rules, college lacrosse started the recruiting process early. Robbins joked, “Before I got my permit, I was committed to college.” Introduced to the program by a club coach, Robbins, who had several options locally, took a visit to Boulder and felt a connection with the school, the city, and the team.
“Once I got out here and realized what the school and the city itself has to offer, it was obviously different from anything I had experienced back home,” she explained. “The team, the coach, and the school was a perfect mixture. just had a feeling when I was here that this was a school I wanted to play for.”
Sharon’s program was going through a strong period at that time. With Samantha and Alex Rabb both going to Ithaca, Emma Eberhardt at Lehigh, and Jenna Goldstein playing at Colby College, the Eagles went through a cycle of producing talented college recruits and became a regular in the state tournament.
Robbins said, “I had contemplated, in order to get recruited, do I need to go to a different school, but I think the decision to stay was probably one of the smartest for me because I was able to be that strong midfielder, that strong goal scorer, which I think it helped a lot of my field IQ. It allowed to me to step up as a leader, even as a freshman.”
The transition from Sharon to a Div. I college program was obviously going to be a challenge, although it was less about the on-the-field transition than the amount of time dedicated to the sport. From practices to lifting to mandatory study halls to the travel necessary to play in the Pac 12, lacrosse is a full-time commitment, which made it even more jarring when COVID took that away in the spring of 2020.
“When we got the call that season was going to be canceled, it was jaw-dropping,” Robbins said, remembering that Whidden took a rare phone call in practice to receive the news. “We were working since August that year to start Pac 12 play and to see it get taken away was heartbreaking.
“For us, you always think lacrosse is a constant. You go to practice every day, you lift every day, almost having the same routine, and to get it taken away by something you can’t control made you realize how time is precious in college sports.”
With her senior season reaching the halfway mark, Robbins is confident that the Buffaloes are on the right path to get back into the Pac 12 Tournament and make a run at the title that has eluded them in the past couple of seasons.
“We don’t lack in experience and that helps all over the field,” she said, adding that Colorado also wants to make a mark in the NCAA Tournament this spring. “We have kind of high goals but really excited about where our team can go.”
Robbins reflected on what it would mean to close out her career by winning Colorado’s first Pac 12 title, “Being able to lead your team to one of those championships would probably be the best feeling in the world. To have a ring and to work so hard and to have it pay off with a championship would be incredible. That would be the icing on the cake before graduation.”
Although the 2020-21 season was canceled due to the pandemic, the core of Bentley’s team remained committed to practicing as often as allowed. With an extra year of eligibility offered to the seniors, including Sharon’s Jordan Mello-Klein, the focus was on returning to the court and making the most of one final season.
So far, it has worked out even better than the Falcons could have imagined.
With an 82-75 victory over St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.) at the Dana Center, top seed Bentley (25-4) earned its fourth Div. II East Regional title in program history and its first since 2010. Mello-Klein, who played two years at Sharon before transferring to Thayer Academy, led the Falcons with 17 points and added eight rebounds, four steals, and three assists in the regional final and was named the region’s Most Outstanding Player (MOP).
The Falcons, reseeded as No. 4, will now face No. 5 Northwest Missouri State, the two-time defending national champions, in the Elite Eight.
“I don’t really have any words for it, it’s incredible,” Mello-Klein explained. “It’s something that we’ve kind of talked about since I came in but to see it really happen is incredible and to do it with the guys that I came in with who are now my best friends and coaches who have meant so much to me and put so much trust in me it’s incredible to see it come full circle.”
It has been a dream season for the Falcons, who claimed the NE-10 regular season title and, avenging a pair of losses to Franklin Pierce during the season, won the conference tournament as well. Now, Bentley is trying to put the final touches by getting to the Final Four for the third time in its history.
“We knew that we had chemistry from all of us playing together but to accomplish the regular season, the NE-10 playoffs, and the regional, I would never have said that,” Mello-Klein explained. “Even one of those things is extremely hard.”
A fifth-year senior point guard, Mello-Klein has been racking up the individual awards this season as well. In addition to being named the MOP of the regional, he was named first team All-NE-10 and the MOP of the NE-10 Tournament. He averaged 14.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 37.7 minutes this season, finishing third in the NE-10 in rebounds, assist, and steals and leading the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Mello-Klein also scored his 1,000th career point earlier this season (he had 1,130 as of the end of the regular season). “In all honesty, it doesn’t matter as much as winning everything,” he said about the individual accolades. “They’re fun to get, just certifies what I’ve been doing for all these I can’t even tell you how many years, but to win the stuff with your best friends means so much more than anything.”
He credits the experience on the roster as one of the major factors for Bentley’s success this season, and the willingness of the players to continue putting in the hard work last year even when there was no promise of games being played.
“The whole class came back with hopes that we could accomplish something,” he said. “We sat down a year ago and made it a priority to make it happen this year and we did it.”
The pandemic and the loss of a season added a new perspective to getting on the court every day, one that has fueled the Falcons’ upperclassmen.
“When basketball is taken away from you, and I’m a guy who’s never gone a day without it, when you’re getting a week or two taken away from you, it makes you understand that this is a finite time that we have playing college basketball,” Mello-Klein reflected.
“When this season started, every single thing we took advantage of, every single practice, every single game. We didn’t look forward at all because it’s my last season, so selfishly I don’t want this to end and I want to prolong my career as long as possible. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that so far.”
Mello-Klein played two seasons at Sharon, earning HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year honors as a sophomore, before transferring to Thayer. It was a sacrifice of time and the chance to play with hometown friends, but also a commitment to playing at a higher level of basketball. He also admitted that he missed the atmosphere of a high school gym during a playoff run.
“It’s a completely different atmosphere at prep school,” he explained. “When I was at Sharon, we were pretty decent, so we’d get a pretty good crowd and everything but at prep school it’s non-existent.”
The crowds have come out to cheer on the Falcons in the postseason and Mello-Klein is looking forward to keeping this run going as long as possible and add themselves to a select list of Bentley teams under head coach Jay Lawson, who is in his 29th season, to make a tournament run.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “Bentley is a historic program. To be one of the groups that he talks about as those special teams, it’s incredible, and we’ve got another chance to do something even more special on Tuesday and hopefully that will continue on.”
Bentley will face Northwest Missouri State on Tuesday at 1:00 at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind.
Coming off a junior season in which she helped Bridgewater State claim the MASCAC title, pitched in the NCAA Tournament, was named to the All-MASCAC First Team, and earned the conference’s Pitcher of the Year award, former Milford standout Kelley Reichert wasted no time, just two games, to add another honor to that list.
Reichert was named the MASCAC Player of the Week after helping BSU split two games of The Spring Games in Florida. Reichert went 4-for-5 with a double, stolen base and two runs scored and went 1-0 in the circle, striking out five over nine innings of work, as the Bears beat Penn State – Altoona and lost to Muskingum University (Ohio).
Bridgewater State won its first two games of its trip to Florida and, although the Bears lost the next three, Reichert was fully confident that the team could replicate its championship form from a year ago.
“I think we’ve grown as a program every single year and we look better and better each day,” she said a couple of days before leaving for spring training. “We show up and try to do our best and I think we’ve all developed really good relationships on and off the field and I think that’s really helpful. I think we’re going to have an even more successful season than last year.”
Expectations are high for the Bears this spring, the first full schedule they will be playing in three years. Bridgewater State was picked first in the MASCAC in the preseason softball coaches poll and will struggle to play the underdog this season following its win over Framingham State in last year’s conference championship series.
“As a captain and a pitcher, I stress taking it literally pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning,” Reichert explained. “You can’t rush 10 steps forward, you have to focus on that one thing you’re doing at that one moment. I think we know at the end of the day, we want to get to the MASCAC championship but you can’t look that far ahead.”
With a new season a couple of days away, Reichert took some time to look back. The Bears reached the championship series her freshman year, falling in three games to Framingham. The 2020 season held plenty of promise for a Bears side that felt it could win the title that had eluded it the year before, but only 12 games in the spring was wiped away by the pandemic.
Having a season taken away gave Reichert a different perspective as she entered her junior season.
“It’s just the difficulty of realizing that with COVID anything can change at any moment,” she said. “We worked hard for two and a half months to go down to Florida, give our everything for 12 games, and then be told on our last day that we’re not going to be playing any more softball for that year. You look at all that hard work we did in that preseason to then only play those 12 games, we’re grateful for those 12 games, but we had so much potential.”
According to Reichert, it wasn’t obvious that the Bears were going to be a championship team in the 2021 preseason. The team had struggled during the fall and was still trying to come together when the season kicked off. A pandemic schedule didn’t help.
Rather than playing a typical schedule that would see the Bears facing multiple teams in a week, the pandemic forced teams to play one team in a weekend series. Reichert could pitch against the same team four times in the span of 24 hours, requiring a lot of work between herself, catcher Madison Synan, and the coaching staff to keep things fresh.
“Just changing up the sequences, changing up our signs so they wouldn’t catch onto them, just the little things to try and come out on top,” Reichert said.
She had special praise for Synan, her “battery buddy,” who is back as a fifth-year senior this spring. “We work so well together,” Reichert said. “She always pushes me to be better and she has the smallest strike zone known to man, making me work 10 times harder so when it comes to games it’s a lot easier.”
The Bears entered the 2021 championship series on a roll, winning 13 of their final 14 games of the regular season, but they had to go through Framingham to win the title. The Rams won all six meetings in the regular season and then took the opening game of the best-of-three series 6-1.
Bridgewater rallied, winning the second game of the Friday doubleheader 3-2 to set up a winner-take-all finale the following day. Reichert threw a complete game five-hitter, striking out one, and not allowing an earned run, as the Bears completed the comeback to win the MASCAC title and book a place in the NCAA DIII Tournament.
“I think we all just wanted it so so bad,” she reflected. “I was emotional after the first game because sometimes when you want something so bad you try too hard to accomplish it. I didn’t have my best first game but my teammates were there for me and my coaching staff was great and we just dug deep.
“Just wanting it for our teammates and wanting it for our team as a whole, I think we were all selfless at that point, wanting to prove to people that we could do it because we were sick of people saying that Framingham was better. It was just big, giant relief. All those days and all that time spent working hard to perfect something, literally blood, sweat, and tears, we had finally done it.”
Now the Bears are looking to experience that winning feeling again and this time to carry that over into the NCAA Tournament. After coming close and falling short and then having a season taken away, Reichert, who has a 25-18 record with 32 complete games and 180 strikeouts in her career, doesn’t want to let an opportunity to win more silverware slip away.
“You just have to show up and work hard and be there for each other,” she remarked. “That’s how we’re going to be successful. We’re super grateful for our opportunities and the time we get to spend with each other. We don’t want to waste that.
“I think we look really good. Our skills are growing every day and we’ve been really focusing on our mentality. Not only will we have the skills for the season ahead but we’ll have that mental strength.”
How do you follow up a historic season? Former Franklin star Jake Noviello admits that he gets questioned about it a lot on the Fairfield campus. After winning 39 games last spring, becoming the first MAAC team to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, beating Arizona State, and reaching the program’s first regional final, what do the Stags do for an encore?
“People at school keep asking me are you guys going to be undefeated again and I keep saying probably not,” Noviello, a senior pitcher, said with a laugh, “but I think the best way to try and get back to where we were is to not focus on the big picture but just compete every day at practice. Do everything you can to just win.”
It isn’t just the team success that will be difficult to replicate. Noviello went 9-0 as a starter last season, tying the program record for wins and leading the conference. He was named to the All-MAAC First Team and All-Tournament Team and the ABCA/Rawlings All-Region Second Team. His 1.47 ERA led the MAAC, was fourth-best in the nation, and was the second lowest in program history. He also led the MAAC and was top 10 in the country in WHIP (0.88) and walks per nine innings (1.20).
Not a bad season considering Noviello went into 2021 unsure of his spot in the rotation.
“That whole winter, I was fighting for the fourth starter spot,” he explained. “I really had to focus on how to be a college starter and really developing three pitches that I could throw for strikes and really getting myself back into what I was doing my senior year of high school.”
The preparation paid off. Fairfield started the season with a four-game sweep of conference rival Canisius, outscoring the Griffs 34-11. The Stags had several fifth-year seniors return (following the loss of the 2020 season due to COVID), added several experienced transfers, and looked every bit a team that could make a run at a league title. That sweep of Canisius added belief and confidence to the team’s obvious talent.
“We were confident and we played with nothing to lose,” Noviello recalled. “We knew we were a good team and we knew we had good pitching and good hitting and it was going to take someone’s perfect game to beat us.”
Fairfield won its opening 28 games of the season and started to get national recognition, something that can sometimes be hard for teams from a smaller conference in the Northeast. Although Siena would eventually put an end to the Stags’ long winning streak, Fairfield lost only once in the regular season.
A tough loss to Rider in the MAAC championship series meant that Fairfield had to wait and see if its name would be called for the NCAA Tournament. It was jubilation for the Stags when they saw that they would be heading to Texas for the regional.
“That was incredibly special,” Novielle said. “I think we thought we deserved it. We all jumped out of our seats and started hugging each other and it was just a culmination of a lot of hard work that went into it and the struggles of a COVID year and all the stuff we had to go through. It was a really cool moment for us.”
There were of course the naysayers who felt that because Fairfield had only played a conference schedule it didn’t have the strength of schedule to compete with the best in the country. After a one-run loss to Arizona State in the opener, the Stags beat Southern (with Noviello picking up the win) and then came back from 5-0 down to knock out the Sun Devils and advance to the regional final against Texas.
“For being a small school, it showed we could compete with the big dogs,” Noviello said about the tournament win.
What made last year’s team special? Noviello said, “Being really good friends with each other, pulling for one another, and just competing hard together, I think that’s the biggest part of a winning team. We had a lot of gritty guys who were willing to do their job and I think that’s why we were so successful.”
Noviello, who enters this spring as a two-time team captain, also praised his teammates for his success on the mound. “I credit all of our success as pitchers last year to throwing against our hitters for five or six weeks prior to the season starting because those guys were some of the best hitters we saw all year.”
He added, “I tried not to look at the numbers too much. My job was just to go out there and make it so our team was winning the game when I came out. I ended up pitching most of the nine-inning games for us last year so if I could go six, seven innings and come out with us having the lead then I did my job.”
This season poses a lot of different challenges for Noviello. While he has established himself as one of the team’s top starters, expectations are going to be much higher coming off a historic season, he is garnering attention from MLB teams, and most importantly is his months-long rehab from thoracic outlet syndrome.
Only a couple of weeks after the excitement of the regional final and three days into his stint in the Cape League, Noviello had surgery to deal with a blood clot. He said that there were three surgeries and he was in the hospital for seven days. His recovery took most of his off-season, although he said his velocity was back to the low-90s and he should be able to go five of six innings as the season gets underway.
“I’m lucky to be back and have full mobility,” Noviello explained. “I’ve got to worry about competing and being as good as I was but I’ve also got to worry about getting my feet back under me and being 100 percent. But for a couple of gnarly scars you’d have no idea that anything happened.
“It’s definitely given me a greater appreciation for being able to tie up my cleats and go out there and even do our conditioning. I used to hate running but I couldn’t walk for those seven days in the hospital so just being able to put my feet on the ground and walk and run and just throw to batters. Getting back to the little things you don’t really think about.”
Fairfield opened its season with a trip to the South, facing Elon in North Carolina in the opening series and then traveling to Georgia to face Kennesaw State. The Stags were 2-2 through the first four games, with Noviello picking up a no decision in his first start. It isn’t quite the same as a 28-0 start, but will be good preparation for MAAC competition.
Noviello said he is grateful for all of the success of 2021 and the accolades that went with it. He said that he has reached out to former North Attleboro and University of Maine star Nick Sinacola for advice on preparing for the MLB draft (Sinacola was selected in the seventh round last year by the San Francisco Giants). He feels healthy and ready to attack his senior season.
“I really did work my butt off to get in those positions and I would train to think about big games and big pitches I had to make,” Noviello said. “It’s kind of nice to be cemented in and know where you’re at coming into a season. Team looks great, I’m throwing really well, feel great and getting built up. No hiccups as of yet and poised for another great year.”
It is nearly impossible to know where a change of circumstances may lead. For instance, how could you know that an unexpectedly lengthy injury would be the impetus for a freshman sprinter at Merrimack to try out the hammer throw and three years later be placing her name on the all-time leaderboard at Baylor?
Canton grad Hannah Link had a frustrating start to her collegiate career, but tried something different almost on a whim, found a new event that she loved, and it has carried her all the way to the Big XII and competing against some of the country’s best athletes.
“If you told me my freshman year of college at Merrimack this is where I’d be, I would literally tell you to shut up,” Link said when asked to reflect on the journey that took her from North Andover to Waco. “When I first walked on Baylor’s campus, I was like why am I here right now, this is so crazy. I am still kind of shocked that it ended up this way but I couldn’t be happier.”
She added, “It shows that literally everything happens for a reason. It’s crazy. Life throws you curveballs and in the moment you don’t know why it happened but then a couple years later you’re like I’m literally the happiest I’ve ever been and now it makes sense.”
Link is not only a part of the Baylor team, but she stepped up in her first meet of the indoor season and set a personal best in the weight, the indoor equivalent of the hammer throw. In her first appearance for the Bears, at the Corky Classic, Link recorded a throw of 56-6, which was good for fifth place and put her in fourth place all-time among weight throwers at Baylor.
Link explained, “I was honestly just a little bit terrified because I was around all these incredible throwers who have been doing this for years and years and here I am, kind of still new to the sport, and I’m trying to compete with them. But then on my last throw, I popped one.
“It was a pretty cool moment and it showed me, ‘Hey, you can do this.’”
At Canton, Link was all about speed. She was a forward on the soccer team and a sprinter in indoor and outdoor track. She was recruited to Merrimack to run the 200 and 400 meters, but before her career really got going, she suffered a foot injury that left her in a boot for far longer than she anticipated. Even after the boot was removed, Link struggled to get back to her top sprinting shape.
For fun and to stay active during her recovery, Link decided to give throwing a shot. “I explored a couple of throwing events,” she said, “and it really was for fun more than anything because I always thought I was going to get back into sprinting.” What started as fun became a passion and, after a season was wiped out because of COVID, Link started training more seriously, meeting with friends that she knew on Long Island and working on her form every day. After graduating a year early from Merrimack and with an extra year of eligibility from the COVID season, she explored new places to compete.
With help from Merrimack coach Mark Connolly, Link got in contact with the coaches at Baylor. Not only was Baylor a top track program, but it also had a strong business school for Link to get her MBA (with the exact concentration, entrepreneurship, that she was looking for), and also, Link admitted with a laugh, avoided the New England winters.
“It just kind of checked all the boxes, which is why it was the only place I applied to,” Link said. She also thanked her coaches at Merrimack for helping make this opportunity a reality. “They were super helpful and they always check up on me just to see how things are going,” she said. “We definitely stay in touch. I still have this Merrimack bumper sticker on my car because I can’t forget where I came from.”
From the outside, it doesn’t appear that there would be a lot of transferable skills from sprinting to throwing, and that may be true in some events, but Link found that her speed was an asset in the hammer. The small, technical adjustments that throwers make to find that extra couple of inches also appealed to her.
“I’m definitely a little smaller and shorter than what you’re used to seeing most throwers look like,” Link admitted, “but I think the speed that I have from being a sprinter and soccer is why I’m in a good spot for throwing hammer and throwing weight.”
She continued, “When you see these incredible throwers at the Olympics or wherever, just any high-level thrower, they make it look so easy. So, it’s easy for people who aren’t really familiar with the sport to just be like, ‘Oh, they’re just throwing a ball on a wire, it’s easy.’ It’s so fun to see, ‘I’m going to turn my foot this way or I’m going to put a little more weight on my left side rather than my right side’ and it’s going to improve my throw that much more because I made a small little change.”
After setting a new personal best in the weight, Link was frustrated that she didn’t build off that first meet, but last weekend she set a new PR with a throw of 56-11-1/2 and finished in sixth. She considers the hammer her best event, so weight is setting a foundation for the outdoor season and Link is trying to keep it in perspective. “It’s actually been going a lot better than my coach and I anticipated really,” she said.
Link continued, “That first meet, I was honestly freaking out and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in this new, really big conference, this is terrifying.’ It was kind of overwhelming but the second and third meet I learned to be a little more composed and confident and ready to go. So, even though the results don’t show it and the numbers don’t show it, there have been a lot of wins and a lot of good takeaways.”
She has been in Waco since the summer, so it is starting to feel more like home and it is clear that she is enjoying the work, her team, and the overall experience. While Link is comfortable at Baylor and looking forward to more success as she develops as a thrower, she never stops being amazed at how far she has come and how she got there.
“If I hadn’t gotten hurt freshman year, I want to say there’s a zero percent chance I would’ve gotten into throwing because that’s the only thing that pushed me into it,” Link said. “It’s just so wild because it was my first semester at this new school and I’m hurt and it was probably the lowest point I could’ve been in that situation.
“I was so bummed, I was so frustrated, because all I wanted to do was compete and I couldn’t. But it was definitely supposed to happen like that because here I am.”
The season didn’t start as expected for former Oliver Ames star Kayla Raymond. The senior forward had been named to the all-conference team in each of her first two seasons, was an honorable mention for DII All-American, led Stonehill to 23 wins and an NE-10 title as a sophomore and, after having last year wiped out because of the pandemic, seemed poised to add to her already impressive collection of accolades.
Instead, Raymond had to come off the bench at the start of the season, the Skyhawks got off to a 3-4 start before the Christmas break, and things looked out of sorts.
The holiday break came at just the right time. Raymond and the Skyhawks reset and have turned things around by winning five of six and going 6-3 overall since returning in the new year. Last week, Raymond provided the highlight of the season when she became the 33rd player in program history to reach the 1,000-point plateau and then made the moment even more memorable by scoring a buzzer-beating basket to earn victory over St. Anselm’s.
“I knew I was struggling and I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing,” Raymond said about the start of the season. “I really reflected over Christmas break and came back and kind of changed my mentality a little bit. I think that’s really where it started and I think everyone came back, not just me, and we were ready to play.”
Raymond talked a lot about the team’s improved mentality during the recent run, but health has also played a role in the turnaround. During her sophomore season at Stonehill, Raymond developed heart palpitations that would at times force her out of games. It was a scary situation, but one that she and the coaches have learned to manage.
“It’s something that I can feel right away and I know that if it does happen I just need to get my heart rate down in order for it to stop,” she explained. “It sucks, but that does have to come first before the game.”
A bout of COVID in the fall exacerbated the situation, bringing the palpitations back to the point that Raymond said she had to wear a heart monitor and had to stop all athletic activities for a month. She missed almost all of preseason and admitted that she wasn’t ready physically when the season tipped off.
“It’s definitely very difficult,” Raymond reflected. “I’ve missed a lot of games in my collegiate career, definitely more than I would’ve wanted to. We work so hard during practice and that’s your payment, that’s your reward, to play in the game and it stinks to just be sitting on the bench watching.”
The palpitations are still a concern (she recently had one during the overtime win against Bentley and needed to be subbed out right away to get her heart rate down before re-entering the game), but Raymond has overcome them, worked her way into shape, and is once again playing at the level that made her one of the stars of the NE-10.
“We talk about mental toughness all the time and mental health too,” Raymond said. “Everyone has their own struggles and just being able to come together as a team and being able to pick each other up and push through adversity every day, just being there for each other helps us a lot.”
Raymond is leading the Skyhawks, and is fourth in scoring the conference, at 18.2 points per game. She also leads Stonehill in rebounding and, since the new year, has scored 32 in one game and 26 in two others. Last Saturday, against one of Stonehill’s biggest rivals and the team it beat in the NE-10 championship game two years ago, she reached the 1,000-point plateau in just her 60th career game.
“I tried not to look at the board to see where I was at, that wasn’t my main focus, I just wanted to win the game,” said Raymond, who reached the milestone with a layup late in the fourth quarter. “I scored that last basket and I was running back on defense and I couldn’t help but smile. It was an awesome feeling. I was feeling so many things the other day, I can’t even describe it.”
After a timeout, Raymond was able to be recognized for her accomplishment and take a second to let it sink in, but only a second because there was still a game that needed to be won. With less than a second remaining, Stonehill had an inbounds under the basket and the ball was thrown up to Raymond in the paint. She caught it in mid-air and was able to finish over a crowd of players at the buzzer.
“We huddled up and knew exactly what play we were running,” she said. “Coach didn’t even need to call timeout, we knew. That was a perfect pass by Emily (Bramanti) and a perfect screen by Bella (Isabella Santoro). That was an unbelievable feeling. The game winner, that was unbelievable. I’ll take winning a game over scoring 1,000 any day.”
She added, “I could not have scored 1,000 points or won the game the other day if it wasn’t for my teammate who passed me the ball or my teammate who set the screen for me. I owe it all to them, I really do. As much success as I have out there, I can’t take all the credit for that.”
After being lifted up by her teammates at center court, Raymond went to the stands to see her family. She said that one of the reasons she chose Stonehill and to stay in Easton was that her family could easily come see her play and this was a moment to share with them.
“I walked up the stairs and the crowd was up there and I got cheers right away and it just felt amazing,” Raymond recalled. “I went over to them and gave them a hug and my mom had tears in her eyes and that made me have tears in my eyes. It was a great feeling.”
In addition to her family, Raymond also shared the experience with her good friend and another former Hockomock star, Mansfield’s Meg Hill. They have played AAU together since their sophomore year of high school, held a signing ceremony together when they both chose Stonehill, and have been roommates in college. Hill’s mother made decorations to celebrate Raymond’s milestone basket.
“I love her like a sister,” Raymond said. “She’s my best friend and I’ve known her for so long and it’s just amazing to experience that with her. It’s a great relationship and I love the fact that she was there and I got to be able to experience this with her.”
From health concerns to all that the pandemic has thrown at them over the past two years to just navigating life at college, Raymond said she is grateful to have Hill (a 1,000-point scorer while at Mansfield) there through it all. “She definitely knows me better than anyone else and we’re able to talk to each other and completely open up. If I’m struggling, she’s always there for me. It’s awesome just to have someone like that here with me.”
Although the Skyhawks, who are currently ranked No. 9 in the D2SIDA East Region poll, suffered a setback against Pace this week (in a game that Raymond missed), there is renewed confidence in the team. Stonehill bounced back yesterday with a win over Assumption, powered by Raymond’s game-high 26 points. Raymond believes Stonehill is coming together at the right time to make a run and can compete with anyone in the NE-10.
“I think we all feel like we’re in a really good spot right now,” she explained. “We’re all so locked in and we want to win and we know we can win.”
Ed. Note – Raymond was back in the lineup on Saturday, scoring 26 points to lead Stonehill to a win against Assumption, improving the Skyhawks’ record to 10-7 on the season. It was the third time in the last four games that Raymond scored 20-plus points.
It was a college career that almost didn’t happen. In the first game of her junior season at Franklin, Megan Adams, who had helped the Panthers reach back-to-back South finals the previous two years, suffered a concussion. As many other high school athletes would, she tried to play through it, unaware of the severity of the injury.
Adams would feel the effects of the concussion for the next three years, not only in keeping her off the pitch, missing the final two years of her high school career and her freshman season at Northeastern, but also in her everyday life at home and in the classroom.
Not many athletes would make it through that challenge, but there she was in August of her sophomore season putting on the goalie shirt for her first collegiate appearance, recording a save against Long Beach State. Two days later, she made three saves in her first start at Loyola Marymount.
Looking back as a fifth-year senior, with only a couple games left in her final season with the Huskies, Adams, who says she has no lasting symptoms from the concussion, was able to reflect on all that she managed to overcome.
“It was definitely a long, growing experience and I finally came out the other side finally against what it seemed were all odds,” she explained, praising the sports medicine staff at Northeastern for the work they did with her as a freshman and sophomore to make sure that she was fully recovered and ready to play. “It was a really difficult thing to come back from,” she continued. “I think that was a huge help to have that strong support system.”
Adams added, “The biggest thing I can say is how grateful I am because there would definitely have been some programs who wouldn’t want to stick by me and honor their commitments and scholarships.” She praised Northeastern coach Ashley Phillips for being there through it all. “Coming in as an athlete and not being able to actually play, it can be even more challenging mentally,” Adams said. “Her being so supportive of me as a player and a person, getting me the help I needed making that transition.”
Breaking onto the high school scene as a speedy winger, Adams made her mark with a late winner against Bishop Feehan in the South final. It was her fourth goal of the playoffs. Injuries hampered her sophomore year, but the Panthers made it back to the sectional title game only to lose to Whitman-Hanson. The following fall, expectations were sky high for Adams and Franklin, but, just one game in, Adams went down with the concussion that would sideline her for the next three years.
“Junior year was probably the most frustrating year for me because the injury was still fresh so it was kind of like adapting to it and recognizing the situation,” Adams said. “Honestly, by senior year I was almost to the point of so frustrated not only not being able to play soccer but literally not feeling well all the time, with headaches, dizziness, all the concussion symptoms, that I almost at times didn’t want anything to do with soccer.”
Through it all, Northeastern stuck with their scholarship offer to Adams, who had been a standout goalkeeper with the Bolts. Despite not playing soccer for two years, Adams was a member of Northeastern’s team as a freshman in college, although at times it was tough to feel like part of the team.
“Just not being able to perform, you kind of feel to a small degree like I don’t belong here, why am I even here if I can’t play?” Adams remarked. “Looking back now, at 23, I’m like obviously I belonged there. At that moment, when you’re 18 and away from home for the first time and everything is new, everything is changing, it kind of shakes you.”
She kept working through it all and, gradually, felt the reins loosen from the Northeastern training staff. “I was so excited to be back out there and showed up to practice with an adrenaline rush every day,” Adams said with a laugh. “Even though I was no contact, I just wanted to run someone over.”
Finally, the long wait to get back on the field was over, as Adams entered the game at Long Beach State in the 77th minute. Although Northeastern lost those two games in California, Adams remembers the experience far more than the results.
“In the moment, my first game back, all I was thinking was don’t let the ball in the net but once the game ended and everything calmed down, adrenaline kind of came back down, you’re like, that happened, I’m back,” she explained.
“It felt like any time that I was able to play that it was bonus time. It almost felt like I wasn’t supposed to be back there and somehow I was able to get healthy enough to be able to play and feel good.”
Each appearance was more comfortable than the last and Adams closed out her third year at Northeastern with three straight clean sheets. In the conference tournament, the Huskies were knocked out in the quarterfinals by Elon.
Adams said, “Being out for three years, it’s hard to come back and believe you’re still athletic, so the more I play, the more I can believe in myself and think I really am good at this, there’s a reason someone gave me a scholarship to play this sport and it just builds and builds and builds.”
Last year, the pandemic moved the season to the spring and Northeastern had a series of injuries, so Adams got to relive some of her high school days, showing off her speed to her college teammates by starting four games at outside back and recording her first point with an assist against Drexel. She moved back into goal at the start of this season, although junior keeper Angeline Friel took over down the stretch as Northeastern reached the CAA Tournament’s championship game.
Even as she moved into a backup role, Adams was making sure to enjoy her final weeks with the Huskies, savoring this last chance to be part of a college soccer program.
“We’re supportive of each other and, whoever is getting the ball that day, I’m still enjoying the experience and having fun,” she said. “Knowing that it’s going to be my last year playing competitive soccer, I’ve had this mentality that I’m going to enjoy every aspect of it that I can.”
As she reflected on her experience at Northeastern, it wasn’t the games, the saves, the wins and losses that Adams mentioned, it was her teammates, coaches, and the staff at Northeastern.
“It’s just great to have people who support you and believe in you,” she said. “The reality is that the wins and losses are great, playing soccer is great, but the biggest takeaway is the relationships I’ve built with people.
“Purposely I’m trying hard not to reflect because the reality is it’s an emotional thing and you want to still be able to live in the moment for these last few weeks. Things beyond soccer that we’ve battled and supported each other through, that’s really the difference maker. You’re learning about life through sport.”
With a three-yard reception in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against Husson University, his second catch of the game, former Mansfield standout receiver Hunter Ferreira set a new career mark for Nichols College. It was his 144th career catch, passing the mark of his good friend Tony Martignoli, and remarkably Ferreira has done it in less than three seasons.
“Definitely doing it in three seasons feels kind of special,” Ferreira said when talking about the record in the buildup to the Husson game. “Tony is a good friend of mine and we always talked about getting records and stuff like that and I think the hard work, getting here in early August and all the way up to almost November, it kind of pays off.”
When asked what his friend and former housemate will think about being knocked off the top spot on the career leaderboard, Ferreira joked, “I give him a call after pretty much every game, let him know I’m creeping up on him. He’ll be happy for me. If he wants anyone to break it then it should be me.”
Despite having his junior season wiped away by the pandemic, Ferreira, who also holds records at Mansfield for receptions, touchdown catches, and yards, is closing in on almost all of Nichols’ receiving records.
He sits fourth on the all-time yards list (1,943), just 49 yards behind Martignoli, and is tied for third all-time in touchdown catches with 13. He also holds the record for most catches in a season (69), which he set in 2019, and is second in receiving yards in a season (912), also from 2019.
Ferreira made an immediate impact at Nichols. He was named second team All-Commonwealth Coast Conference as a freshman and then named first team all-conference as a sophomore. Despite the Bison having new faces at quarterback this season, Ferreira is currently third in the CCC with 47 catches and fifth with 514 receiving yards.
“I think Coach Redding’s program really set me up to have success here,” Ferreira explained, giving credit to Mansfield coach Mike Redding for giving him the confidence that he could be an instant success in college. “I think the way he runs that really gets his players ready for the college level. It wasn’t too difficult for me at all.”
It isn’t just on the gridiron where Ferreira is setting new records. He is also a standout on the lacrosse team and, in just 2-1/2 seasons, sits just outside the top 10 in career goals, assists, and points. He earned second team all-conference as a freshman and in six games as a sophomore was second in the CCC with 23 goals.
Last spring, he got back onto the field for the first time since the pandemic closed down the 2020 season and was eighth in the league in assists and points and 10th in goals.
“Playing the 11 games in the spring really helped give something to look forward to and you’re actually practicing for something instead of just playing against yourselves,” Ferreira said. “I think competition was good and it kind of set me up for this year in football.”
Getting back into a full season of competition also provided a sense of normality during a school year that was anything but normal. He added, “Being on zoom for classes and stuff like that, everything else was changed except for being on the field. That kind of remained the same.”
Having a season taken away because of COVID was a reminder that the old adage, repeated by coaches in every sport, was true. You can’t take anything for granted because you will miss the sport once it is gone.
“It kind of makes you appreciate it a little bit more,” said Ferreira, who can also share his experiences with close friends on the team, some of who he has known for a long time, like his fellow Mansfield grads Joe Cox, another All-CCC performer from the Hornets, Khristian Conner, Phil Dinov, Chris Copponi, and Daenin Walker. “Everyone is kind of going through the same thing. We’re all in the same boat.”
Ferreira is dealing with the challenges of being a two-sport star. He doesn’t have an off-season to load up on credits and he has to miss out on off-season activities, such as fall ball for lacrosse or spring ball for football because he is playing another sport. Luckily, his coaches (Dale Olmsted for football and John Carroll for lacrosse) understand the importance of being able to play both sports at this level.
“Being able to play both is kind of a huge benefit here,” Ferreira explained. “Football was kind of where all my confidence was, but I never had any doubts as a lacrosse player either.”
He had plenty of reasons to be confident. Although the Bison have struggled as a team (1-10 last spring and 2-6 so far this fall), Ferreira continues to put up good individual numbers. But, as he contemplates taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility (because of the lost season due to the pandemic), Ferreira is focused on team success rather than his stats.
“Obviously, I think the team winning comes first over any individual goals,” he said. “I’ve learned that as long as we’re scoring points and moving the ball, I don’t necessarily need the ball in my hands all the time.”
With potentially another year of football and two full years of lacrosse ahead of him, expect to see Ferreira’s name on a few more career records before all is said and done.
As late as this summer, Ryan Sullivan wasn’t sure whether or not he would be playing another season of football at St. Anselm College. The former Stoughton standout had his initial senior season wiped out by the pandemic and, although he entered the transfer portal to see what was out there, the two-time All-NE-10 defensive back thought his final game as a Hawk may have been a fall scrimmage.
The school offered him the opportunity to take the field one more time. A fifth-year senior, who graduated with a nursing degree in May, Sullivan was able to sign up for a second Bachelor’s degree program, allowing him one more chance to suit up on Saturdays.
“I was ecstatic,” he explained. “I kind of had a piece of me that still wanted to play but I wasn’t sure and once I was able to figure out how I could come back here then I was all in.”
Having a season taken away by COVID gave Sullivan a new perspective on the different aspects of playing college sports, no matter how much of a grind the football season may be.
“When you’re in it, you do class, film, lift, meetings, all this stuff coming at you and you’re kind of just going through it,” Sullivan said, “but once it’s taken away you get to realize how much you miss that Tuesday practice.
“I have a bigger appreciation for everything and I never take anything for granted because I know there are a ton of college football players who graduated this past year who aren’t as fortunate and got their senior season taken away, which sucks.”
The Hawks have battled injuries and inexperience in the early going and have struggled to a 1-5 start, but Sullivan is seeing positives from parts of the performances, if not the final results. “It’s been tough,” he admitted. “In spurts we look good, look like we should be playing, but we haven’t really put in a full game together.”
With freshmen and sophomores getting their first taste of game action this season, Sullivan’s role as an experienced leader on defense is vital.
He noted, “We practiced in the fall and spring last year but it was always broken up. We were just having defensive back practice, we didn’t interact even with the linebackers. So, getting acclimated to that game-time atmosphere and having a crowd and everything, it was very important to bring them along.”
When Sullivan first stepped onto the field at St. A’s five years ago, it wasn’t obvious at first that he was going to be in this position, literally. Recruited as a running back out of Stoughton, Sullivan spent the first year on the scout team, going through the opposition’s sets and trying to find a place on special teams so he could get on the field on Saturday.
The following spring, he was switched to safety and almost immediately found his niche. He played in all nine games that season, recording 104 tackles, including a program record of 20 tackles in a game against Southern Connecticut State, and being named second team all-conference. Sullivan was sixth in DII, averaging 11.6 tackles per game that year. He followed that with a first team all-conference season in 2019 as a junior, racking up another 95 tackles and moving into the top 10 all-time in assisted tackles.
This year, Sullivan continues to be a menace in the secondary. During the loss to Stonehill last weekend, he moved into the top 10 in total tackles too. He has accumulated 239 tackles in less than three years. Not that he has had much time to think about what it means to climb the program’s record books, a program that his grandfather also played for.
“It just meant that much more to me going through the whole scout team route and everything,” Sullivan said about being recognized as an All-NE-10 player two seasons in a row. “It kind of makes you not take anything for granted. I like that aspect of starting at the bottom and working your way up, seeing every aspect of college football.”
Making the transition to defensive back was pretty seamless because of his time in the position at Stoughton. Sullivan remarked, “I just always liked contact and on the defensive side you’re trying to initiate contact. That always came naturally to me.” Some of the grit and toughness he has shown in college was also ingrained in him playing for the Black Knights, well-known for being a tough, physical program.
“I really developed in high school playing for Coach Burke,” Sullivan said. “Playing at the old stone dust field getting dirt blown in and that tough-guy mentality, overcoming anything.”
Going through a pandemic, having games and practices taken away, having to deal with quarantines and remote learning, Sullivan is grateful to have his teammates to share the experience with and to lean on during the tough times. As he reflected on his five years in the program, Sullivan always went back to the relationships he built with his teammates.
“We were able to as a team kind of stick together and make the most of every situation we were dealt and just being able to depend on that brotherhood is my favorite part of being on a team,” he said. “I think this whole five-year experience I’ve met so many great people, some of my best friends who I’ll keep with me my whole life.”
When asked what he will be looking forward to over the final few weeks of the season, Sullivan replied, “Just enjoying every moment that you get out here and just being with the guys, just being part of a team. I love that whole gameday-type vibe. I love it all.”