Cardinal Still Flying High As BC Career Comes to Close

Colton Cardinal
Former Franklin standout Colton Cardinal started as a walk-on at Boston College and stuck it out for four years as a regular on special teams, earning the team’s Loyalty Award for his efforts over the last four years. (BC Athletics)

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On Dec. 8, Boston College’s football team held its annual Senior Banquet to hand out awards to some of the players in their final season in the program. Among the honorees that night was senior fullback Colton Cardinal. The former Franklin standout arrived at BC as a preferred walk-on at linebacker and lasted four years with the Eagles as a fullback and as a regular on special teams.

Cardinal was honored with the Loyalty Award, which is given each year, according to the BC website, “to the individual who possesses an unwavering amount of support and allegiance to a long-term commitment.”

“That was kind of special,” said Cardinal following the team’s a mid-week practice. “It kind of took me by surprise but I was really happy.

He added, “Not really having anyone behind me and believing in me except the locals in Franklin and being able to solidify myself as a player on special teams and a little bit on offense. Then to have my coaches and teammates honor me with the Loyalty Award meant the world to me. It was the highlight of my four years here.”

Commitment has never been a problem for Cardinal, who had offers to play at lower levels and probably could have walked into a team and become a starter at linebacker. Instead, he chose to play Div. I at BC and stuck it out through position changes and limited playing time.

The day after Christmas, Cardinal will wrap up his career with Eagles when they take on Boise State in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl at the historic Cotton Bowl in Dallas. It was this type of opportunity that Cardinal wanted when he chose to play in Chestnut Hill.

“It definitely wasn’t easy coming in as a preferred walk-on,” he admitted. In fact, Cardinal said that of the preferred walk-ons that started his freshman year only John Fadule of Wellesley is still part of the team. “It was definitely hard watching former players now living the normal student life and having the extra time for classwork and friends and going out, so it’s a lot of sacrifices but with one more game left and heading to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl, it’s worked out.”

As a senior with the Panthers, Cardinal was considered one of the top linebackers in the Hockomock League. He started all but one game during his four years at Franklin. He was being recruited by several schools, including BC, who sent defensive coordinator Don Brown (who is now the DC at Michigan and is the father of current Franklin baseball coach Zach Brown) to meet Cardinal, his family, and then Franklin coach Brad Sidwell.

It is pretty common for players in Massachusetts to aspire to be on the Eagles and Cardinal was no different. Alumni Stadium is about 15 minutes from his father’s work and he has been to the stadium a number of times. The problem was that BC also recruited a number of other linebackers (Cardinal remembers more than a dozen linebackers on the team his freshman season), so to get on the field he needed to find a different niche.

“I thought that I’d come here and earn my spot at BC and that’s what I did,” he explained. Cardinal switched to fullback early in his freshman season and his physicality impressed the coaches, who added him to special teams. He said, “That’s kind of where I found my home playing here.”

He got into a game his freshman year against Howard at linebacker and then at the end of the year he played special teams against Syracuse.

“Maybe I’m not 100 percent sure on what I’m going to do, but I’m going to do it as fast as I can, “he said of his mindset on the field. “I think they noticed that and [tight ends] Coach [Frank] Leonard took a liking to me and embraced me into the tight end room and that’s been the biggest blessing since I’ve been to BC was the guys in the room helping me out.”

Even though he found his niche on the team, it was still a big transition from being a star player to one only seeing action occasionally. Cardinal reflected, “I started every game but the first one in four years and high school and then to come here and watch from the sideline was tough.”

When asked why he wanted to stick it out on the team, with all of the time and the effort that entails, over the course of a four-year career, Cardinal replied, “Pride for myself and pride for representing my family, the Franklin community, the Hockomock community, and Massachusetts as a whole really. Coming to Boston College and being a Massachusetts guy means a lot to us.

“Playing at BC gives you an extra bit of motivation because you’re representing something a lot bigger than yourself, which is fun. It’s even fun on Wednesday mornings, you know, when you’ve got full-pad scrimmage during finals week. It’s still a blast and I still love it every day.”

Of course running out onto the field at Alumni Stadium against highly-ranked Clemson for a game that had all of the eyes of the college football world on it, including ESPN’s College Gameday set, was a pretty good reward for having stuck it out over four years.

He laughed and said, “I’ll never forget Game Day versus Clemson running out, nighttime, fireworks, lights are going off, it’s cold, it’s Massachusetts football…I’ll never forget that. It’s been truly awesome.”

Cardinal and the Eagles will wrap up the season in a bowl game against a nationally-ranked team. He said that friends and family are planning on going to Dallas to watch his final collegiate game. When he signed on to play at BC, this was the type of stage he expected to play on and this is the ideal way to close out his career.

“We talk about that a lot…to be able to come back 10, 15 years later with your head held high and know that maybe I didn’t have the biggest role on the team, but I played a part in history at Boston College football.”

Foxboro’s Tamulionis Finds Right Balance at Babson

Kat Tamulionis
Former Foxboro standout and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year Katherine Tamulionis is off to a strong start to her junior season at Babson College, helping the Beavers to a 5-2 record. (Babson College Athletics)

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When Kat Tamulionis arrived on the Merrimack College campus for her freshman year, she was confident that she was ready for the challenge of transitioning to college life and to college basketball, but she struggled to find the right fit between her commitments in the classroom and on the court.

Making the transition from high school to college is never easy, trying to find the right fit for classes, dorms, friends, a new campus, let alone the pressure of new teammates, new coaches, and a new practice schedule. It can be overwhelming.

“At Merrimack, it was tough adjusting to living at school and it was also a lot basketball-wise,” Tamulionis explained. “I liked Merrimack, it just didn’t end up being the right fit. It depends on what you want. Some people like playing basketball all day long.”

After spending preseason with the team, Tamulionis decided to step away from the team. The following fall, she took a semester off to figure out what she wanted to do next. In December of that year, she made the decision to transfer to Babson College and she decided to get back on the court, joining the Beavers and making her collegiate debut Emory and Henry College (Va.).

“I was looking for academics first and then I loved the coaches, I loved the team, and they always made me feel comfortable when I came here,” Tamulionis said of the switch. “At Merrimack, before classes I would go to practice and then after classes I would go to practice and it was just too much…I needed the structure and the right balance to be successful and I think I’ve found that at Babson.”

The switch has worked out pretty well. Tamulionis played in 21 games her first season at Babson and last season (which was technically her sophomore year because of the credits that transferred over from Merrimack) she started 22-of-27 games and averaged more than eight points per game, including a career-high 19 against Emerson College in the NEWMAC quarterfinal.

Tamulionis has started all of Babson’s first six games (4-2) and is second on the team with 11.2 points per game, shooting 44 percent from the field for the Beavers, who are riding a two-game win streak.

“The transition wasn’t as hard as I expected,” she said, “because I was able to get used to basketball and living on a different campus before I started the academic part. I got to get used to basketball, the team, and my friends and everything”

Besides moving during the winter break, several factors were in her favor when making the decision to move to Babson.

There was a familiarity with the coaches because they had recruited Tamulionis two years before when the HockomockSports.com Player of the Year and Hockomock League MVP was leading Foxboro to its first league title in more than a decade, while averaging 16 points per game.

There was also a familiar face that Tamulionis could lean on for advice. Former Foxboro standout Ashley Snyder was a member of the Babson team that season, after transferring to Babson from UMass Lowell. Snyder offered Tamulionis the inside info about the team, but also understood what it was like to move between schools.

“I was starting to doubt myself because obviously I thought Merrimack was the right place,” Tamulionis admitted. “That’s why I went to [Ashley] right away. She was very helpful because she knew what I was going through and the tough decision that I’d have to make.”

Time away from the game also gave Tamulionis a different perspective. “I took a lot of time off from basketball,” she reflected, “so it made me appreciate it more because I know what my life was like without basketball. I think I needed that time off to regroup and figure out what I wanted to do.”

Moving a little closer to home had an added benefit last winter. Tamulionis was able to follow her sister Grace and her former teammates on their run to the Div. 2 state championship. “It was so much fun,” she said about watching her sister bring home the title. “I was kind of living through them a little bit because that’s obviously everybody’s dream, but I’m so happy for those girls because they deserve it.”

The Tamulionis sisters played together at Foxboro when Kat was a senior and Grace was just a freshman. That rookie class, which also included Lily Sykes, Ashley Sampson, and Shannon Smally, was a big factor in the Warriors making a run to the Div. 2 South final during Kat’s senior year.

“They were all very good individual players but what made them good was that they played well together,” she said. “I think that’s what gave them the advantage.”

When asked if she wished that she had them as teammates for more than one season to make another tournament run, Tamulionis agreed, “Definitely…Maybe even if they were just sophomores when I was a senior that would’ve been so cool with one more year of experience.”

Experience is also something that Babson is counting on this winter. The Beaver come into the year with eight juniors or seniors on the roster. Many of the players have been together for two or three seasons and that chemistry has the team confident of challenging for the NEWMAC title and getting back to the NCAA Tournament.

“I feel like last year was more of a rebuilding year,” Tamulionis said. “This year, we’re trying to build on it. We’ve all played together for three or four years now and the upperclassmen have played a lot of minutes, so we’re comfortable, and I think that chemistry is going to help us down the stretch.”

Babson has already played several tough games this year, including league games against MIT (a 76-71 win) and Smith College (86-62 loss). “It was good to have those games first just to see where we are in the league and what we need to work on,” Tamulionis remarked. “We need to treat every game the same and bring the same energy no matter who we go against.”

As the team looks forward to the rest of a busy season, Tamulionis was able to reflect on how she got to Babson and how different things are not that she is there.

“It’s different for everyone,” she said. “When I transferred to Babson, it was just the right balance between basketball and academics. It was an easy transition.”

(Babson improved to 5-2 on the season with a 65-54 win over the Coast Guard on Saturday afternoon. Tamulionis scored nine points for the Beavers in the win.)

KP’s Schnabel Enjoying Last Laps at Northeastern

Carly Schnabel
King Philip alum and Northeastern University senior Carly Schnabel competes in a freestyle event for the Huskies this season. (Jim Pierce/Northeastern University Athletics)

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After two years of swimming at King Philip, Carly Schnabel made a decision to step away from the high school team and commit herself fully to her club team, the Shamrock Swim Club based in Milton, and to USA Swimming.

Competing at the Div. I level in college had been her dream since she was just six or seven years old and pulled on a swim cap for the first time at the Sher-Lo-Mon Swim Club in Cumberland, R.I. Heading into her junior year at KP, Schnabel’s times were right on the cusp between DI and DII.

“It was definitely one of those moments where it was make or break right now,” Schnabel recalled during a phone call this week. She admits that it was a very tough decision to step away from the Warriors but a necessary one to achieve her goals. “When I stepped away from high school and really focused on swimming club,” she explained, “then I was able to get fast enough to swim Div. I, which was my dream.”

She added, “It was sort of a necessary thing to do at the time that wasn’t necessarily fun but something I had to do to get where I wanted to be.”

It was a decision that paid off. Schnabel is now entering her senior season as the captain of the Northeastern University swim team, and she holds three school records for the Huskies (500-yard freestyle, 1,000-yard freestyle, and 400-yard medley relay).

“It’s surreal. It’s crazy,” Schnabel said with a laugh. “I think back to putting on a swim cap for the first time at six or seven and thinking about how much I hated getting in the water. I wish I could say to my 5-year-old self it’s going to be okay, you’re going to make it.”

Schnabel made an instant impact on Huntington Ave. She was named the team’s Rookie of the Year after her freshman season. She won the 100-free against New Hampshire in one of her first meets, won three events against Vermont, and was part of a second place finish for the 200 medley relay at the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) Championships.

All that success came while getting acclimated to college life, to the rigorous schedule of a DI program, and new weightlifting and training regimens.

“I wouldn’t say surprised, but pleased,” Schnabel said about her early success at Northeastern. “Adjusting to college is something that’s very difficult but I guess I really took to it and freshman year I was training with some really great coaches and really great swimmers and really focused on it and was able to rally together to put a result out there.”

When asked if she had a moment during that freshman season when she realized that she had made it and that she was a DI-caliber swimmer, Schnabel laughed and replied, “I still have those moments of shock where I can’t believe that I’m here and doing this because I never expected to realize my dream. Even as a senior I have moments where I’m like this is it, this is the level, this is exactly what I’ve been working for.”

During the summer between her freshman and sophomore seasons, Schnabel committed to training and preparing herself for the rigors of another year in the pool. She also switched from sprinting events to distance, which she believed was “more natural” for her.

It was another decision that worked perfectly. Schnabel won three events and took second in another in her season debut against Boston University. Set the program record in the 1,000-free against Harvard and then set a new 500-free record at the CAA Championships (while totaling 30 individual points, which was the second highest total in program history). After a season filled with first place finishes, she was honored as the team MVP.

“I guess that year everything just sort of clicked,” she said. “I had the first year to adjust to Northeastern and adjust to weightlifting and new training and over the summer I just buckled down.”

Not only was Schnabel a success in the pool, but she was also recognized for her leadership outside of it. Following her junior season, she was awarded the inaugural CAA Leadership and Sports Excellence Award, after being nominated by her coaches and academic advisors. She was chosen out of nominees from each of the conference’s women’s swim teams.

“I had no idea I was nominated,” she explained. “I was on campus in the summer, so I was sitting in a classroom when I got a call from my coach who was like, ‘Hey congrats!’ And I was like, ‘For what?’”

Schnabel added, “I was very honored and very humbled to win an award beyond swimming. It encompasses more of my personality and more of my character, which is what I value more than just times. At the end of the day, it’s about what person am I and what has swimming made me. It was nice to be recognized that it’s going well.”

Northeastern has started the season 3-2 with wins over BU, Lehigh, and Maine. It is still early going and there is a lot of swimming still to go before the season closes at the CAA Championships in February. There is always pressure to perform at the DI level, but Schnabel is taking a different approach to her final season. She is trying to appreciate the moment and enjoy one last season at the Barletta Natatorium.

“I’m definitely trying to enjoy the season, enjoy the process,” she said. “Now that I have more perspective, I just decided that I’ll work as hard as I can at practice and the times will come. It’s more about putting in what I need to put in, not overly stress about it and enjoy everything that’s going on. So far, it’s been really great.”

With the Huskies off for the weekend because of nationals, it was a good moment for Schnabel to reflect on just how far she has come and how much swimming has added to her collegiate experience.

“I couldn’t imagine being here without it,” she said. “It’s definitely what has made my college experience so amazing and worthwhile. I’m really glad that I did it and I’m really sad that it’s my last year.”

How does she want to close out her career? “No regrets,” she said. “I want to finish my last race and say that was the best I could’ve done and that’s how I want to end my career. It doesn’t have to be my best time but just some closure.”

Northeastern will be back in action on Dec. 8 against UNH.

Mansfield’s Boulter Scores Milestone at Merrimack

Ryan Boulter
Former Hockomock League MVP Ryan Boulter drives to the basket in the season opener to score the 1,000th point of his Merrimack College career. (Jim Stankiewicz /Merrimack College Athletics)

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When the 2017-18 season ended against Bloomfield (N.J.) College in the semifinal of the East Regional, Ryan Boulter was just two points shy of the 1,000-point mark for his college career. The former Mansfield standout and Hockomock League MVP, who scored more than 1,300 points for the Hornets, wasted no time in reaching the milestone this year. In fact, it took only one shot.

The Merrimack College senior forward made a back cut down the right side of the lane for an easy layup just 30 seconds into the season opener against Holy Family University (Pa.). “I wanted to get it out of the way early, but I didn’t expect to get it on the first basket like I did,” Boulter said in a phone call on Friday morning.

Despite the milestone not having the same level of pomp and circumstance that chasing 1,000 points does in high school, for instance the game continued without a break, Boulter recognized the magnitude of the achievement. He said, “I knew I was two points away and all of my teammates knew about it. They all congratulated me during the game and after the game. It was pretty special.”

Boulter led the Warriors with 19 points in the 69-50 win over Holy Family and was the 45th player in program history to reach the 1,000-point mark (junior guard Juvaris Hayes also reached that mark last season). The milestone meant even more for Boulter because coming out of high school there were questions about his ability to play at the Div. II level. He received few looks from schools outside of Div. III until longtime Merrimack coach Bert Hammel (who passed away this October) offered him the chance to come to North Andover.

“A lot of people didn’t really expect me to play Div. II,” Boulter admitted. “I had a lot of Div. III offers, but a lot of people didn’t really recruit me for Div. II except Bert, so it’s really meant a lot for me to score 1,000 points here.”

It didn’t take Boulter long to prove that he deserved the chance to play in Div. II. The 6-foot-7 forward came off the bench in 23 games during his freshman season, averaging six points per game and shooting more than 38 percent from beyond the arc. Boulter took off in his sophomore season under new head coach Joe Gallo (who took over when Hammel retired), earning third team All-NE-10 honors as Merrimack’s leading scorer at 18 points per game.

There were high expectations coming into last season and Merrimack largely lived up them as a team, winning 20 games, but Boulter was sidelined for a dozen games in the middle of the season with a foot injury. Despite the setback and dealing with the first significant injury of his basketball career, he was still second on the team with more than 13 points per game and shot more than 43 percent from three-point range.

“It was pretty frustrating, coming back and missing about two months and trying to get your legs back into it,” he explained. “Having to play off the bench and having to play a certain amount of minutes was something I had to get used to but at the end of the season I started to get my feel back a little bit.”

The injury provided extra motivation for this season. The Warriors were ranked second in the preseason NE-10 coaches poll, behind St. Anselm, are expected to challenge for the conference title, and to make a run in the postseason. After missing time as a junior, Boulter is ready to get back to the all-conference level he reached as a sophomore.

He said, “It was really painful not being out there with the guys and it motivated me this off-season to really focus on my body, get it right to play a full season, and get this team to where we know we can be at the end of the year.”

The reason that expectations are so high for the Warriors is the depth on the team. Boulter said that this team is the deepest he has ever played with. He explained, “Especially in the starting five, everyone can shoot, dribble, pass, rebound, and we’ve got three or four guys coming off the bench who can do the same thing.”

Watch highlights of Merrimack running its offense and you see players constantly switching positions, spreading the floor, making cuts to the basket, and stretching the defense all across the court. “It’s incredible because we don’t care about who’s the leading scorer each game, we just care about winning and focusing on our goals,” Boulter said.

The Merrimack system also looks very similar to the offense that Boulter was part of at Mansfield, where he and the Hornets compiled a 72-9 record over his career, reached a state title game (where Boulter, just a sophomore, hit three free throws in the final seconds to force overtime against Putnam) and two sectional finals.

Boulter carried that culture of success, and the knowledge of what it takes to win games, into his collegiate career.

“Coach (Mike) Vaughan, that’s what he drilled into us every day in high school,” he said, “just focus on winning. It doesn’t matter if you’re in class or on the basketball court just focus on winning and having that mindset that you’re a winner.”

He added, “It makes it fun, even in practice, to have a great group of guys who just care about winning and don’t really care about their stats and all that.”

Last winter, Mansfield won its first ever state championship and Ryan’s younger brother Tyler played a critical role in the Hornets’ tournament run. Ryan had several close calls, including the overtime loss to Putnam in the final and a pair of thrilling match-ups with loaded Catholic Memorial teams in the South sectional, and he was excited for his brother being part of the first Hornets team to reach the pinnacle.

“I was very happy for him,” Boulter said. “He kind of had to live up to high expectation being my little brother, but I was really proud of him. He played his heart out and I was really happy that he won it.

“When I got there,” he continued, “I wasn’t really expecting to have the team really go far but [Coach Vaughan] really brings out the best in everyone and brings out that competitive nature in every practice. He really gets on us to get us where we want to be and he knows how great those teams can be. It’s amazing to see that program keep growing each and every year.”

It is only three games into the new season (Merrimack played Bentley on Saturday afternoon) but Boulter is already seeing signs that the Warriors can reach their goals this year – winning the NE-10 title and getting out of the East Regional. He pointed to the 72-42 win against Assumption on Wednesday night as an example of what the team can achieve.

“That’s probably the best defensive game we’ve played in my four years here,” he said. “If we focus on the defensive end for 40 minutes, then we’ll be very hard to beat because we know with our talent that our offense will come. If we can play as well as we did the other night on the defensive end then we can go really far this year.”

The season started with a personal milestone, but Ryan Boulter is focused on ending the season, and his Merrimack career, with an even bigger prize – the NE-10 title.

Ed. Note – Merrimack suffered a 65-59 loss at Bentley on Saturday to even its record at 2-2. Boulter scored six points in 37 minutes, shooting 2-of-6 from three.

Taunton’s Wentworth Finds a Home In the Endicott Goal

Kayla Wentworth
Taunton grad Kayla Wentworth has found a home at Endicott College and that translated into a strong season in goal, earning second-team all-conference honors. (David Le/Endicott College Athletics)

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It has been a winding road for Kayla Wentworth since she graduated from Taunton High. After helping the Tigers make not only their first-ever playoff appearance but also earn their first-ever state tournament victory, the talented goalkeeper had the opportunity to play Div. I college soccer.

Playing for a Div. I program is the dream of just about every high school player that laces up their boots each fall, but the reality of playing at that level and the singular focus that many, if not most, Div. I programs require of their student-athletes isn’t for everyone.

Sometimes, you just need to find the place where you feel comfortable and happy.

After a year at Iona College (New Rochelle, N.Y.), where she admitted struggling with the coach, Wentworth gave Div. I a second chance with a transfer closer to home to play at UMass Lowell. She stayed for one semester in Lowell before making a second switch, heading to Beverly in the spring of 2018 to attend Endicott College.

It is a move that has worked out on and off the pitch.

“It’s good to find a home,” said Wentworth in a phone call ahead of Endicott’s Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) tournament opener against Western New England. “Here I have a great group of friends, soccer is just the right amount, our coaches are really good, really supportive, academics are great, everything is here is more like home than my other schools.”

Wentworth has certainly made the most of her time with the Gulls, earning a second team all-conference nod after leading the league with a 0.72 goals against average. She recorded six clean sheets in her first season with the Gulls and led Endicott to the top seed in the CCC tournament.

“I think it’s really important to just be yourself in order to play better,” she explained. “If you’re not comfortable where you are, then you’re not going to play well.”

When asked about the demands of playing at the Div. I level, Wentworth, who is a psychology major and wants to attend med school, noted that everything took a backseat to soccer. As much as she loves the game, she also had to be realistic about where her career was headed and the important of academics.

“I love soccer, so that wasn’t really part of it, but when you play Div. I you find that’s your life,” she said. “Realistically, after college I’m not going to go play professionally, so there was no reason for that to be the only thing in my life.”

Unlike when she transferred to UMass Lowell, Wentworth joined Endicott in the spring. It afforded her the time to get acclimated with the campus, her classes, and with her new teammate. She took advantage of the extra time to become comfortable with her situation.

She also benefited from being the lone goalie in the spring, with the Gulls adding two freshman to the roster this fall. For the first time since leaving Taunton, Wentworth had control of the No. 1 jersey and was between the posts for every game. All soccer players, but particularly goalkeepers, rely on confidence to perform at their best and Wentworth felt the confidence growing with each appearance.

“The other two goalies with me are freshmen, so I knew that I had a shot at the job, but I still had to work for it,” she said. “The goalie position is more mental and knowing that they have the confidence to put me on the field every game definitely boosted my confidence. It makes me play better.”

At the time of the interview, Wentworth was preparing for the tournament opener and she was counting on her high school experiences to help her handle playoff pressure. Wentworth was the goalie for the only Taunton girls’ team to make the postseason and she helped the Tigers go on the road to beat Wellesley for the program’s first playoff win.

It is an experience that still resonates for the players that were part of it.

“We’re all still really good friends and looking back on it I even cry sometimes,” she said. “I don’t think Taunton will ever see another team that was that much of a family and that determined to get to the playoffs and get the job done. We made history and that’s something I’m never going to forget.”

Unfortunately, Endicott didn’t experience the same success in the tournament. The Gulls were beaten on penalties after 110 scoreless minutes, despite putting eight shots on goal and holding WNE to just one. It was the fourth straight year that the Gulls had the season end at the semifinal stage.

It wasn’t the ending that Endicott was looking for, but Wentworth knows that the team is in a good place and, more importantly that she is too. After two years of searching for the right place to play, the best fit for her, Wentworth has found a home in Beverly and she is brimming with confidence after a successful fall.

“Coming in I did have a lot of goals for myself because I had played at two other schools,” she reflected, “and I obviously didn’t have the chance to earn those honors there. Looking back, I’m kind of surprised with myself because I actually did it and my confidence shot up.”

She added, “Coming into a team that was already successful was very nerve-wracking, but I’ve definitely succeeded here and I think it’s gratifying to see that and know that those changes were the right decision. It’s nice to be able to step back and reflect and see that it all worked out.”

Canton’s Proctor Setting Salve Volleyball Up for Success

Erin Proctor
Former Canton standout Erin Proctor has been one of the top setters in the history of the Salve Regina volleyball program and has the Seahawks rolling into the CCC tournament. (Salve Regina Athletics)

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Following a standout career at Canton, which included four league titles, more than 1,000 career assists, and being named 2014 Hockomock MVP and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year, Erin Proctor was not sure that she would try to continue playing at the collegiate level.

It wasn’t until May or June of her senior year that Proctor started looking for college programs that would be a good fit, she explained in a phone call this week. She was already interested in Slave Regina University (Newport, R.I.) for its nursing program, so Proctor took a closer look at the volleyball team as well.

“I chose it primarily for nursing,” she said, “but I was looking at their volleyball program and did an overnight with one of the girls that year and the team was really close and I wanted to be part of that family like we did in high school.”

The Seahawks will be grateful that Proctor changed her mind about playing collegiate volleyball.

With another 37 assists on Saturday morning, in a 3-0 victory over the University of New England, Proctor now has 719 for the season, which is the fifth highest single-season total for a setter in program history (the top four all belong to career leader Taylor Violet), and she is now second all-time in career assists and third in assists per game.

Her assist numbers would likely be even higher if Proctor had been the primary setter all four years. She took on a more defensive role for the Seahawks last fall and had only 110 assists on the season, after recording 425 as a freshman and 339 as a sophomore.

“I did a little bit of setting last year, but towards the end of the season I was playing back row,” Proctor explained. While it was a change of position, it was one that Proctor was comfortable with going back to before she took over the setter position at Canton. “Sophomore year of high school I switched to setter,” she said, “but before that, throughout middle school and everything, I was a libero. It was fun to go back to that for a little while.”

It was also fun to get back to being the primary passer for the Seahawks attack, which has flourished with Proctor spreading the ball around. She admitted, “I’ve kind of liked going back to setting, to what I knew and everything. I definitely like being more involved in all the plays.”

With Proctor back in her usual spot in the thick of the offense, Salve has built a 20-8 regular season record and sits in third place in the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) heading into the league’s postseason tournament. The Seahawks had a blip in the middle of the season where they lost four of five games, but are rolling into the playoffs, having won nine straight and 10-of-11 matches.

Salve coach Lauren Parsons said of Proctor, “Stepping in as the senior starting setter can come with some pressure but she never adds pressure to any situation. She loves to compete and when she is challenged her level and ability gets better and higher. She’s quick, scrappy on defense and gets a good amount of touches on the block to slow the ball down. She plays the game all the way around and that is exactly what you want out of your setter.”

Included in that win streak was the program’s first-ever, three-game sweep of Roger Williams University. In fact it was only Salve’s third win in 27 matches against Roger Williams and first win in Proctor’s four years in college. “I’m not sure when the last time we beat them was,” she said. “It was awesome.”

“We found some way to turn things around,” Proctor said about the team’s late-season run, although she admitted it was hard to pinpoint exactly what changed. “I think it just has to do with our mentality and our confidence. We lost one of our star players (middle hitter Annie Donahue missed most of the 2017 season and has been out the past five matches) so just having other girls transition into that role kind of brought us together.”

When asked what attributes make for a strong setter, Proctor replied, “I think it’s just mentality. Keeping calm and keeping everyone else calm when things get hectic and I think I do a pretty good job doing that.” She is asked what has been her biggest improvement from her time at Canton and she responded, “I think confidence-wise, I’m a lot more confident in my abilities after four more years of playing.”

Proctor is no stranger to success on the volleyball court. She picked up the game in middle school, playing for the Canton Cobra clinics, and she fell in love with the sport. Canton won the league title all four years that Proctor was there and was a perennial contender for a Div. 2 state title.

After a year without a championship, Canton earned its 10th league title in 11 seasons just last week. Proctor was asked what makes the Bulldogs such a consistently strong program and she immediately credited head coach Pat Cawley.

“I think obviously Pat Cawley does a phenomenal job,” said Proctor, who added that her former coach checks in each preseason and tries to bring the Bulldogs to a Salve match each season.

“She’s all about the mental game. She’s just always encouraging us to not get down on ourselves and she’s just very encouraging.” Asked whether that is one of the reasons that so many former Bulldogs have found spots on college teams, she answered, “Yeah. Absolutely.”

Cawley helped Proctor find the Salve program and helped with her transition to the college game. “She’s just phenomenal and someone I’ve always looked up to as a coach,” Proctor added.

Proctor and the Seahawks have found their groove this season and they are hoping to carry that momentum into the CCC tournament with their sights set on bringing home a championship. The last three years have ended in the CCC semifinals at the hands of league power Endicott, but there is confidence around the program that this year could be different, despite a 3-0 loss to the Gulls in the regular season.

“I don’t think it was our best performance,” said Proctor about the loss to Endicott in September. “We’ve could’ve played a lot better and given the opportunity I think we can show them that.”

She added, “I think we have a really good shot in the postseason… I think our team chemistry is there and that’s, honestly, sometimes more important than skill on the court.”

As a senior, with her college career entering its final stages, all that is on Proctor’s mind is bringing home a trophy. She reflected, “Looking from when I was in sixth grade playing for Cobra club to now…it went by really fast, too fast.

“Definitely, I want to leave with a championship. That’s really all that’s on my mind right now. It would be awesome and I hope we can do it.”

Salve Regina will open the CCC tournament with a quarterfinal match on Tuesday.

North’s Freitas and UVM On the Prowl for NCAA Berth

Justin Freitas
North Attleboro grad Justin Freitas has been a standout in his two seasons at UVM and has the Catamounts off to a great start to the fall in search of an NCAA bid. (UVM Athletics)

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In the 87th minute of a tie game at Virtue Field, the University of Vermont kept pressing forward in search of a game-winner. A throw-in from the right touch line went to the back post and caromed off the foot of senior forward Justin Freitas, then off the chest of a defender, and finally looped into the corner of the net.

It was the sixth goal of the season for Freitas, and his second in three games. Although it won’t go down as one of his prettiest strikes, it lifted the Catamounts to an America East Conference victory and kept the team’s momentum building for the closing stretch of the regular season, as UVM goes in search of a league title and an NCAA tournament berth.

Freitas also assisted on the equalizing goal against Hartford and his three-point game earned him Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors from the conference. It was the second time that the North Attleboro grad had received a weekly award this season.

“I felt like I started off pretty hot, worked hard over the summer, but then of course it’s not easy,” said Freitas this week in a phone call during the team’s trip from Burlington to Albany (N.Y.). “There are ups and downs in the season. I started getting sick and injured, but I feel good again heading to the end of the season.”

Although UVM lost to the University of Albany on Friday night, the Catamounts (9-5-0, 2-2-0) are just a win away from matching last season’s win total with four games remaining in the regular season.

“We’re excited to have a good start,” said Freitas. “We had a couple games that we were close and got unlucky and could’ve done a little better, but all is good so far.”

The senior forward is coming off a season in which he was named to the America East All-Conference Second Team and finished second in the conference in goals (eight) and points (19). He already has 18 points this season on six goals and six assists. He is currently third in the league in points and goals and second in assists.

He said, “We’re always reaching for the stars. I think we have the talent to compete for a national title. Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into that and we have to take it game by game…We dropped a couple games that we didn’t think we should’ve and we want to finish off the season winning as much as possible.”

It has been a long and winding journey for Freitas, taking him from youth soccer in North Attleboro to high school, Bayside United FC, the New England Revolution Academy, Dean College, and finally to UVM, where he is fulfilling his dream of playing Div. I soccer. He is an example of how the path to collegiate athletics is different for every player.

“I think everyone has to find their own individual path and keep grinding and face whatever comes to you,” he explained.

Freitas played one year with the Rocketeers. At the time, he was only about 5 feet tall but jumped into North’s rotation and showed the potential that caught the eye of the Revolution academy. While it was only a year of Hock soccer, he learned how to match up against physical players and match the speed of the game.

It was difficult, but after his freshman year Freitas decided to join the Revs academy full-time. “I knew that if I wanted to play at the next level, even though high school is fun and everything, I needed to stay focused and play for the Revs,” he explained. He credits the Revs for taking his game to the next level, but there is a part of him that still wishes he could have suited up for North as well. Freitas noted that he even tried to play for the Rocketeers after academy play ended during his senior season.

“It was tough because it’s always good to play for your high school, to be around your friends, but I think it was a mature decision,” he reflected. “Looking back at it, I developed a lot with the Revs and I have to give them a lot of credit, but at the same time I wish I had some of those high school moments, accolades, and stuff.”

“But overall it’s worked out pretty well. I can’t complain.”

There were plenty of offers coming out of high school, including from Div. I schools such as UMass Lowell and Bryant, but there were questions about how much Freitas, who had grown to 5-foot-10, could produce in college. During a visit to Southern New Hampshire, which was coming off a national title in 2013, Freitas spoke with Ruben Resendes, a coach at the Revs academy and family friend who became an important advisor over the next several years.

Resendes was taking over the program at Dean College and he convinced Freitas that he could help him become a Div. I-caliber player. It isn’t often that a player turns down offers from Div. I schools to play for a community college program, but Freitas was an instant star on the Franklin campus, scoring 25 goals his first year as Dean went 17-2 and played in the USCAA National Tournament.

Once again, a number of schools expressed interest in Freitas, but the second team All-American wanted to stay with his teammates (eight of which would end up going to Div. I programs) and compete for an elusive national title. He said, “I had interest from all over New England…and they wanted me to come right away in the spring and I just didn’t know if I was ready to make that transition.”

He had another All-American season with Dean, leading the Bulldogs to a spot in the national semifinals where they lost 2-1 to Florida National University. “It was a tough way to go down, but we played really well,” Freitas said. That Florida National team had a few international players with ties to professional leagues. Freitas joked that the Bulldogs looked up the keeper and saw that he was worth $150,000 on the transfer market.

Regardless of how it ended, Freitas was grateful for the two years he spent at Dean. “Dean was one of my favorite places in the world,” he said. “I met a lot of good friends there, I was always happy, we had played at a really high level.”

He verbally-committed to UMass Lowell, but Resendes and several of his Dean teammates, including UVM’s leading scorer Geo Alves, were heading to Vermont, so Freitas decided to switch and join them in Burlington.

“I consider them my brothers,” he explained. “We live together and we’re really close. We did everything together at Dean for two years, It’s been really nice to have them every step of the way through this journey.”

For Freitas, happiness, not just soccer, was an important part of the recruiting process. He wanted to find a place where he felt comfortable. “A lot of kids who commit to big schools right out of high school can struggle,” he said. “You have to be realistic with yourself and the big thing is to talk to the coaches and see how they see you developing, the role you’re going to have on the team. You have to find the place that works best for you.

It is advice that he shared with his younger brother Tyler, who graduated from North Attleboro last year but never played in high school because he was part of the Revs academy and U.S. national team pool from a young age. Tyler is taking a year off but just last week announced his commitment to UVM for next season.

“Having gone through the [recruiting] process myself, my parents knew what to expect, what kind of financial packets would be available, what schools to look at,” Freitas said. “It was good for my brother to see what I went through and learn from it.”

As his college career heads into the final stretch, Freitas reflected on just how far he has come. The many twists and turns his career took to get him to this point have given him a better appreciation of the opportunities he has in front of him. He wants to go pro, but he also wants to close out his college career by getting the Catamounts into the NCAA tournament.

“I’ve just got to keep working to make the team better every day,” Freitas said, “and then at the end of the season take a look at what my options are.

“It’s nice to see my dreams coming closer and closer to reality. It’s something special.”

KP’s Kellett Making Most of His Switch to BC

Joe Kellett
Former King Philip star and HockomockSports.com Best XI selection Joe Kellett has been a mainstay in the Boston College midfield this fall, after transferring from UMass-Lowell. (John Quackenbos/BC Athletics)

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Last fall ended in heartbreaking fashion for former King Philip star Joe Kellett and the UMass Lowell men’s soccer team. The River Hawks hosted the University of Albany (N.Y.) in the America East championship game at Cushing Field. The game was scoreless into double overtime before Albany’s Andreas Assiotis scored in the 103rd minute to seal a second straight conference title for the Great Danes.

The next day, adding insult to injury, the River Hawks found out that they would not be an at-large selection to the NCAA tournament.

It was an abrupt conclusion to an otherwise successful season for Kellett, who started all 18 games and led UMass Lowell field players in minutes played. When the season ended, he took time to step back and consider his collegiate career, which included an America East All-Rookie Team selection as a freshman, and he decided to make the move an hour down the road to Chestnut Hill.

Kellett transferred to Boston College, joining the Eagles in the ultra-competitive ACC to play some of the top teams in the country every game.

“I want to play against the best of the best and challenge myself and my abilities,” Kellett said in a phone interview two days before BC played Notre Dame, its third straight game against a team ranked in the top 20 in the country. “I just took a step back and was looking at my future and what I wanted most and thinking about how BC is a great combination of academics and the ACC.”

He added, “[Transferring] was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. I was there for a year and a half and you make unbelievable friends. The training staff, the help of everyone around, it’s hard to leave everybody and leave everything behind.”

After electing to make the switch, Kellett completed the transfer during the spring semester, which has allowed him time to get acclimated to his new school, his new teammates, and a new style of play. Over the summer he played with several of the Eagles on the Boston Bolts in the USL League 2 (formerly the PDL).

The newly-formed chemistry with his strikers continued into the preseason and his solid play took some of the pressure off Kellett ahead of the new season and earned him a spot in the BC starting lineup.

“You have the support from your coaches because they want you to play well and, for me, I was lucky enough that I was able to come in and play well during preseason,” he explained.

He has lined up in central midfield in each of BC’s first eight games and has added versatility in the center of the pitch, providing defensive cover when needed but also adding a box-to-box presence when it is called for. That versatility was added to Kellett’s game during his high school career, playing for head coaches Kip Lewis and Nick Gale who not only had different styles of play but also put Kellett into different positions from forward to center back.

“You have to be willing to play different positions even if you don’t want to and those guys taught me amazing things that have translated to me playing well in college,” said Kellett. “If I was at center back, how I would want a center-mid to open space for me or to get on the ball. It’s good to see what other players in your position do and you’ve got to learn from that.”

Kellett mentions “trusting the process” several times during the conversation. He insists that the experience of playing different positions, different styles, for different coaches, has prepared him for the challenge of facing nationally-ranked teams almost every game.

“We want to play, but we also want to score as many goals as possible,” said Kellett, “and it was good adapting my playing style to that and I get to grow as a player and hopefully after school that will help me because I’m playing forward more and I’m learning more about my abilities.”

Soccer has always been a part of Kellett’s life. He said that his first word was “ball” and that an early age his parents decided that he wouldn’t play football. While he also played baseball and lacrosse growing up, it was soccer that stuck with him. When he was asked to describe what it was about soccer that he liked best, Kellett struggled to come up with an answer. It just became an integral part of his life.

Playing for a strong club team, NEFC, Kellett drew early attention from college coaches. He explained that just about every player on his club team ended up on a college team (at various levels) and recruiting started as he entered high school.

“I’m happy that I’m out of that process because it’s definitely stressful but looking back it was a cool experience to see which teams want you,” he said.

Unlike players in the new full-year academy system, such as the New England Revolution setup or the Boston Bolts academy team, Kellett was able to play for the Warriors and helped KP reach the postseason all four years. Club play was a showcase for his talents and a chance to play against top level competition, but Kellett is grateful he had the chance to represent his school too.

“You almost have more pride playing for high school than club, and that translates to college,” he explained. In public school, you’ve grown up in that district for so long that you want to beat the Franklins, the Foxboros, Oliver Ames, but at club you just want to learn and be the best player you can be.

“In high school you really have to fight, and it’s the same thing in college where you fight for the badge on your chest. It’s a great experience playing in high school.”
Kellett used to drive up to Newton on Friday nights during his high school career and watch BC soccer. Now he gets to line up for the Eagles to take on the best of the ACC. He is more comfortable with the speed of the game, the pressing, the physicality, and now he wants to complete the quest of getting into the NCAAs.

“Last year was tough,” he said. “I mean, double overtime in the conference final. If we win that game, then we would’ve gotten in and then being one of three teams out was just the most heartbreaking thing that could’ve happened. Thinking about that just gives you more motivation for try to get in.”

When asked about the chances for this Eagles team to make the next step, Kellett replied, “We have unbelievable heart on this team. There’s no question that everyone wants that and is willing to give everything they have for that. There’s nothing better as a player than standing next to 11 guys that are willing to do whatever it takes to win a game.”

Boston College pulled its record back to .500 on the season (3-3-3) with a win against No. 17 North Carolina State on Friday night. Kellett went the full 90 minutes for the Eagles, in their fourth straight game against a team ranked in the top 20.

Franklin’s Ellin Making Double the Impact at Bard

Nicole Ellin
Franklin grad Nicole Ellin has played almost every game in her four years for the Bard College women’s soccer and lacrosse teams. (Bard College Athletics)

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Trying to balance academics and athletics is hard enough at the college level, regardless of what division you are playing at, and Bard College senior Nicole Ellin increased the difficulty level further by being a standout in two sports. Not only does she have to balance school work with practice and games, but also balance her yearlong commitments to two programs, soccer and lacrosse.

The Franklin High grad leads the Raptors in minutes played this fall, starting all eight of Bard’s games so far this season and all but one game in four years, and is also, already, a two-time captain for the lacrosse program and played in every game over three seasons with one more spring to come.

While Ellin admits that she had to learn how to manage her time to be fully committed to soccer, lacrosse, and her studies as a psychology major, this was exactly what she was looking for when she searched for the right school four years ago.

“It’s hard with school work sometimes because of the workload, but it keeps me busy,” Ellin said. “It’s my last seasons for both sports so I want to be there for both lacrosse and soccer. It’s hard to be around for both sports and be part of both teams completely, which I am, but you have to separate your time.”

She added, “I’ve been playing the two sports my whole life, so I don’t know what I would do with my free time to be honest.”

Ellin jumped right from high school into the starting lineup at Bard, helping the soccer team capture its first ever Liberty League victories (the school moved from the Skyline Conference starting in the 2011 season), win eight games, and reach the semifinals of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Div. III Metro/Upstate Championships.

Over her four years, the Raptors have won at least seven games every season and entered Saturday’s league matchup with highly-ranked William Smith College (N.Y.) at 4-3-1.

“She’s been a big part of the growth of our program over her tenure here – and she’s been a joy to work with,” Bard soccer coach William Kelly wrote in an email. “She’s been a role model to our younger players, representing the program with pride, integrity, and class…She is never satisfied, and constantly works to get better; and she is also very consistent in terms of her great effort and her high expectations of herself and the team.”

Ellin credited the high level of play at Franklin for preparing her for the rigors of college soccer and lacrosse, particularly the physicality. She also joined Bard soccer as part of a strong freshman class, which helped her quickly get acclimated, and as the program grew over the last three years it has pushed her to continue developing her game to maintain her starting spot.

“I still get nervous every game but I’m definitely more comfortable now playing at the college level,” she explained. “I know what I’m going to see within our league and I know how physical it’s going to be and I know how hard I have to work over the summer and at practices to be at the level where I want to be.”

Ellin added, “From being at Franklin, my competitiveness is still there and I like that our team is growing and we have to work hard for a spot.”

As a freshman on the lacrosse team, Ellin led the team in goals (27), points (33), free-position goals (10), and draw controls (48). She was also second on the team in assists and ground balls and third in turnovers caused. She was named an All-Liberty League honorable mention in each of her first two seasons and is now just 24 points shy of 100 for her career.

She also stepped into a leadership role early in her collegiate lacrosse career, being voted a captain prior to both her sophomore and junior seasons. Bard lacrosse coach Mary Kate Scardillo said that Ellin was the first sophomore captain that she has coached, but that her leadership was obvious from the start and it was a natural fit.

Scardillo explained, “She is a composed leader with a team-first attitude and has acted with the program’s best interest at heart. She has set an example of commitment, resilience and patience. Nicole has a genuine love for the games of soccer and lacrosse. She is wired to be a part of a team and work with others towards a common, greater goal.”

For Ellin, it was an opportunity to grow as a player and person. “We’re all so close as a team that we all hang out together,” she said, “and you just have to be there for everybody for their school work and their social life. It’s being a leader on and off the field.”

While at Franklin, Ellin put together a remarkable resume. The soccer (69-6-11) and girls lacrosse (66-18) teams combined for a 135-24-11 record over four years. Ellin went to a combined four sectional title games, winning three of them, and won a state title in soccer as a sophomore in 2012. She was also part of the lacrosse team’s first ever sectional title as a junior and went undefeated in the Hockomock League over her final three seasons.

Committing your time and effort to two college programs is easy when the teams are winning. It becomes much more difficult when the hard work and the hours invested don’t lead directly to success on the field. For someone who experienced so much success during her high school career, Ellin had to adjust, but this has given her a different perspective on the exertion that she and her teammates put in each season.

“The team helps you through it,” she said. “Even when you’re losing, it doesn’t feel like it. I know the scores looked not great sometimes but everybody is still working so hard and you do it for the little things. You set small goals.

“We have to play hard because we have something to prove.”

The Raptors have just started Liberty League play this fall, and she still has lacrosse in the spring, but Ellin can’t help but think about the fact that her collegiate career is nearing its close.

“I’m definitely starting to get sad that it’s ending,” Ellin admitted. “We have a lot of season left, but I keep thinking that I want it to slow down because I’m not ready for it be over yet.

“I just keep thinking that it’s our last chance to put our mark on the program.”

Canton’s McNeil Continues Family Field Hockey Legacy

Mary McNeil
Canton alum Mary McNeil is a three-time all-NE-10 performer for Merrimack College, has the Warriors ranked sixth in the country, and is the fifth of six sisters to play field hockey in college. (Merrimack College Athletics)

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In eighth grade, Mary McNeil had an important choice to make. She was preparing for her freshman year at Canton High and thinking about what fall sport she would choose to play. McNeil was a soccer player and had been throughout her youth, but that was the same season as field hockey.

McNeil had not played field hockey growing up, in fact she did not start the sport competitively until she got into high school, but after watching four sisters go through the Canton field hockey program, including her sister Michelle who was going to be a senior that fall, could she really end the family’s legacy in the sport?

As it turns out, no she could not. And she has no regrets for that decision to hang up the soccer cleats and pick up a field hockey stick.

“I kind of decided last minute [to switch] because my sisters were like, ‘You’re really going to decide to play soccer?’ But I love it and it was the best decision,” McNeil said in a phone conversation this week.

Eight years after making the decision to join the family tradition, which started with her mother Kathleen, who played field hockey at UMass Dartmouth, McNeil is now a standout at Merrimack College. The senior midfielder is a three-time all-conference selection, an All-American, and one of the top 10 scorers in Merrimack history. She also has the Warriors ranked No. 6 in the nation, according to the latest National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) Div. II poll.

“I just kind of picked it up,” McNeil said about her transition from soccer to field hockey. “My sister was a senior my freshman year of high school, so that summer I just kind of played knowing that I was going to start off preseason and I chose field hockey, we worked all summer together to get ready to go.”

Michelle went on to play Div. I field hockey at Holy Cross. Their older sisters Lisa and Patty both played in the Northeast-10 at Stonehill College, while Lauren also played at Merrimack. A sixth sister, Andrea, is now a freshman on the St. Anselm team.

“There was a lot of support,” McNeil replied when asked how it was having so many field hockey players in one family. “They all came to my games. It was pretty great.”

There was plenty of advice to go around, but McNeil said that it has helped her grow into the player that she has become and added that it was always positive criticism, especially from Michelle, who was closest to her age. “Field hockey has changed a lot,” McNeil said. “When my sisters played in college it was on grass, so it’s a way faster game now, but it all goes back to that.”

After three all-star seasons at Canton, which included a league title and a Div. 1 South title as a freshman, McNeil joined the Merrimack program, continuing another family legacy. She credited the time she spent watching her sister Lauren play (and attending Lauren’s husband’s football games) at Merrimack for helping make the decision to go to the North Andover campus easier.

McNeil made an instant impact for the Warriors, starting 21-of-22 games and leading the team in goals (14), assists (11), and points (38). She was second in the NE-10 in goals and was named to first team all-conference and an NFHCA Second Team All-American. With McNeil leading the way as just a freshman, Merrimack went 16-6 and reached the national championship game where they lost by a goal to East Stroudsburg (Pa.).

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” McNeil said of her freshman season. “I came in just being motivated to help the team and my individual goals were just to get better every day and help the team win. It was awesome but losing in that national championship has just made me want to get back there more.”

Over the last two seasons, the Warriors have failed to hit the same heights. The Warriors went 9-8 in 2016, despite McNeil again being named first team All-NE-10 for scoring seven goals and recording a team-high seven assists. Last fall, Merrimack went 11-7, but McNeil’s numbers dropped to just three goals and a team high-10 assists. She was named second team all-conference.

The Warriors are 3-1 to start the new season with the only loss coming to East Stroudsburg by a goal. McNeil is firing in the goals again with five on the season to go along with four assists. She credits a renewed team chemistry, and a large recruiting class, for helping get Merrimack on track in the early going.

“We had 10 freshmen come in and we had a transfer too,” she said. “So, we’ve had a lot more girls this year, which has been awesome. Everyone’s excited, everyone loves practice and the energy is there every day.”

In addition to the family legacy at Merrimack, there is starting to be a Canton legacy as well. Junior forward Lindsey Nolte, who also played ice hockey and lacrosse with McNeil in high school, and freshman goalie Riley Brown are on the roster. Former Milford standout Jessica Palmer is also part of Merrimack’s Hock contingent.

McNeil said that the familiarity helps get prepared for the season. She said, “Especially in the summer, training, being in the same town, just knowing what’s expected from our coach and working together.”

As the season progresses, McNeil continues to move up the program’s all-time rankings. She is currently eighth all-time in points and second all-time in assists. She shrugged off talk about what it would mean to set a new record, instead focusing on her desire to win titles this season.

“It’s awesome,” she said, “but at the same time I want to win. So, just doing anything I can to end our season getting to the goals we want to accomplish.

“Stepping on the field with energy, focusing at practice on getting better every single day, building off each game, working on what we have to, our ultimate goal is a national championship but we’d love to win an NE-10 championship as well.”

On Nov. 6, in the penultimate game of the regular season, the Warriors will host St. Anselm. It will be the final home game for McNeil, her senior night, and it will also be a family reunion, as it will be the opportunity to face her younger sister Andrea for the first time.

“I think it will be fun,” McNeil reflected. “Obviously, I want to win, but it will be fun to play against her too.”

Merrimack will get back on the field against Franklin Pierce on Tuesday and the quest for a conference title will begin with NE-10 play next weekend.

McNeil said, “We are where we want to be but at the same time there’s so much that we want to work on. We hope to peak at the right time.”