North’s Sinacola Dominating on the Mound for Maine

Nick Sinacola
Former North Attleboro star Nick Sinacola has struck out 10 or more batters in all five of his starts for the University of Maine this spring, picking up the win in all five games. (University of Maine)

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After having the 2020 college baseball season wiped out by the Covid-19 pandemic, players could be forgiven for taking a few games to get into their strides this spring. That hasn’t been a problem for former North Attleboro star Nick Sinacola, who has been dominant on the hill for the University of Maine.

Sinacola, who helped the Rocketeers win their first state championship as a senior in high school, has won each of his first five starts (including Friday night’s win at NJIT) and has recorded double digit strikeouts in all five games. He has already been named the America East Conference Pitcher of the Week twice and earned national press when College Baseball News added him to their Players of the Week as well.

Before this weekend’s trip to New Jersey, Sinacola spoke about what it means not only to to be off to a strong start but to be able to get on the field at all.

“I think we’re all grateful,” he explained. “We’re just making the most of it, have a good year, and have some fun while we’re out there. That’s the number one thing is just having some fun, trying to win some games.”

Sinacola added, “It was a sense of normalcy that I think everyone is kind of looking for, so whether you’re playing or not playing, even just seeing it on TV or seeing videos of it gives people that sense of normalcy.”

The Black Bears were confident in the fall that the spring season would happen, although the team decided over the winter to pass up its usual season-opening trip to Florida because of the logistical issues that come with traveling during the ongoing pandemic. Maine’s season began on March 6 against Merrimack College with Sinacola getting the call to start.

“It was something special,” he said. “That first pitch, it felt really good to be back in that Maine uniform.” Sinacola struck out 11 in 5-2/3 innings, allowing only three hits and one run to open the year with his first collegiate victory.

As a freshman, two years ago, he made 19 appearances, including three starts. He struck out 35 batters in 35-2/3 innings and tossed five innings of no-hit relief against national power Florida State. He made four starts in the abbreviated 2020 season, losing all four despite striking out 23 batters in 21 innings.

This year, Sinacola has been on a different level. Over his first four starts, Sinacola struck out 11, 16, 15, and 12 batters (his total of 54 was tops in the America East) and had an ERA of just 1.01 (which was 13th in the country and would be the lowest in program history). He led the nation with a strikeout rate of 18.23 per nine innings, his 4.05 hits allowed per nine innings was 11th best in the nation, and he was 20th in WHIP (0.79). He was also halfway to the program’s single-season record for strikeouts (108).

“You spend really a whole year working on everything you can to be ready for when the season comes around,” Sinacola said about his great start, “and I felt like I was in a good spot at the beginning of the year. Having the confidence in myself to make a really good pitch, every single pitch, and confidence in my catcher Ryan Turenne, and trusting everyone behind me, really makes a big difference.”

Does he notice how many strikeouts he is racking up during a game? Can he tell that he is nearing double digits again?

“No, I can’t do that,” Sinacola laughed. “It’s so in the moment, you’re so focused on what you’re doing with this hitter in that specific situation. At the end of the day we’re just trying to get outs, regardless of how we do it.”

Part of Sinacola’s development was the two summers he has pitched with the Brockton Rox, where he had the chance to put into practice the instructions from his Maine coaches, while also being able to try different things to see what fit best.

“You’re off the leash with what you’re doing with the coaches here, so you get the chance to improve yourself and really learn through yourself,” he said. “You get the opportunity to grow on your own.”

Like most pitchers making the jump from a dominant high school career, Sinacola noted that his biggest development came from “learning to pitch, not just throw.” He talked about pitch sequences and planning how to approach to every hitter that he faces depending on circumstances of the game.

His approach at North worked pretty well too. During his senior season, Sinacola won all 10 of his starts, including three in the postseason, posted an ERA of 1.23 and struck out a league-high 71 batters. In the state title game, Beverly struck for three runs in the fifth, but Sinacola settled down to help Big Red lift the state championship trophy.

“Winning is so fun and that winning atmosphere is definitely something you want to be around,” Sinacola said. “It also pushed me to be better because winning the whole thing is something that we’re always chasing. We’re all just trying to win.”

He added, “More than anything, it was a humbling experience because going from being able to win as many games we did that year (18-2 overall) and then going immediately into fall ball here with crazy hitters and other great pitchers it was humbling to see that okay this is a whole other level. You have to adapt and grow your game.”

Sinacola is one of many former Hock baseball players from that season who are making their mark at the collegiate level and he noted that the strength of the league (the Hock sent two teams to the Super 8, had two D2 South finalists, and two state champions) forced him to improve his game.

“The Hock my senior year was one of the best leagues in the state that year,” he recalled. “Playing against good teams, definitely fuels the fire because every night you have to play well to get the win.”

With the America East changing its playoff structure, splitting into two divisions and with only the top two in each division reaching the conference tournament, Sinacola admits it will be a tough test for Maine but that the Black Bears have the talent to be in the mix. Currently, Maine (11-8, 6-5) leads its division by percentage points (UMass Lowell is second at 7-6 in the league) and has a weekend series with the University of Hartford coming up next.

Missing an entire season due to the pandemic adds unique perspective to the challenges and the opportunities the team faces this spring.

“The bus rides don’t get easier up here for us,” he joked, “but it definitely makes you more grateful for the game. The fact that there are other teams and other schools who aren’t able to have the opportunities we have to go out and play definitely adds a different level.

“We think we have the team to make the tournament and that’s the goal. I think it definitely pushes us to be better and we’re excited to play for that this year.”

Tellier’s Pro Dream Comes True, Signs with Red Sox

Nate Tellier
Former Attleboro standout Nate Tellier, shown here pitching for UMass Dartmouth, signed a free agent contract this week with the Boston Red Sox. (UMass Dartmouth Athletic Communications)

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Nate Tellier is living the dream of kids and baseball fans (of all ages) throughout New England. The former Attleboro High standout and All-Little East Conference pitcher and outfielder at UMass Dartmouth put pen to paper Tuesday on a three-year free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox. He has been invited to join his hometown team at spring training in March.

“There is no better feeling,” Tellier explained, still obviously coming to grips with a wild week that saw him invited to the Kelly Rodman Memorial Summer Rivalry Classic in Hartford on Friday, where he struck out the three batters he faced, to being offered a contract four days later by Red Sox scout Ray Fagnant.

“[Ray] texted me Monday at 11:30 at night and was like, want to meet tomorrow?” Tellier said. “I just thought we were going to talk…then he asked, ‘Do you want to be a Boston Red Sox? We’ve got a contract with your name on it right here.’ It was unbelievable.”

Telier continued, “It’s always been my dream to play for the Red Sox. It’s a dream come true. I’m just blessed because not many people get to live out their dream like I am right now.”

It has been a roller coaster year for the fireballer. At the beginning of his senior season in February, Tellier was recognized by Perfectgame.org as the No. 4 prospect nationally in Div. III. As a center fielder and closer for the Hawks, he was named Little East Player of the Week after the first three games and was batting .436 as UMass Dartmouth jumped out to a 9-1 record.

Then the world changed. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the spring season and Major League Baseball announced that it was shortening its amateur draft to just five rounds. “I was pretty disappointed because being a DIII player I’m not going to get drafted in the top five rounds,” Tellier admitted.

With a potential pro career seemingly stalled, Tellier, who graduated this spring with a degree in biology, joined the Brockton Rox of the Futures League for summer baseball and started considering his options for one more college season. Three saves and 19 strikeouts in 11-1/3 innings with the Rox, while regularly hitting 94-95 mph on the gun, caught the eye of scouts again and earned Tellier his chance to impress in Hartford.

“It’s been a roller coaster of a year, but it all worked out in the end,” he said. “Hopefully it’s the beginning of a long career.”

Tellier had an impressive career at Attleboro. His senior season, he went 3-0 in the regular season and led the Hockomock League in strikeouts (65) and ERA (0.60). He struck out 16 in an eight-inning no-hitter against North Attleboro, outdueled Norwood’s Sean Mellen (Northeastern University) in the first round of the playoffs, shutting out the Mustangs over nine innings and having both of Attleboro’s hits in a 1-0 win, and battled a sore shoulder in a close South semifinal loss at Silver Lake against Gatorade Player of the Year Anthony Videtto (UMass).

The talent was evident, but, according to former Attleboro coach Matt Bosh, it was the work ethic that turned Tellier from a 4-foot-11 freshman into a pitcher capable of signing with a big league club.

“His commitment is off the charts,” said Bosh. “He’s going to outwork everybody at any level he competes at and that’s how he’s always been. He would make other players around him better because they would see the best player on the team working the hardest. That’s a luxury for any coach.

“He’s made himself into a professional athlete. All that hard work paid off for him and it’s what he deserves.”

Tellier added, “Ever since I was seven it’s just been baseball, baseball, baseball, just full throttle. I don’t think I’ve gone a day without baseball since I was seven and just all the hard work that I put in, all my friends who’ve been pushing me, and it’s paid off.”

In a Boston Globe article by Alex Speier on Wednesday, Fagnant said, “Good story, but most importantly, at the end of the day, you’ve got big league tools. That’s the most important part. It’s a big arm, he’s a strong kid, and he’s athletic. It will be fun to watch his progress.”

Minor league baseball has been closed down for the summer, due to the pandemic, so Tellier will have to wait until March 3 before he reports to Red Sox camp. In the meantime, he will continue to go through his throwing program and work out and try to get used to the fact that his dream of being able to say, “I have to report to spring training with the Red Sox,” has come true.

“It hasn’t sunk in,” Tellier said with a chuckle, as he tried to describe his feelings. “I still can’t believe that I’m with the Boston Red Sox.”

Tellier is one of two members of the Attleboro High class of 2016 to sign professional contracts this year. He joins classmate Kyle Murphy, who signed with the NFL’s New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in April and is taking part in the team’s training camp.

Sharon’s Cosgrove Named Coach of the Year at RIC

Jenna Cosgrove
Sharon alum Jenna Cosgrove instructs her Rhode Island College team in a game earlier this season against Roger Williams. (Courtesy Photo)

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When Jenna Cosgrove took over the Rhode Island College program, the Anchorwomen had won only 19 games in the three previous seasons combined and had finished bottom of the Little East Conference with five wins in 2016-17. Three years later, RIC won 22 games (second-most in program history) and reached the conference championship game.

Cosgrove, who played basketball for four years at Sharon and then at Endicott College, was named the Little East Coach of the Year for bringing the RIC program back to the top of the league standings.

“It’s bittersweet right now because we just lost in the championship,” Cosgrove said in a phone conversation a few days after RIC’s 49-44 loss to Eastern Connecticut State in the conference title game. “In year three to take the team to the championship and receive an honor like this speaks volumes of the growing respect for the program.”

Despite 22 wins this winter, RIC just missed out on an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. Cosgrove still saw a lot of growth for the program this season. She said, “I tell the kids we now should be a top 25 team. It raises the standards really high and it’s exciting for the program. I think our girls will be fired up next year to try and come back and win a championship.”

Coaching is a family trait. Cosgrove’s grandfather Jack helped found the Pop Warner football program in Sharon, coached several sports, and the middle school field was recently named in his honor. Her uncle Jack is the winningest football coach in University of Maine history and is still active as the head coach at Colby College.

Her interest in the profession led to a sports management degree at Endicott and shortly after graduating from college led to her taking jobs coaching AAU basketball at Mass Premier and as an assistant for Sharon coach Kate Horsmann.

At the age of just 23, Cosgrove got the opportunity to be an administrative assistant and support staff for the women’s basketball program at Fordham. “I jumped at it,” she explained. “It was a big leap of faith for me because obviously I was transitioning from Sharon to the Bronx at 23 and I didn’t know anybody.”

She traveled with the team, helped out at games and at practices, and, after the head coach left at the end of the season, was part of the interview process for new coach Stephanie Gaitley. The Rams had gone nearly two decades without a winning record but Gaitley turned the Rams into perennial league title contenders and had 20-plus wins in six of her first eight seasons in charge.

Cosgrove became an assistant coach after three years and eventually was named recruiting coordinator. After seven years in the Bronx, she took another leap and became the head coach at RIC. She took her experience and a lot of what she learned from Gaitley to help turn things around for the Anchorwomen.

“That journey being in New York, that really defined me as a coach and I learned from one of the best in the business at that level, but I spent a lot of time there and it got me to this job because I wanted to be back home, I wanted to be closer to family,” said Cosgrove. “It got me back to my roots and to be a head coach.”

She added, “I learned how to change culture from [Stephanie]. When she took over that program, we were at the bottom of the Atlantic 10 and within three years we won an A-10 championship. When I got here, we were at the bottom and I knew we would need to bring in good players, which we’ve done, but a big part of it is building culture and building confidence.”

The first season in charge was tough, but RIC doubled its win total in year two, finishing 18-9 and making it to the LEC semifinal. This year was even better, RIC finished at 22-5. Cosgrove admitted that there was a lot to learn in her first head coaching position.

“Jumping from being an assistant to head coach taught me more in that first year about myself, but it’s the most rewarding experience and I love being a head coach and I wouldn’t change anything,” she said.

Her time as a member of the support staff at Fordham and especially her time in recruiting prepared her for the challenges that coaches at the DIII level face. With much smaller staffs, DIII coaches have their hands in have aspect of the program and Cosgrove said it was a “competitive edge,” although in the end coaching is still about being able to work with and get the most out of a group of student-athletes.

“It’s about being able to really relate to the kids and to motivate the kids and really have that close relationship off the court,” Cosgrove said. “I was a good athlete but I don’t know if I ever really reached my potential. Part of my desire to coach is to instill that in other kids and get them to reach their potential and maximize their opportunity.”

“t’s the player connection. It’s being able to impact a player’s life. I look at my season ending and my two seniors and those kids are going to be in my life forever, in terms of being able to help impact and change their life.”

Being in charge of a DI program is a typical ambition for anyone in the coaching profession, but Cosgrove isn’t looking ahead.

“Right now, I just live in the moment,” she said. “I’m not done here. I want to win a championship. I think going from DI to DIII gives a lot of perspective, you hit a stage where you do really value balance and I think I’m in a really good spot right now.”

RIC will be happy to have her coming back, hungrier than ever after getting to the program’s first LEC final since 2014.

Attleboro’s Tellier Making His Pitch as National Prospect

Nate Tellier
Former Attleboro standout Nate Tellier heads into his senior season at UMass Dartmouth as one of the top DIII baseball prospects in the country. (UMass Dartmouth Athletic Communications)

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It is only three games into the new baseball season and already former Attleboro High standout Nate Tellier is racking up the recognition at UMass Dartmouth. Prior to the start of the season, the senior center fielder and relief pitcher was named one of the top Div. III recruits in the country and this week was named the Little East Conference Player of the Week after sweeping a weekend doubleheader against Becker College.

Tellier has started on fire at the plate, going 6-for-10 with three doubles, a home run, a team-high seven RBI, a stolen base, and five runs scored. He went 4-for-6 with a three-run homer and drove in five RBI in an 11-1 win against Becker that opened the weekend series.

He has only made one appearance on the mound for the 3-0 Hawks, working around a pair of walks to throw a scoreless inning.

On the mound is where the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Tellier is making his biggest impression on scouts. Perfectgame.org named him the No. 4 prospect nationally in Div. III. He was the top-ranked prospect in New England and just one of two from the region to be named.

“It means the world to me that my hard is being recognized but it doesn’t mean that’s all there is,” said Tellier a couple days after the season-opening win against Emerson College. “It’s cool to be recognized but it doesn’t mean anything for the future or that I can stop working.

“It kind of just drives me a little bit more because it means that I’m that little bit closer. It gives me more reason to work towards that goal at the end of being drafted.”

A two-time all-conference selection, Tellier has impressed in his three seasons in Dartmouth. He is a career .338 hitter with nine career homers and 84 career RBI, with at least 50 hits in all three seasons. He moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation his sophomore season, but moved back last spring. He has a career record of 3-4 with 10 saves, an ERA of 2.72, and 63 strikeouts in 53 innings pitched (which works out to 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings).

When asked what he likes best about being the closer, Tellier said, “Just the compete level coming into a game either tied or up or down by one or two and knowing you have to compete at your best to be able to come out on top.”

He added, “You’re not throwing that long so you go out there and you don’t have to pace yourself, you just throw as hard as you can for about 15 pitches and you’re good.”

Tellier, who has also played the past three years with the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks in the NECBL, continues to improve each year. He allowed just 14 hits in 29 innings last season and struck out 41, an average of 12.72 per nine innings. He admits that he had a lot to learn about pitching when he got to college, despite a dominant senior season at Attleboro, and that he is much more comfortable on the mound than earlier in his career.

“In high school, I could just throw hard and that would work,” he explained. “I could get by with that only. I had to develop a couple of pitches because in college you’re not going to get by for long just throwing hard without location or off-speed stuff.”

He is working on his breaking ball, a change-up, and a two-seamer, developing a repertoire of pitches to fool college hitters. It has been a process, but Tellier feels like he has found a groove on the mound.

“When I got to college I had no idea what I was doing out there,” he said. “I just hoped the ball was going where I wanted it to, now I know the ball is going where I want. I’m a lot more comfortable.”

It was also a process in the field, as he moved from shortstop to the outfield and Tellier sees improvement in how he tracks balls off the bat and the angles that he takes to get to balls in center. His growth at the plate has been obvious and also been a benefit to his pitching.

“You get to see the ball from both sides and sometimes on the mound you think, if I was a hitter what would I be thinking in this situation?” Tellier remarked.

At Attleboro, Tellier was 3-0 his senior season, blowing teams away with his fastball. He struck out a league-high 65 batters that season, including 16 over eight innings in a no-hitter against North Attleboro, and had a league-low ERA of 0.60. He only allowed three earned runs all season and pushed the Bombardiers to the Div. 1 South semifinal.

Still, there is so much that Tellier wishes he had known about pitching then. He said, “I just wish I had been a better locator. I wish I knew how to take care of my arm. In high school I didn’t do any bands, I barely used any ice, I just went out and threw and that was it.”

After helping UMass Dartmouth reach the Little East title game last spring, Tellier is looking to bring home a title this season and believes that this is a team filled with the talent to accomplish that goal. In the process, he will also be working towards the dream of being selected in the MLB draft or possibly find a spot with an independent league team.

“Most of college, I’ve been working hard but haven’t been noticed,” he said. “Sometimes you think that it’s not going towards anything or not really paying off that well and so it weighs on you sometimes, but knowing that it’s paying off and that people are noticing keeps me driving.”

With one last collegiate season ahead, Tellier knows to not take anything for granted.

“I’m excited. I’m just taking all the experience that I’ve had the past three years and putting it all into this one season and leaving it all on the field. Hopefully, afterwards I’ll move on to bigger and better things.”

KP’s Allan Breaking Records for Brandeis Track

Jack Allan
KP grad Jack Allan broke another Brandeis track record last week, setting a new mark in the 60-meter hurdles. He is hoping to reach nationals in the heptathlon. (Sportspix.com/Brandeis Athletics)

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When he initially signed up for track in the spring of his freshman year at King Philip, Jack Allan was looking for something to fill time and to keep him in shape for the fall soccer season and swim in the winter. By his own admission, he wasn’t particularly great that first season on the track.

Eight years later and Allan is now a standout for Brandeis University, captain of the track team, and setting new program records in the heptathlon, decathlon, and most recently in the 60-meter hurdles. His heptathlon score is currently 10th best in the nation in Div. III and he is on pace to qualify for nationals.

“I was really bad at baseball so I naturally started doing track to keep me busy,” he joked. “My freshman year I was no good, but my sophomore year I started to find some success. I grew into my body and I really started to love it and the personal achievement you can find.

“There is a competitive aspect to it but when you can really work hard at something and compete against yourself and get that personal achievement it really drove me.”

His senior year at KP, Allan took third in both the 110-meter hurdles and the triple jump and fifth in the long jump at the Hockomock Outdoor Track Championships. He was drawn to those events because, as he put it, “running is pretty boring on a base level.” He added, “Throw some hurdles on a track and run over those is a lot more exciting than just running in circles for however long you do it.”

When he got to Brandeis, he expected those would be the events that he would be competing in. As it turned out, new assistant coach Jason Sliwoski saw the potential for more. He noticed Allan’s height and his athleticism and had Allan start training for the heptathlon and the decathlon. It turned out to be a record-breaking fit.

“I didn’t know it at the moment but he was so right,” Allan explained, “and I’m so glad that he knew right away that this was something that would work out for me and something that I’d find success in.”

Success in those events was nearly taken away from Allan during the indoor track season as a sophomore. He suffered a significant injury to his labrum while pole vaulting at the New England meet. While he finished that heptathlon in a top five place, he was limited to hurdles and jumps during the outdoor season.

He had surgery to fix his shoulder over that summer, but there was concern that he wouldn’t be able to take part in those events any more because of the strain that something like pole vaulting would cause. Allan took advantage of his recuperation period to study abroad in Amsterdam, clear his head, and regain his focus to come back even stronger for his junior season.

“It kind of allowed me to get away from track because it’s so much in college. It’s practice everyday, multiple hours, and lifts in the morning,” he said. “It made me really want to compete, to really get back into it, I hated being away from it, I hated being injured, and it drove me so much to get back at it.”

When asked about the new perspective that he gained while out injured and how that has impacted his performance, Allan replied, “It kind of felt like it could be taken away from so easily. This will be the end of my track career after college, so it made me focus everything I have on it and give everything I got.”

That attitude has certainly paid dividends for the Judges on the track.

Last spring, Allan set a new Brandeis mark with a 5,998 in the decathlon at the DIII New England Championship meet, eclipsing a record that had stood since 1980. A week later, he became the first athlete in program history to eclipse the 6,000-point mark, finishing with a 6,121 at the All-New England Championships. He set new PRs in the 1,500-meter run (the event that pushed him past 6,000), the javelin, and the pole vault.

“It was like a weight lifted off my shoulder that I finally got over 6,000 points and I felt like I could look beyond it now and set my goals higher,” he said.

At the Branwen Smith-King Invitational at Tufts University in early February, Allan broke his own school record in the heptathlon (for the second time this season). He finished with 4,782 points and demonstrated his range of talents by finishing first or second in five of the seven events, including PRs in long jump and hurdles.

With a few meets remaining, including the conference meet in New York City at the end of the month, Allan is in position to fulfill his goal of reaching nationals for the first time in his career. He was only 300 points shy of qualifying in the decathlon last spring.

“That’s the biggest goal that I’ve been thinking about for the past three years at Brandeis,” he said. “Seeing my older teammates go, it’s always been a goal of mine and I really hope that the score I have would make it.” He noted that for the past five seasons, his current score would have been good enough to make the trip.

Just last week, Allan added to his impressive resume by finishing the 60-meter hurdles in a time of 8.46 seconds, breaking a decade-old record by a tenth of a second.

“I think it really validates that what I’ve been working on and putting in these hours with my coach down on the track that it’s all paying off,” he said. “Once you break something, you get that confidence that things are possible and it’s not just an unachievable number in a record book somewhere, but something I can break and something I think I can keep getting better at.

“It’s really crazy. I didn’t expect to be in this position. It really just puts into perspective that I’m doing something Brandeis hasn’t seen before.”

Allan still has unfinished business with goals like reaching nationals and then finishing in the top eight to achieve All-American status, but he also recognizes that his track career is rapidly coming to a close and he is trying to enjoy the time that he gets to spend competing with his teammates.

“Just competing and practicing with my team everyday makes me so happy,” Allan reflected, “and I’m just living in the moment and appreciating it all before it comes to an end. I know it’s going to fly by so I’m just appreciating the little moments with my team.”

The UAA Championships will start on February 29 at NYU and the NCAA Championships start on March 13 at JDL Fast Track in North Carolina.

Sharon’s Roelke Walks On to Play DI Hoops at Lehigh

David Roelke
Sharon grad David Roelke walked on at Lehigh University and is looking forward to a strong finish to his senior season. (Hannahally Photography/Lehigh Athletics)

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There is a scene in the movie Rudy where Sean Astin’s title character is trying out for a walk-on spot on the Notre Dame football team. There are maybe two dozen players trying to fill just a couple of spots and they are being bruised, battered, and bloodied to get a chance to be on the practice squad. Luckily for Sharon grad David Roelke, it wasn’t quite the same experience for him to join the Lehigh University team and play Div. I college basketball.

“It wasn’t anything too crazy,” he explained, laughing when the scene from Rudy is referenced. “We just kind of had a little workout together and then I kind of got thrown right into the team to be honest. It wasn’t too bad.”

Roelke had continued to play basketball and work out when he got to Lehigh, playing in rec leagues and getting to know some of the players from his time in the gym. During one of his workouts at the end of his freshman year, one of the coaches from the women’s basketball team asked him to help out with their practice team.

“Once that hit it off, I kind of realized I still wanted to be involved in basketball and I was confident enough that I knew I was good enough to do it,” Roelke said. “I got great feedback from the program and the guys on the team would always invite me to their pickup and just got it rolling.”

Lehigh was admittedly not Roelke’s first choice coming out of Sharon. He had some opportunities to play basketball with local Div. II and Div. III programs, but he wasn’t sure if the schools were the right fit. He was accepted to Lehigh off the waitlist around the time of graduation. He had been planning on attending Fordham but took a visit to the Bethlehem, Pa. campus and decided to go to Lehigh a semester into his freshman year.

It didn’t take long for Roelke to realize that, as much as he like the school and college life, something was missing.

“I just missed basketball,” he said. “It’s like having a family and I missed that a lot over the first three semesters of college that I wasn’t playing.”

Roelke added, “I’ve always been part of a team, whether it’s AAU or Sharon or whatever, so it was kind of jarring to go to college and not have that in any capacity. Freshman year I’d go to a game and think, wow this is my school’s team and I’m not on it, which was really weird for me because I’ve done it my whole life.”

He said that he was instantly embraced as a member of the team, scholarship or no, and he has embraced living the DI athlete lifestyle, especially the structure that it gives to his day. As an example, Roelke recited his schedule for the following day, which included class, then treatment from the training staff, then a few hours of practice, then an hour of lifting, then 30 minutes of film.
“I think one of the big adjustments for kids when they get to college is the amount of free time that you have and that’s just gone,” he explained. “Learning to manage that has taught me a lot about commitment, priorities, and what I need to get done when.”

Obviously it is easier to commit to the level of work, time, travel, and structure of being an athlete when you are also getting frequent playing time. It is a different experience as a walk-on who only gets on the court every once in a while.

“I’m getting full reps in practice and everything, and I’ll have a week in practice where I feel like I’m one of the best players on the court, I’m killing it, and that doesn’t translate to playing time, which can be frustrating,” Roelke admitted.

He continued, “As long as I’m doing my job then it’s going to translate into the team doing better and, at the end of the day, I want a ring and I want to go to the NCAA Tournament. Whether that means playing in a game or not playing, at the end of the day I want a ring so whatever works for that.”

It didn’t take Roelke long to get his chance to experience DI basketball, as he played in the season opener against Monmouth and scored in his first appearance, prompting a flood of text messages from friends and family marveling at how he was playing at the top level. This season, the Mountain Hawks have made trips to the likes of nationally-ranked Auburn and to St. Mary’s. In the end, Roelke said, “It’s nothing too crazy, it’s just basketball.”

He added, “I came back to all these texts from people, ‘Hey, you scored in a DI basketball game, that’s crazy,’ and on the bus I was like, I guess. I was on the bus and just thinking, I’ve got practice in the morning…It was just basketball. Once you get on the court, it’s not all that different from a Sharon/Foxboro game.”

Over the summer, Roelke started working for a sports recruiting service and he has shared his unique perspective with families looking to find the right fit for their student-athletes. He knows that walking on isn’t always the right fit, as it has been for him at Lehigh, but he emphasizes that the right college experience, whether it is at the DI, DII, or DIII level, is different for everyone.

“I think that there’s kids out there who are thinking, okay I don’t have a scholarship opportunity right now and are thinking about what kind of college experience they want,” he said. “If you don’t want to spend that much time doing it and it’s not something that you love, then go do something else, but if it’s something that you’re going to think I wish I was playing basketball five hours a day then go do it. It’s definitely worth it.”

Lehigh is currently 6-18 on the season, following a win over Lafayette on Saturday, and 3-9 in the conference. While it hasn’t been the best of winters to this point, the Mountain Hawks still have the chance of making a Cinderella run to the tournament and Roelke is hoping to cap his senior season with a chance to play on the biggest stage.

“That’s the best thing about college basketball,” he said. “We have the talent to do it. It’s just a matter of getting hot at the right time. If anyone’s going to make a run, it’s going to be us. We’ve got the pieces to do it, it’s just a matter of putting it together at the right time.”

Franklin’s DiGiacomo Reps JWU at NCAA Convention

Olivia DiGiacomo
Franklin alum Olivia DiGiacomo represented Johnson & Wales University at the NCAA Convention as one of 40 student-athletes selected from a national pool to take part in the DIII Immersion Program. (JWU Athletics)

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Competing in collegiate athletics opens a number of unique opportunities, not all of them on the field. Franklin grad Olivia DiGiacomo got to experience one of those opportunities last week, when she attended the annual NCAA convention in Anaheim, Calif. as part of the Div. III Immersion Program.

DiGiacomo, a junior outfielder on the Johnson & Wales University softball team, was nominated for the program by her softball coach Kim Camara-Harvey and director of athletics Dana Garfield. She was one of 40 Div. III student-athletes selected from thousands of nominees nationwide to join the program and attend the convention.

“My coach and my athletic director looked at me as a leader and someone who can bring back a lot of information and knowledge back to campus,” said DiGiacomo after she got back from the convention. “It was absolutely a gratifying experience to be recognized.”

The DIII Immersion Program was created in 2015 to give ethnic minority student-athletes who have an interest in coaching or administration an inside look into how the convention works and to build their personal networks. Each year, 40 student-athletes are given a fully-paid trip to the convention, attend workshops, and interact with professionals in the field.

DiGiacomo, who is Hispanic/Latino, and the other student-athletes spent a week in meetings, networking sessions, and listening to influential speakers from around the world of college athletics, including the likes of ESPN college basketball commentator Dick Vitale.

It was also a chance to meet with other athletes from around the country who have similar interests. In addition to this year’s crop of attendees, DiGiacomo said that they were also introduced to the student-athletes from the last several years, giving them access to nearly 200 connections.

“It was really cool,” she explained. “All of us came from very different backgrounds and from all around the country. It was really cool to interact with all those different people and those are definitely long friends and connections that I will have the rest of my life.”

As one of the leaders of the JWU softball team, and someone who is already showing an interest in coaching, DiGiacomo was an obvious choice for Camara-Harvey.

“I knew this experience would give her the opportunity to learn more about what it takes to be successful,” she said. “I also knew that she would represent our University and softball program at an elite level in all of her interactions with other professionals and students at the conference.”

Camara-Harvey added, “I hope she takes away a passion for athletics and understands what an impact it can have on students, coaches and administrators.”

DiGiacomo coaches softball during the summer, working with youth players who are looking to get recruited by college programs. At the convention, she learned ways to turn that experience into a career. She said, “Definitely being confident in what you believe and having your own core values – being kind, don’t judge, and then be loyal to everyone.”

One of the core values that DiGiacomo and the program share is promoting diversity and inclusion in DIII athletics.

“At the Div. III level there are so many walks of life and different people that you run into and can encounter in your life,” she said. “We need to be able to accommodate that and be empathetic to that and understand people in their many walks of life and be considerate of that.

“Coming to Johnson & Wales, in a city that’s very diverse, freshman year was like, ‘Woah look at all these different people coming from all these different walks of life.’ My parents raised me to be kind and not judge and to value every person for who they are and coming here I was able to make friends with all kinds of different people.”

The program promotes leaders off the field, but DiGiacomo has also demonstrated leadership on the diamond as well. A second-team all-conference selection last spring, she is one of only a few upperclassmen for JWU this season and, once she returns from injury, is hoping to guide a young team back to the top of the conference standings.

“Definitely at Franklin I tried to be that leader that people could go to and talk to and be open with everybody,” DiGiacomo said. “In college, I was definitely recognized as a leader and chosen obviously to come to this convention but also to step up on and off the field and help underclassmen. Coach has definitely seen me as a leader and it’s something that I fully embraced and accepted.”

Not only has leadership been part of her playing career, but DiGiacomo and the other student-athletes that attended the NCAA convention in the DIII Immersion Program will hope that leadership also becomes a part of their professional careers as well.

Foxboro’s Harrison Shooting Her Way to Becker Record

Cassidy Harrison
Foxboro alum Cassidy Harrison has shot her way up the Becker College all-time scoring charts and recently became the second player in program history to reach 1,500 career points. (Brian Foley/Becker Athletics)

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On Thursday night against New England College, in a rematch of last year’s NECC Tournament final, Cassidy Harrison matched her career-high with 32 points. She knocked 10-of-17 shots from the field and with a second quarter jumper she became only the second player in the history of the Becker College program to reach 1,500 career points.

Harrison is already the program’s all-time leader in career three-pointers (194) and steals (271) and, if she continues at her current scoring pace of 16.5 points per game, could pass 2009 grad Beth Pion to become the top scorer to ever play for the Hawks.

“It’s really special to me,” Harrison said about being among the program’s top scorers. “All of these players were really amazing in college and I looked up to them and I’ve watched film of them play and it’s humbling to know that I could be up there with them.”

When asked if she thought that this was going to be how her college career would go, Harrison quickly replied, “Oh gosh no. I never expected anything like that. I just kind of came in to play and have fun and I never expected to be where I am now.”

While she was at Foxboro High, Harrison demonstrated the potential to be a consistent three-point threat. She scored nearly 13 points per game as a senior at Foxboro and buried 40 threes while earning HockomockSports.com Second Team honors.

In her final game as a Warrior, she drilled a three in the closing seconds of regulation to force overtime at Falmouth in the Div. 2 South quarterfinal and just missed a last second effort that would have sent Foxboro to a third straight semifinal.

Harrison has more than lived up to the potential that she flashed at Foxboro. She stepped right into the lineup at Becker, averaging more than 14 points per game as a freshman, and was a major contributor in the team’s first NECC title and its NCAA trip in 2017-18. Harrison scored 16.2 points per game that season.

For her career, she is making more than 31 percent of her threes and is making nearly 80 percent of her shots at the line. She is a three-time all-conference selection, was named the conference’s Rookie of the Year in 2016-17, and was the NECC Tournament MVP as a sophomore.

“Definitely at the collegiate level you have the opportunity to improve your game tremendously,” said. “Especially if you have the right coach and the right teammates, all that stuff, then it’s definitely possible to keep improving.”

She credits head coach David Bostick for a lot of the progress she has made as a shooter and in her all-around game. “He worked with me every day on my shot and ball-handling and footwork and quickness,” Harrison said. “I really owe a lot to him. He put the extra time to get me to where I am.”

The Hawks got off to a tough start to the season. After graduating several core players from last year’s squad and adding several new faces, the team needed to build its chemistry on and off the court, but they got off to a decent start to conference play. After losing to defending champ NEC, Becker sits at 4-3 in the league.

“I got off to a little bit of a slow start but playing in conference has helped,” Harrison said. “It’s a different kind of feel. You know who you’re playing against and how other teams play and we know how we can play against some of these teams because we’ve played them before.”

Having experienced a league title and a trip to the NCAA tournament, Harrison knows what it takes to be a success. Now, as a senior captain, she is trying to pass that on to the younger players.

“The upperclassmen really helped me out a lot and now being a senior captain the underclassmen really look to me,” she explained. “I feel like I have to be a role model for them, so that’s helped me improve my game a lot.

“The senior class we have now, we know how hard we have to work in the season to get to where we were and win a conference title. It won’t be easy but I think that our team has the ability.”

Last time the Hawks went to the NCAA Tournament, they ran into Amherst College, which at the time was one of the top-ranked teams in the country. Although Becker didn’t win the game, Harrison remembers the experience fondly and she wants another chance at that before her career comes to a close.

“I would love to keep going, win another championship, and keep going in the NCAAs and maybe try to get one game further than last time,” she said.

Between her nursing classes, practices, and games, there isn’t a lot of free time in the winter, but Harrison is also trying to make time to reflect on how far she has come and to take full advantage of the last few weeks of the season.

“It’s definitely crazy,” she said. “It feels like it went by in the blink of an eye. I only have 10-11 games left in my basketball career, so it’s bittersweet. I feel like I’ve been playing my whole life. I like to reflect and look back and just enjoy every minute that I have left.”

Franklin’s Spillane Skates Into Final Shift at St. A’s

Ryan Spillane
Former Franklin standout Ryan Spillane has battled back from an injury to have a strong senior season at St. Anselm. (St. Anselm Athletics)

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Looking forward to his junior season at St. Anselm, Ryan Spillane was expecting to see a larger role for the Hawks. The former Franklin High standout had played in 23 games as a sophomore, scoring a pair of goals and recording three assists, and he had high hopes of even more ice time and even more production as a junior.

Unfortunately, a hamstring injury in September would cost Spillane the entire year. He has worked hard to not only get back on the ice but to become a regular contributor for a team with its sights set on bringing home the NE-10 title.

“By the beginning of the summer I was ready to get back on the ice and get in shape,” Spillane explained. “By the time the season came, I felt like I was ready to go, back in game shape like I was two years ago. It’s nice to be back on the ice.”

It is always hard for an athlete to sit and watch his team play, but Spillane praised his coaches, teammates, and the training staff at St. Anselm for keeping him involved and for getting him back on the ice for this season.

“It was definitely really frustrating,” he admitted. “At first, I was rehabbing the injury with hopes of coming back and then I saw a couple more doctors and it ended up that I had to have surgery. It’s tough to show up every day and watch knowing that you’re not going to be on the ice at any point in the season.”

The injury has also been a motivating factor for his senior season and a reminder to not take any moment on the ice for granted.

“It kind of was a little bit of a shock,” Spillane said. “It kind of told me that I have to focus in and really give it all I’ve got for this last year because you never know if something could happen. You could go down in any game, so you’ve just to give it everything you’ve got every game.”

Hard work has been a trademark of his game since his time at Franklin when Spillane led the Panthers to their first Super 8 berth, winning Hockomock League MVP and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year honors in the process. He capped that season with one of the top moments in program history, when he scored the game-winning goal against Xaverian in the Super 8 play-in game.

“I’m still best friends with all those kids I played with on that team,” Spillane said. “Obviously we’re older now, but it’s something that’s still reminisced upon on occasion.”

Although playing college hockey was something that he had long considered, Spillane chose to stay at Franklin for the full four years before taking a postgraduate season at Kent Hill School in Maine. He said that staying at Franklin was an easy decision, in no small part because he was able to play for his father Chris.

He said, “There was no chance I was going to leave Franklin. Obviously playing for my father, and playing with all the kids I grew up with, it was too special for me and something I wasn’t willing to give up.”

His season in Maine was critical to his development and, he said, one of the reasons that he was prepared for playing at the collegiate level. While his post-grad experience helped, Spillane said that there was still a lot of growth when he got to the Manchester, N.H. campus, both physically and mentally.

“I came in pretty light and was getting thrown around a little bit, so just getting stronger as a player is really important,” he said. “Coming into senior year, trying to pick up a bigger role, it’s definitely been quite a ride here.”

The comfort level he feels on the ice is obvious, as he has already scored a career-high six goals and tied his career-high with three assists through the first 18 games of the season. That included the eventual game-winning goal in the first period on Friday night against Post. It was the third straight win for the Hawks (10-7-1, 5-2-1), who are in the middle of conference play and currently lead the league by a point over St. Michael’s.

The Spillane family legacy at Franklin is well-documented. Chris Spillane was a star player for the Panthers before becoming the head coach and leading the program for 20 successful season. Ryan and CJ Spillane both played for the Panthers and their sister Kaitlyn was a standout at Franklin before heading to prep school and to an impressive career at St. Anselm.

Kaitlyn’s success at St. Anselm was one of the reasons that Ryan had the school as his top option.

“It’s where I wanted to play hockey, where I wanted to go to school, and I was fortunate enough to make that happen,” he said.




“Playing hockey at the same school as my sister definitely brought us closer together. We could talk hockey, we could talk school, we could talk whatever and it was really special to be able to watch her last couple years playing hockey. She’s a great hockey player, so it was really fun to watch her.”

One of the reasons that Chris Spillane cited for his decision to step down after two decades in charge of the Panthers was the chance to watch Ryan play his senior season. Ryan said he was grateful to look up in the stands and see both his parents there watching, even if the coaching hasn’t really stopped.

“You definitely get the pointers after every game, but it’s great that I’m able to have that relationship with him,” he said. “He’s been coaching [at Franklin] for so long, it’s been such a big part of his life our whole lives but it reaches a point in everything where you’ve got to call it quits and I think he was just at that point where he was ready to hang them up.”

Spillane is closing in on the time when he will have to hang up the skates as well. His senior season is winding down and he is confident that the team can send him out with a NE-10 championship. “I’ve only got about 13 games left in my career,” he said, “and I’d just like to go out on top, end on a high note, and just give it everything I’ve got.”

He took a moment to reflect on what the end of his career will mean, after so many years spent on the ice. “It’s just crazy to think how quick it’s winding down,” he said.

“It feels like just yesterday that I was playing my first college game, even playing high school games. It’s been a long career, hockey’s been my life since I was five years old, and it’s crazy to think it’s coming to an end. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve had a great run.”

Milford’s Soares Spreads Language of Hoops in Haiti

Mike Soares
Former Milford standout Mike Soares (black shirt) joined with former Mansfield star (and former Bridgewater State teammate) Rocky DeAndrade to run basketball and fitness clinics for hundreds of kids in Haiti. (Photos courtesy of Michael Soares)

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Several months ago, Michael Soares was playing basketball with Pierre Valmera and they started discussing fitness training. Soares was a standout at Milford and played college basketball at Bridgewater State University, where he studied kinesiology. After graduating from BSU, he opened an online training company, New Human Project.

Valmera is the president and founder of Power Forward International, a non-profit organization that runs basketball camps in his native Haiti with the goal of creating sport and educational opportunities for Haitian youth.

When Valmera found out that Soares was interested in training and had a background in collegiate basketball, he asked him to join the cause and help out with the next clinic. It didn’t take much convincing to get Soares involved and he then asked his former Bridgewater State teammate (and former Mansfield standout) Rocky DeAndrade to take part as well.

“Right on the spot, I was like, hell yeah, why not?” Soares explained. “I reached out to Rocky because he and I have been doing a lot of stuff together and had been reaching out to a lot of YMCAs and middle schools and stuff about the importance of fitness and basketball.”

In December, Soares and DeAndrade traveled to Port-au-Prince. For both, it was their first visit to Haiti and it put into perspective the importance of giving back.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Soares said. “The local people were super nice, but it was crazy to see the state where people were living their day-to-day lives.”

The clinic featured nearly 400 kids between the ages of 8-18. While Soares and DeAndrade had run clinics before, including one of the clinics sponsored by Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter this past summer, this was a significantly larger audience than usual. Soares said, “The kids were so nice. They were the most attentive kids I’ve ever been around.”

Language was a major concern at the start of the clinic, as only a handful of the kids spoke any English, but as it turned out that became a non-issue once the training began. Soares put them through a series of workouts, including stretches, squats, lunges, and more.

“It was so exhilarating,” Soares reflected. “It was really cool seeing all the kids and every time we finished something all the kids cheered and clapped. Honestly, it was one of the highest feelings I’ve ever gotten.”

Around 400 kids attended the clinic in Haiti.

Basketball became a universal language at the clinic, transcending any cultural differences. It was also clear from the start that the kids would have no problem picking up a game that many of them had never played before.

Soares marveled, “It was crazy how quick these kids picked up the drills. A lot of the kids hadn’t played basketball before and they were learning how to dunk on the spot. I was like, this is absurd. There’s so much talent and raw athleticism out there.”

He added, “We couldn’t communicate with hundreds of the kids at the camp but we can communicate through basketball and seeing their reactions when we taught them something new and they were able to do it. Seeing the reaction on their faces was interesting because I never thought I’d be able to communicate with someone who didn’t speak the same language as me.”

The clinic was more than just an opportunity to spread the sport to a new audience. As Soares noted, many of the kids that attended were there for a meal. Power Forward International, with help from Soares and DeAndrade, raised enough money for 400 meals, 200 backpacks, and new clothes for the attendees. “Some of the kids bused in from five hours away,” Soares said. “It was just simple rice and chicken but some of the kids said it was the most filling meal of the year.”

Soares has made a point of donating his time and a percentage of the money he has raised from his New Human Project to children’s health organizations. Being able to assist so many Haitian kids through fitness and basketball has inspired him to expand his efforts to help kids locally. He and DeAndrade have talked about running 100 camps to give back.

“Rocky and I are very like-minded,” he said. “When we were in Haiti, we were going over our business goals and professional goals and none of them ever had to do with benefitting ourselves but they were about helping others. We mesh really well, so we’ll be doing more of what we did in Haiti.”

A number of the kids from the clinic have reached out to Soares through social media to say thank you and to share videos of workouts in Haiti. As someone who has played sports at a high level for years and whose career is based on fitness, it is gratifying to see the impact that the clinic has had for so many kids.

“Even though they don’t have anything, they’re still working on their game,” Soares said, while describing videos of kids using creative methods to keep working out, such as using cinder blocks in the middle of the street.

“Basketball is a way of giving these kids life skills. It’s a way of giving them something to focus on instead of not working on anything or having no goals. Basketball, or sports in general, gives them life lessons and life goals to accomplish.

For more information about Power Forward International, visit https://pfii.org/.