North’s Caster Embracing New Role at UMass Lowell

Hana Caster
North Attleboro grad Hana Caster (24) has made the switch from attacker to defender at UMass Lowell and was recently recognized for her defensive play by the America East. (Bob Ellis/UMass Lowell Athletics)

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Until the middle of her sophomore year of college, Hana Caster had defined her lacrosse career by scoring and setting up goals. She scored more than 100 points her senior year of high school alone, but her coaches at UMass Lowell saw something more in her game and moved her into a new, defensive role. She is no longer counted on to score goals but to try and prevent them.

It was admittedly not an easy transition for the former North Attleboro star and 2016 HockomockSports.com Player of the Year, but with time Caster has grown into her new position and earlier this season was named America East Defensive Player of the Week, a sign of her growing comfort level and confidence in defense.

“Yep, I’m a defender,” Caster said with a chuckle during a phone conversation following the team’s loss to the University of Albany in March. Right before practice at the midpoint of last season, the UMass Lowell coaches told Caster they had a surprise. She was no longer going to be in the River Hawks midfield but be the backer in their zone defense.

“I was not very confident on my defensive skills,” she admitted. “I wasn’t 100 percent confident that that’s where I was going to best help my team but, you know, got through it the last eight games. I wasn’t great at it, but I got through it.”

Although she suffered a ligament injury in her foot that kept her out of fall ball, Caster was able to watch the game from the sideline, studying her new position, and came into this spring determined to be better and more comfortable in front of her own goal.

“This season, I was just like, alright wherever they put me I’m going to do the best I can and I’m really enjoying the position,” she explained. “I’ve tried to use my offensive mindset on defense because at first I was like this is boring, I don’t want to just stop the ball, but now I’m thinking, okay I’m going to get the ball back so we can get back on offense. I never realized how fun low defense could be.”

As a former attacker, Caster uses her experience on offense to help anticipate what opponents are going to be doing. She can read the hips of a driving attacker, realize what she would have done with the ball, and jump the play to prevent the ball getting to goal. She can also use her new vantage point to give advice to the River Hawks attackers about what might work best.

Caster’s speed was one of her biggest assets, both in lacrosse and on the soccer pitch, and she got most of her 34 career goals in transition. Playing defense could lead to some chances to convert a turnover into a fast break, when she has the energy to burst forward. “Defense is tiring,” she said with a laugh. “Sometimes I’m like, I don’t know if I can run this ball up. More often than not I run it over to the attackers and let them do their thing.”

UMass Lowell coach Carissa Medeiros noted that Caster wasn’t originally on the recruiting radar but drew the attention of the coaching staff at a summer clinic that Caster attended the summer before her senior season at North. After the three-day clinic, Medeiros said it was imperative that Caster come back in for an official visit. The coach had no idea at that point she would be moving Caster from midfield to defense.

“We had to convince her to trust us that her value is much more dynamic than that, and quite honestly, focusing on just that aspect of her game had been holding her back,” Medeiros said.

Medeiros added that there were several “teary-eyed meetings” as Caster learned her new position, but that there has been definite growth from her first game at defense to now. She said, “It’s a spot that allows all of her strengths to shine, while also allowing her to spend some time working on fine-tuning the rest of her skills.”

Caster’s progress was confirmed earlier this season when she was named the America East Defensive Player of the Week. “I didn’t know that I could be noticed for playing good defense because I don’t notice that,” Caster joked. “It is gratifying to just know that I am in a good place and my hard work is paying off.” The River Hawks went 1-1 that week, and Caster recorded seven draw controls, six ground balls, and eight caused turnovers.

While UMass Lowell is a relatively young lacrosse program, having only started in 2015, Caster entered this season in the top 10 all-time in career goals, assists, points, ground balls, draw controls, and caused turnovers. She has found success no matter where the River Hawks have lined her up, but Caster said that it took time to get her footing at the collegiate level.

“It’s definitely a humbling experience to play a college sport,” she explained. “The first half of my freshman season, every time I got the ball I would just pass it because I was almost scared to make mistakes. I did eventually get it but it was a tough transition.”

Caster continued, “I think I have learned more about the game of lacrosse in the past three years than I did my entire career…You learn so much so quickly and I think it’s stressful as a freshman but now as a junior I finally feel like a seasoned player.”

Medeiros appreciates the willingness of an upperclassman to take on a new role and the positive message that it sends to her teammates. “Hana is definitely amongst those rare players that can put their own thoughts aside for the betterment of the team,” Medeiros explained. “And in doing so, she has developed into one of the most valuable players on our roster.”

The River Hawks have struggled during their first few seasons, having only won 12 games all-time coming into 2019. Having top 20 teams like Stony Brook and Albany in the conference certainly doesn’t help the growing pains of a new program, but Caster appreciates the challenge of building a new legacy in Lowell.

She had a similar experience in North Attleboro. Her senior season, in which she scored 61 goals and led the Hockomock League with 46 assists, was the first time that North hosted a playoff game. The Rocketeers opened the playoffs with a win before losing to eventual state finalist Walpole. That season helped change the expectations around the program and Caster wants to do the same in college.

“That’s one of the biggest why I came here to play,” she said. “I like being the underdog and I loved my high school career and loved leaving the field for the last time and feel like we started something here.

“If that were to happen again, which I’m fully confident that it will, it would be like repeating history and I’d love to end my career knowing that I was part of building two programs.”

OA Grad Ferrara Keeps Swinging for MASCAC Crown

Mike Ferrara
Former Oliver Ames standout Mike Ferrara, now a senior at Worcester State, has continued his success at the plate at the collegiate level, batting over .400 over the first 16 games of the season. (Worcester State University Athletics)

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Worcester State baseball got off to a great start to the season, going 6-2 on its annual trip to Florida and winning seven games in a row to open the season with only two losses in the opening nine games. While the Lancers have come back down to Earth a little, with only two wins in their last eight games, senior outfielder Mike Ferrara continues to put up huge numbers.

The Oliver Ames grad and former HockomockSports.com First Teamer is batting .421 and has a hit in all but three games for the Lancers this season. This comes as no surprise to people who watched him set a single-season hit record for the Tigers during his senior year, when he recorded 37 hits in the 2015 season, finishing with a .521 average.

Hitting has always been Ferrara’s forte, but this season he has been on fire at the plate right from the start of spring.

“I usually pick up my pace in the warm weather and then bring it up here,” Ferrara said during a phone conversation before the Lancers kicked off MASCAC play. “Usually we don’t start in Florida, but this year we happened to, so it was good to get myself hot early and then try to carry it over up North.”

When he was asked about the Lancers getting off to a strong start this spring, Ferrara pointed to the preparation that the team put in during the off-season. Starting with fall ball and into the winter, the team has been getting ready to turn around a disappointing 2018, in which the Lancers were 12-26, and get back to the levels of 2017 where Worcester State got hot late in the season and won the MASCAC tournament title.

“In the off-season everyone’s in the weight room, everyone’s hitting every day, all of our pitchers were throwing because we had a really tough season last year and we all had the mindset to turn things around this year,” he explained. “So far, so good, and we’re just trying to keep things going.”

While things slipped a little for the team, Ferrara continues to rake. He leads the team in average (.421), slugging (.684), and RBI (15). He is also second in stolen bases (six) and runs scored (13) and third in on-base percentage (.485) and walks (eight) entering a two-game weekend set with Bridgewater State.

“I’m just getting into better counts, a lot of good hitter counts for myself,” he said. Getting up with runners on base has also helped him get set to go. “Pitchers are a little nervous when you’re up with runners on,” he remarked, “and I’m getting into good counts and basically putting good swings on the ball, putting it in play, and producing runs.”

Ferrara said that he has kept essentially the same approach since high school. He continues to train in the winter with Terence O’Malley of TJO Sports in Canton, just like he has since his sophomore year at OA, and goes into each at-bat focused on her timing.

“That’s my big thing – if I’m not on time, then I’m not going to be getting any hits,” he said. Of course some things have changed since making the leap to collegiate baseball. “You see guys with a lot of pitches, more arm slots. If you’re hitting well then you’re going to see more curveballs and changeups and if you’re not then they’ll try to put you out with the fastball.”

He added, “I kind of work with the same things that I’ve been doing and luckily, it’s still been successful. I’m blessed.”

Being comfortable at the plate is critical to succeed against college-level pitching and Ferrara seems to have found his groove. He went hitless in the season opener against Mount Union in Kissimmee, Fla. and then got at least one hit in nine straight games, highlighted by a 4-for-6 game against Keene State that earned him MASCAC Player of the Week honors.

After going hitless in back-to-back games against WPI and Westfield State, Ferrara is back on track. He has two hits in each of his last four games, although he only has one RBI in the last seven games after 14 in his first nine.

“It’s always good to get recognized,” he said, “but I’m at the point in my career where I’m just trying to focus on winning. It’s nice to get a little recognition but we’re always trying to win games and trying to get back to the conference championship.”

Two years ago, the Lancers went on a run through the conference tournament, beating Framingham State 10-3 and 1-0 in the final series to book a spot in the NCAA tournament. While that was fun as a sophomore, getting back to that stage as a senior would be particularly special.

“We know that everyone’s going to need to pitch in and it’s going to take a team effort to get back there but we know we have the pieces,” Ferrara explained. “It’s coming to an end soon, so you have to be putting it all together to win games. There’s no turning back after this.”

As the Lancers enter April, the games start to come thick and fast and the season turns into a grind to try and move up the conference standings. There may only be a few days off and it takes a lot of work to balance life, school, and baseball, Ferrara is never going to pass up the chance to play baseball every day.

Ferrara said, “Bodies are tired, arms are getting short, but you’ve got to put it together. Just knowing that you’re waking up playing a baseball game, there’s nothing better, especially once everyone’s fired up for conference it gets even better.

“I love playing,” he added. “This is the best time of the year, playing baseball, so we’re just looking forward to continuing this season and hopefully seeing some success.”

KP’s King Grabs the Goal Scoring Crown at Clark

Brandon King
KP alum Brandon King (19) is on the verge of becoming the all-time leading goal-scorer in the Clark University men’s lacrosse program. (Clark University Athletics)

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It was already a special game for the Clark University men’s lacrosse program, as the Cougars hosted Coast Guard Academy in the fourth annual Renny Classic to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s research, but it became a record-breaking night with three minutes left in the first half. Senior attacker Brandon King scored his fourth goal of the night, putting Clark up 7-0, breaking the program’s record for career goals.

The King Philip alum finished with six goals and two assists in the 14-13 loss to Coast Guard, moving his career total to 124 goals, three more than the previous record of 121. King is also sixth in career points.

“I didn’t walk into Clark thinking that this would ever be an opportunity in front of me but walking out I’m really happy that I might be able to leave my legacy,” said King in an interview two days before he broke the record.

He added, “I’m walking into this Coast Guard game looking to score as many goals as I can. Obviously, four would be huge and getting that goal in the Renny Classic would be pretty cool to walk in and break the record in that game, but I’m going to walk in and shoot as hard as I can no matter what.”

King entered the season 24 goals shy of the record and he was aware that he could be the program’s top goal-getter by the end of the season, but tried not to let it affect the way he approached the game. He got off to a strong start with nine goals in the opening two games, but had hit a mini-slump. That slump ended with a hat trick against Plymouth State on Wednesday and King carried that momentum into the Coast Guard game.

“I just wasn’t hitting the net enough or getting the power behind the shots that I needed,” King said. “I need to be shooting that shot from the outside and splashing in order for us to have success and you think about it a lot more when you’re out of your groove.

“It’s all about timing and when you peak. I picked a good time to go down and now that I’m coming back up it’s NEWMAC play.”

King wasn’t an instant success at Clark. During his freshman season, he saw time in 12 games but it he did not become a starter until an injury to, then junior, Nick Johnson opened a spot for King to step into and he never really looked back. He started three games at the end of that season and has started all 43 games that Clark has played since. After scoring 12 goals as a rookie, King jumped up to 42 goals and eight assists as a sophomore.

“I was that fourth attackman and I wasn’t getting a ton of playing time but I was getting man-up and stuff like that because my play is that big outside shot,” said King about his first season at Clark. “When [Nick] went down, there was a spot that needed to be filled and that was kind of the role that I took. The opportunity came about and I think I handled it pretty well.”

When Johnson returned from his knee injury midway through King’s sophomore season, he instantly added a high-quality playmaker to the lineup and added a significant boost to an already prolific attack. Despite missing almost half the season with injury, Johnson, who is the program’s all-time leading scorer (goals and assists), had 24 assists that year. King called Johnson a “role model” and someone who inspired him to continue getting better.

“I was lucky enough to play with him for two years,” King said. “He was more of an assist-guy and a smaller, quick guy, so we weren’t exactly the same player but he always had the work ethic that I wanted to embody.”

Getting the additional playing time was important, but King admitted that there was also a steep learning curve coming from high school lacrosse to the collegiate level. “The difference between high school and college lacrosse is insane and it definitely took me over a year to figure that out,” he said. His coaches continued to show confidence in him and his shooting ability and continued to encourage him to just do what he knows best.

“I’ve always known that I have a good shot but also just working on those mechanics and then having the confidence to unleash it in the game has been my biggest growth over my career,” King explained.

Once the starting role was his, King never let it go. His sophomore year, the Cougars reached the NEWMAC tournament final but were beaten by perennial power Springfield College (which has won 11 straight NEWMAC championships). Last season, King was again one of the top scorers in the conference with 43 goals and six assists. He now has two of the top four single-season goal scoring seasons in program history and earned an All-NEWMAC first team nod in 2018.

While the individual totals and honors are great, King said that he was most proud of the fact that his first two seasons were also the two winningest seasons in program history. His senior class has the chance to end its four years with the most wins of any class that has come through Clark lax.

“Breaking the record is really cool and I’m happy to be part of that but being the class with the most wins in Clark lacrosse history is something that I’ll remember forever,” he explained.

While the goal-scoring record was a possibility this season, King wants another chance to play for the NEWMAC crown. He wasn’t thrilled about the team’s showing in 2017 and he wants another shot at playing in a title game. With that in mind, he wasn’t overly concerned about the team’s play through the opening nine games. The Cougars started 4-5 but King felt that the team was turning a corner and doing so at just the right time of the year.

“We just weren’t at the spot we wanted to be at,” said King of the team’s struggles during a trip to Florida, “but the whole intent of the early season is just trying to work out all those kinks and I think we’ve done a good job doing that.” He noted that in the end it was NEWMAC play that the Cougars were focused on, adding, “We’re on a new path and a different path than we’ve been on, so I’m feeling pretty good right now.”

King, the team’s lone captain, and the rest of the senior class have one goal, and that is to close out their careers with a NEWMAC title. It would be the first in program history and solidify the legacy that the class of 2018 has built at Clark.

“Everything that we do, all the effort that we put in during the preseason or the fall, has been all for that,” King reflected. “If we put in the work and grind every single day, then the NEWMAC title will come to us and we just have to take it.”

North Attleboro’s Rinaldi Wins ECAC-SIDA Award

Anthony Rinaldi

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anthony Rinaldi (North Attleboro ’15) was a HockomockSports.com Student Reporter while in high school and continued to cover events for us while attending Endicott College. Below is a release from Endicott Athletics and Recreation.

BEVERLY, Mass. – Endicott sports information intern Anthony Rinaldi ’19 (Attleboro Falls, Mass.) has been named the 2019 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Sports Information Directors Association (ECAC-SIDA) Bill Esposito Memorial Award winner. It was announced by the organization earlier today.

The Bill Esposito Award is presented to a graduating college senior who wishes to pursue a career in athletic communications. The award is named to honor the memory of one of the true patriarchs of the sports information profession. Bill Esposito served as the Sports Information Director at St. John’s University in New York for 25 years. He served as a past-President of ECAC-SIDA in 1972-73 and was the organization’s Irving Marsh Award recipient in 1973. He was inducted into the CoSIDA Hall of Fame in 1984. Bill Esposito passed away in 1995.

Rinaldi will be celebrated during the annual ECAC-SIDA Awards Dinner at the 2019 Workshop on the evening of June 6 at the Sheraton – Framingham.

“Winning this award means so much to me. Just to be mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Bill Esposito is something I never could have imagined,” said Rinaldi. “I’d like to thank Shawn Medeiros (Endicott Sports Information Director) for nominating me for this award and being the best mentor a person could ask for in this profession. I’d also like to acknowledge Nicolle Holcomb (Sports Information Graduate Assistant), George Chapell (Men’s Volleyball Head Coach/Assistant Sports Information), and Rob Palardy (former Assistant Athletic Director for Strategic Communications/current Endicott Executive Director of Marketing Integration) for everything they’ve helped me with over the past two years.”

Rinaldi continued.

“Along with my Endicott mentors, I’d like to thank Jeff Weinstein (Harvard Assistant Director of Athletic Communications) and the entire Harvard Athletic Communications department for giving me the opportunity last semester to intern with them. Last but certainly not least, I’d like to acknowledge Ryan Lanigan of Hockomocksports.com for giving me my start in covering sports, and my friends and family, specifically my parents, for pushing me to achieve my goals and dreams.”

MORE ON ANTHONY RINALDI

Anthony Rinaldi is currently finishing his undergraduate degree in journalism at Endicott College, where he works under 2019 CoSIDA Rising Star Award winner Shawn Medeiros. Rinaldi has served as an intern in the sports information office at Endicott since 2017. He also previously served as an intern in the Harvard athletic communications office during the fall semester in 2018 and spent time as the Editor in Chief and Sports Editor of the Endicott College Observer.

Rinaldi has handled a number of the responsibilities in the office at Endicott while balancing his athletic career as the captain of the men’s tennis team. His leadership experience has not been limited to athletics, as he has also spent time as an Orientation Leader, an Orientation Assistant and a member of the Lighthouse Leadership Society at Endicott, which aims to inspire, guide, help and teach students. Rinaldi is also a member of the Lambda Pi Eta Communication Honor Society and plans to pursue a career in athletic communications. $website.include(“rich-footer”)

(Photo Credit – David Le ’10 / Emily Machado, ECAC-SIDA)

Franklin’s Vail Looking to Get Pride On Track This Spring

Jack Vail
Former Franklin standout and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year Jack Vail (14) is looking to follow up an all-NEWMAC season with a strong senior campaign at Springfield College. (Springfield College Athletics)

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Things haven’t started exactly as planned for the Springfield College men’s lacrosse team through the opening four games of the new season. The Pride are 1-3 after four games, but senior attacker Jack Vail is confident that the team, which received votes in national preseason polls, is capable of challenging for the NEWMAC title.

“Our main focus is just to work really hard on ourselves and competing against each every single day,” Vail explained in a conversation ahead of last weekend’s trip to Union College (N.Y.). “We’ve been definitely working hard to improve and just keep getting better every day.”

Through four games, Vail is fourth on the team with four goals and seven points, but his role as a senior and as a captain is bigger than just scoring. A former Hockomock League MVP and two-time HockomockSports.com Player of the Year at Franklin, Vail is also the leader of the attacking unit and he takes that responsibility seriously.

“I’m able to be a more vocal presence and mold the team into what we want it to be as a senior class,” he said. When asked how it felt to be selected as the captain by his teammates, Vail replied, “It was a great feeling. I’ve always aspired to be in those leadership roles, so being voted captain was a satisfying feeling.”

The leadership role is one that Vail has developed in his four years in Springfield. He only played three games as a freshman, which was a big adjustment for someone who was an automatic selection every game in high school.

He admitted, “ I definitely thought, at times, that I could be out there and making an impact but just being a part of a college-level team you get a much deeper bond than you would on your average high school team, so I was able to understand my role and be really working on the scout team and getting better every day.”

Looking back now, he recognizes that his freshman year was a positive learning experience to help him get acclimated to the speed and physicality of the college game. Vail jumped in as a sophomore and made a big impact, scoring 32 goals and recording 16 assists. Last spring, he scored 26 goals and had 30 assists to earn first team all-conference honors.

If Vail puts together similar numbers this spring, it will see him jump into the top 20 all-time in career goals, points, and assists. Not that he is too worried about that right now.

“I’ve never really been a big listener to all-conference awards and hype and stuff like that,” he said. “I’ve just been focused on my team and getting better and winning games. Just making sure I can be the best player for my team and helping everyone around me get better.”

That attitude was put into place early on, as Vail was part of the early stages of the Franklin youth lacrosse programs, which now regularly produces college-level talent and has helped the Panthers dominate the Hockomock in recent years. In high school, Vail was a dynamic scorer, with 55 goals and 38 assists his senior season, and his six goals against Xaverian (five in the second half) helped Franklin get past the Hawks and into the Div. 1 South semifinal for the first time in program history.

“There’s definitely a lot of great memories associated with those years,” he said. “Being able to have that bond with those guys all these years later and also being able to look at the program now and all those kids who were just coming up and are now big contributors and senior leaders.”

There has been a Franklin pipeline to Springfield College in recent years. Vail was introduced to head coach Keith Bugbee and learned more about the program thanks to family friend and Springfield alum Jake Versprille. Now, Vail is connecting other Panthers to the program, including current Springfield sophomore Packie Watson and freshman Kyle McEniry (North Attleboro grad Thomas Lindstrom is also a freshman at Springfield).

“It being a great fit for Jake, I knew it would be a great fit for me,” Vail said. “Going back to Franklin and seeing kids who I think would be a good fit here, like Packie and Kyle, just really kids who would buy into the program and be hard workers and then get the opportunity to meet with Coach Bugbee and eventually come here has been great, keeping that pipeline alive.”

The Pride have reached the NCAA tournament for 11 straight seasons and, despite a tough start, Vail believes that the team can get things in order to be playing its best lacrosse when NEWMAC play kicks off at the end of March.

“I just want our team to be as close as we can be and have the most fun we can,” he said. “By doing that, the wins will sort of take care of themselves. If you can continue to get better every day then play your best lacrosse in the late season then hopefully you can make a deep playoff run and that’s all we want.”

As a senior closing out his lacrosse career, it is no surprise that Vail emphasizes fun as well as results. He is trying to enjoy his last few months on the lacrosse field.

“You’ve definitely got to take a step back and think about how far you’ve come in these four years,” he explained. “They have sort of flown by and I have so many great memories associated with them. Being an in-season college athlete, it’s a really fast-paced schedule, so you need to find time to take it all in before it all ends.”

Springfield College will be back in action on Saturday with a trip to Endicott College.

Milford’s Piergustavo Comes Out Swinging This Season

Allie Piergustavo
Milford alum Allie Piergustavo has gotten off to a solid start at the plate, as her senior season at St. Bonaventure kicked off last weekend. (St. Bonaventure Athletics)

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For the first time in her long softball career, which goes back to when she first picked up a bat at six years old, Allie Piergustavo went through a prolonged slump. After a solid sophomore season where she established herself as a regular starter at St. Bonventure (N.Y.), Piergustavo batted under .200 during her junior season with just one homer and nine RBI.

“Hitters go through slumps all the time and I kind of felt like mine just lasted for 52 games and I’ve never really had to experience that before,” Piergustavo explained in a phone call before the Bonnies head out to Hawaii for their annual spring trip. “Last year I put all this weight on my shoulders that I realized I didn’t need to, but unfortunately I didn’t come to that realization until May.”

This year, she is focused on enjoying the moments with her teammates and her last season of collegiate softball. Piergustavo called her junior season a learning experience, one that she believes will stick with long after she is done playing collegiate softball. It required her to learn techniques for letting things go when they don’t go as planned.

Whatever she has done mentally to get ready for the new season seems to have worked well. It only took her one at-bat to match last spring’s home run total, blasting a two-run homer to center in the second inning of the season opener against Mount St. Mary’s in Norfolk, Va. During the four-game swing through Virginia, Piergustavo is batting .417 and has driven in four runs, starting all four games at first base.

“You’re obviously not going to be at your best every day,” she explained, “but you have to keep pushing no matter what. We have 52 games in a season, so if you’re stuck on one game or one at-bat, then you’re not going to get anywhere. Looking at all the lessons I learned last year from struggling so much, I’m more than prepared for my senior year.”

Piergustavo credited her coaches for keeping faith with her during a rough season, but also her father Rich, an assistant principal at Milford High, for keeping her grounded during regular calls home. She joked that her sister Emily, who was a senior at Milford last year and has had three at-bats this spring as a freshman at UConn, hopefully listened to those conversations and learned from her older sister’s experience.

“I was always told that you have to learn how to fail, how to have a short-term memory, and everything, and I was always, like yeah okay,” said Piergustavo. “But having to experience it last year and actually having to put those mental aspects into play was really eye-opening for me to see what works for me and what didn’t.”

It has been a strong start to the season for Piergustavo individually, but the Bonnies lost all four games on the trip, despite having leads heading into the sixth inning against Mount St. Mary’s and the seventh inning against Hampton. It is a long spring and Piergustavo isn’t worried about a rough weekend ruining a season that she believes has the potential to end in a trip to the Atlantic-10 Conference tournament.

“We were really excited to get outside,” she said, referring to the typical battle with the weather that colleges in this area have to deal with at the start of the season, “and the record doesn’t really reflect some of the things we were able to do this weekend. I expect a lot out of our team this year and this weekend was just a preview of what we can do.”

During the trip to Hawaii, the Bonnies will face perennial power California twice, as well as Utah and Hawaii. The team will then go to Kentucky to take on Bowling Green and Morehead State. It is the kind of competition that will get St. Bonaventure ready to face A-10 competition, which begins with three games against UMass over the weekend of March 23.

“I think it’s only going to make us better and I think it’s really going to push us,” Piergustavo said. “You only get better by playing teams that are better than you. I think having a really competitive spring schedule will only make us readier for the conference season.”

Taking an 0-4 start to the season in stride is easier for an experienced player, as was getting back to the campus after a long bus ride at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday and being ready to go to classes that afternoon. “I might miss it eventually,” she joked. “You definitely have to have good time management and good discipline.”

College softball was something that Piergustavo craved since her first year at Milford. Playing with the likes of Shannon Smith (Kentucky), Lauren Hanna (Brown University), Rachel Levine (Boston University), Caroline Fairbanks (Wheaton College), and other teammates who were in the midst of college recruiting made her realize that it would be fun to keep playing the sport beyond high school.

That was only amplified by the fun of winning back-to-back state titles in her first two years of high school.

“I think it definitely made my decision easier,” said Piergustavo about putting in the effort to play at the next level. “Seeing how much fun they were having playing softball and how excited they were to play in college, I was like, okay this is something I want to do. I’d like to keep playing for four more years.”

A communications major, with a minor in marketing, Piergustavo is already entered into a grad program for marketing and has spent each of the past two summers interning with ESPN at the Little League World Series. There is plenty for her to focus on off the field and plenty to prepare for after graduation, but in the meantime she wants to take a swing at getting the Bonnies back to the A-10 tournament (which this year will be held at UMass’ Sortino Field) for the first time since 2015.

“Having the opportunity to play the A-10 tournament my senior year in my home state would just mean the world to me,” she said. With her collegiate softball career soon coming to a close, Piergustavo also wants to savor the process and enjoy the long season ahead. She said, “I’ve told myself through everything that I would step back and enjoy it.

“Being on a team and travel with them and be able to compete with a bunch of my best friends is something that I will definitely miss.”

Franklin’s Kirshe Finds a Different Path to Team USA

Kristi Kirshe
Former Franklin soccer, lacrosse and basketball standout Kristi Kirshe races for a U.S. try against China at the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in Sydney, Australia. (Mike Lee/KLC Fotos)

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Every little kid who plays sports dreams of playing professionally and dreams of someday representing his or her country, whether it be the Olympics or the World Cup or maybe the World Lacrosse Championships (see Foxboro’s Sophia Dicenso, who was featured last week). Former Franklin star Kristi Kirshe, a former soccer state champion with the Panthers and Div. III national champion at Williams College, recently fulfilled that dream, although not in a sport she would have ever imagined.

A former standout in soccer, lacrosse, and basketball at Franklin (being named MVP in soccer and lax as a senior), and a two-time All-American at Williams, Kirshe has achieved her dream of being a professional athlete as a rising star in rugby.

Kirshe recently played with the bronze-medal-winning U.S. Women’s Eagles Sevens at the HSBC Sydney (Australia) Sevens tournament and scored five tries in three matches and is a full-time resident at the U.S. rugby base in Chula Vista, Calif., despite having not even picked up a rugby ball until one year ago this week.

“I’d say this one tops it all,” Kirshe said this week about how playing for the U.S. stacks up to all that she has achieved in sports. “I think I said when we won the state title in soccer that it was a dream come true but I’m pretty sure putting on the USA rugby jersey topped that.

“Getting to play professionally, getting to play internationally, it’s something you dream about as a little kid. I thought soccer was going to be the sport to get me there and when it didn’t happen I kind of gave up on it and it’s amazing that this opportunity is back in my life and I’m chasing the dream again.”

When Kirshe graduated from Williams, there was an immediate void. She had played competitive team sports her whole life, from youth leagues, including Pop Warner football, through high school and to one of the top DIII college programs in the country. Now, she was left working out by herself and trying to sate her competitive juices playing rec soccer once a week.

Kirshe said, “I was trying to figure out what my life was post-competitive sports and I didn’t like it too much, so I was trying to find another sport to play. I think I really missed the team environment the most, being around people that are working towards a common goal.

“Graduating college was the first time that I didn’t have a sport going on and honestly I felt pretty lost. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. It’s always been something that I did, it’s always been part of me as a person, so not having that was really hard.”

It was her former Franklin teammate Grace Conley, who played rugby at Boston University, who introduced her to the potential of a new sport. Kirshe took her friend’s advice and went to an open tryout for Boston Rugby, which was getting ready to start its spring 15s season. She made an immediate impact and her new teammates convinced her to tryout for the Northeast Academy, which is a national development program for rugby.

She made the academy team and went to play a sevens tournament in California, where she impressed enough to be named to the tournament’s Dream Team. That led to her selection as one of 12 players on the Women’s Falcons team that played in the Hokkaido Governor’s Cup in Japan. In less than seven months, Kirshe went from having never played rugby before to joining a U.S. team in an international tournament.

Franklin basketball coach John Leighton said of Kirshe, who was the point guard on teams that made back-to-back Div. 1 South finals, “Her motor is just set different. Just the most competitive kid I’ve ever met. I had to change my rule on drills because she was so competitive she would do anything to win the drill.”

He showed no surprise that Kirshe was an instant success in her new sport. “If we started a ping pong team,” Leighton joked, “she’d be my first pick because she’d push herself to be the best.”

Having the eye-hand coordination of basketball and lacrosse and the tactical awareness of soccer and the physicality of all the sport she has played going all way back to Pop Warner, rugby has turned out to be a natural fit. From the culture of the sport to the rapid learning curve to being back on the field as part of a team, Kirshe is enjoying every part of this experience.

“I just think it’s one of the ultimate team sports,” she explained. “You’re going into contact so you have to always be willing to put yourself on the line for everyone around you. Whether it’s be the first person there in support when someone gets tackled or just knowing when you get tackled that someone else is going to be there to support you, you just have to each other’s back at all times, which I think is really cool.”

That experience was taken to a new level this month when she joined the official U.S. team (the Falcons are part of the U.S. developmental program) in Australia for one leg of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, which builds up to the 2020 Olympics.

“It definitely felt different wearing [a U.S. jersey] on the world series stage,” Kirshe said. It’s pretty surreal honestly. I was thinking about it a lot when I was there that I couldn’t have imagined I’d be here a year ago…I definitely took a few minutes with it before I put it on, just kind of stared at for a bit.”

On her debut against China, Kirshe, who came on as a substitute, found a seam and outran the opposition for her first of five tries in the tournament. “Everyone around me did everything perfectly and I saw a little gap and instinct just kind of kicked in,” she said. “It was definitely nerve-wracking but the second that I got the ball in my hand it felt like every other game that I’ve played. Instinct kicked in and I thought, okay avoid getting tackled and keep running.”

After experiencing the world stage, Kirshe returns to Chula Vista and the residency program to prepare with the Women’s Falcons for a tournament in Las Vegas in March. The next world series stop is in Japan in April and Kirshe hopes to be part of that team as well. It is hard to believe that this time last year, she was being pushed to give rugby a try for the first time.

“Thinking about where I was in my first practice last year,” she reflected, “I knew nothing, not a single thing. It’s just been a rapid learning curve and I feel like in every single game I play in I’m learning something new and every day at practice I’m figuring something out or something is starting to click.”

It obviously clicked enough for Kirshe to score five times against international competition and get pegged as a rising newcomer on the U.S. team. She admits that being on the U.S. team is a different level of nerves, but also that having played on the biggest stages since high school has prepared her for taking this opportunity when it presented itself.

“Playing in a national championship,” she said, “playing in high school championships, helped me be ready for big games, but still just focus on the little things and getting the little things right and being able to stay calm despite the nerves and the excitement.

“In all sports and no matter what stage you’re on, the second the whistle blows you’re just playing and I think that is kind of where I thrive.”

Canton’s Rooney Turns Hard Work Into NHL Success

Kevin Rooney
Former Canton star Kevin Rooney (58) reacts after scoring his first NHL goal for the New Jersey Devils against the Chicago Blackhawks. (Andy Marlin/New Jersey Devils)

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Kevin Rooney just couldn’t stop smiling. After a great save denied his New Jersey Devils teammate Drew Stafford from a goal, the puck slid invitingly into Rooney’s path as he skated in from the right circle. He took a look up and smashed a one-timer inside the far post for the first goal of his NHL career. The former Canton High standout and star of the 2010 Div. 2 state champion team wheeled away to the far boards with a grin that stretched from ear-to-ear. Even as the teams lined up for the ensuing face-off, the smile remained.


“It was one of those things that you dream about as a little kid and to finally see that puck go across the line was pretty special,” Rooney said. “It just helps with your confidence, feeling like you belong out there. I think it helped me a ton and I feel like since then I’ve played even better.”

Rooney can be forgiven for wanting to savor that moment. His path to the NHL was not preordained. He wasn’t a can’t-miss prospect coming out of high school or after two years at Berkshire Academy or even after four years at Providence College, where he was part of the program’s first national title in 2015. Making it to the top level was all about hard work.

“If you look at his track record since high school, it’s been the same, he has improved year-in and year-out,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman, who coached Rooney in high school. “He’s made the strides he needed to make it to the next level. There were things he was able to do to take advantage of those opportunities, which is something we still try to teach kids today.”

Rooney remarked, “These opportunities don’t come around too often so I want to make sure that when the end comes that I don’t have any regrets.”

It is no surprise that Rooney found his way onto the ice. His uncle Steve graduated from Canton in 1981, played at PC, and then went on to play for the Montreal Canadiens, Winnipeg Jets, and the Devils. His cousin Chris played at PC and his cousin Joe played at Boston College. His father David played at Canton and his brother Bryan was part of the 2009 Canton team that went to the state title game and then played at Stonehill College.

Canton Youth Hockey was the starting point and he also played with the South Shore Kings leading up to high school. When he got to Canton High, Rooney wasn’t an instant sensation. Shuman remembered him scoring maybe a handful of goals as a freshman for a team that went 15-5 and won the league title. Even the following year, the Bulldogs won 18 games, another league title, and reached the state championship game, but it was Bryan Rooney, not Kevin, that was the star.

It was the work that he put in between his sophomore and junior seasons that turned Rooney from a good high school player into a legit college prospect.

“He was the most improved player that I’ve ever coached from one year to the next,” said Shuman. “His speed went from above-average to exceptional and his strength and everything just improved and it wasn’t by accident. I know he worked hard that summer. He worked with a strength and conditioning coach, you’d see him running around town, constantly doing something to improve.”

Even though both Rooney and Shuman admit the 2008-09 team was probably a deeper team, it was the 2009-10 team that would bring home the trophy, avenging the previous season’s loss to Newburyport in the TD Garden. Shuman credited Rooney’s ability to make the players around him better for being a catalyst to the Bulldogs winning it all.

“It’s so hard to have people to believe this when I say it but that was the most fun hockey I’ve ever been a part of and it’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” said Rooney. “Those memories at Canton High were some of the best I have and it’s because you’re playing with kids you grew up with. Your best friends are your teammates, and just being able to play in front of your hometown every game is something special.

“I can remember almost all those games and it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

During the 2009-10 season, college scouts noticed Rooney and suggested he had the potential to play at the next level but that he might need to make a move to achieve that dream. Once the season was over, Rooney sat down with Shuman to discuss his future. In the end, he had accomplished all that he could with the Bulldogs and he decided to transfer to Berkshire Academy to continue his development as a player.

“It was something that I definitely don’t regret, but it was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my hockey career,” Rooney reflected. “It was tough. I would’ve loved to say that I graduated from Canton High but it was something that was going to help my hockey career and my future.”

Once the decision to leave Canton was made, Rooney knew that he had to make it count and develop his game to play at the next level. He said, “ I don’t want to leave and then just end up going to college and not playing hockey.” His two seasons at Berkshire led to a few offers and he chose to play with his cousin at PC, coming in as part of new head coach Nate Leaman’s first recruiting class.

In 2015, Rooney returned to the TD Garden, where he won the state title for the Bulldogs, and helped PC beat Boston University in a dramatic final to win the national title. “I’ve got some pretty special memories at the Garden for sure,” he said. “First was the state title, then the national championship, and my second NHL game was there too.” That season was also the first time that Rooney started thinking about his pro prospects and he attended developments camps in Toronto and Chicago that summer.

He signed an amateur contract with Albany of the AHL following his senior season at PC. He scored 13 goals and recorded eight assists in 71 games. The Devils signed him to his first NHL contract in February 2017. Two nights later, Rooney took the ice against the Washington Capitals.

“When I got on the ice for warm-ups, did the lap and what not, and I barely even woke up after that because I was just staring at the other end with [Alexander] Ovechkin and [T.J.] Oshie and those guys,” Rooney said. “I was just kind of in shock. It was surreal.”

Since signing with the Devils, Rooney has bounced back and forth between the big club and its minor league affiliate in Binghamton. He admits that it is difficult to not have a consistent place on the roster but that he has learned from other players who have gone through the same situation and is keeping his focus on doing whatever the team needs and securing a consistent role with the Devils.

“The biggest thing for me is being more consistent and putting two, three, or four games together rather than having just one good game,” he explained. “It’s easy to be a call-up and have adrenaline for one game and play well and it’s another to do that consistently and that’s what I’m trying to show the coaches now is that I can consistently be an everyday NHL player.”

It is rare for players to come through the Hockomock League and play professionally and Shuman believes that Rooney is an inspiration not only because of where he ended up but how he got to this stage in his career.

“He can be an inspiration for any type of player,” Shuman said, “because he wasn’t a freshman that came in and set the world on fire, but the fact that he improved as much he did can be relatable to anybody. For our top players, he’s an inspiration because, even though he was good, he never settled. He always wanted to be better and I think that’s a good message.”

Rooney tried to explain his mentality. He said, “You have to continue to have those childhood dreams that you had growing up and find ways at each level to solidify a role. Every team needs role players. If you’re a scorer at Canton, you may not be that at the next level and you need to understand how to stick. Just find out what the team needs and find out what you can do to help that team in any possible way.”


In the first period of Thursday night’s game against the New York Islanders, Rooney raced into the attacking zone with the puck and ripped a shot high on the glove side to put New Jersey in front.

It has been a long road from the Ponkapoag Rink to the NHL, but no matter where he is playing Kevin Rooney continues to make his mark.

Attleboro’s Beland Making Most of Final Salve Season

Kerri Beland
Attleboro High grad Kerri Beland battled back from a knee injury in high school and has gone on to play four years of college basketball at Salve Regina, including two years as the team captain. (Rob McGuinness/Salve Athletics)

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In the summer before her senior year at Attleboro High, Kerri Beland suffered a torn ACL while playing with her AAU team. It was the type of injury that could have ended her final season at Attleboro and even cost her a chance to play basketball at the next level, but Beland fought her way back. She missed soccer that fall but managed to get back on the court for the final few games of basketball season.

Despite the injury, Beland remained focused on her goal of playing collegiate basketball. With the help of former Attleboro and current Adelphi University coach Missy Traversi, Beland reached out to local schools to find the right fit.

Salve Regina coach Cori Hughes took a chance that Beland could make it back to full fitness and contribute. It was a decision that paid off, as Beland jumped right into the rotation as a freshman and is in the midst of her second year as captain for the Seahawks.

“She told me, ‘It’s going to be hard, but it will be fine. You just have to keep working,’ and I did,” Beland said of her conversations with Hughes during the recruitment process. “She’s been a huge supporter of me and she always gave me a lot of opportunities, which was nice.”

It has been a long road for the senior guard, but Beland appreciates the new perspective that she gained from being sidelined. Beland explained, “It sucks getting hurt but it’s an eye-opening experience. You see the game from a whole different perspective sitting on the bench. I feel like I learned a lot from sitting on the sidelines, as much as it sucked, it was horrible, but I learned a lot.”

The Seahawks had a four-game win streak coming into the week, but dropped games to Roger Williams and Nichols and dropped back to 9-11 overall and 5-6 in the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC). Beland has started all 20 games this season. The 5-foot-8 guard is second on the team with 12.6 points per game, and leads the team with 7.6 rebounds per game.

“We’re playing together better,” she said about the win streak. “We have a lot of strong players on our team but it took us a while to really mesh. We have so much talent but it was one person or a few people trying to do too much and not spreading the floor out.”

After three straight first round exits in the CCC Tournament, Beland thinks that the Seahawks have the opportunity to make a run this winter. “This is anyone’s year and it’s exciting,” she said.

When asked what it would mean to bring home a title during her senior year, Beland replied, “It would be indescribable. The girls that I play with just love the game and my senior class, which is half of the team, we’ve just been through it all together. Finishing it out with them…words wouldn’t even be able to explain how happy I would be.”

Heading into her senior year of high school there was also a lot of excitement for Beland and the Bombardiers. After a playoff appearance the season before, Attleboro looked poised to make even more noise in the Kelley-Rex division. But then Beland went down with an injury and not long after Traversi left to take the job at Adelphi. “It just felt like my whole senior year was crashing down honestly,” Beland reflected. Traversi stayed close with Beland and used her contacts in the coaching world to keep Beland on the radar of area colleges.

Beland made it back onto the court with a few games remaining in the regular season, but it was difficult to adjust to playing after the injury. “It was definitely frustrating,” Beland said. “I’ve never been a quick player and so that was really frustrating to be even slower than I was before and to have to drag around the extra weight on my leg.”

“it was just amazing to play again because basketball has always been a huge part of my life. It was crazy to go that long period without being able to play.”

She admitted that it took a long time to get back to playing like she did prior to the injury. It wasn’t until her sophomore year at Salve that the brace came off and she was able to play with the freedom of not worrying about her knee. That season Beland, who is also a member of the Salve lacrosse team and two-year captain in the spring, was named third team All-CCC and named the 2016-17 Salve Sophomore Athlete of the Year.

“When I had the brace, I could go a little harder because I knew it was there but when you lose the brace you have to kind of start all over about being nervous of hurting yourself again,” she said.

Spending so much time on the sidelines was a reminder of how much she loved the game of basketball and gave her a unique perspective on the work that it takes to play at this level.

“DIII is draining,” Beland said. “You’re not getting money for it and you’re putting in as much time as any other division. You have to love it and, honestly, the injury reminds me every day that there was a time when I didn’t get to play and I never want to have to feel that way ever again. It’s nice to know that I don’t have any regrets.”

With the end of her basketball career in sight (and even with a lacrosse season still to come), Beland and her classmates are trying to slow down and enjoy these final weeks together.

“We’re kind of at that stage right know where we’re at the edge of the cliff and we want to walk back because we’re so nervous,” she said with a chuckle. “It feels like it’s coming to an end so quickly and we just want to slow the time down.”

Salve has five games left before the conference tournament kicks off and will get the final stretch started with the visit of Endicott.

Taunton’s Mass Takes Hoops Career Across the Pond

Fawaz Mass
Former Taunton and Bridgewater State standout Fawaz Mass has continued his collegiate basketball career in an unlikely spot, Bournemouth (U.K.) University, where is studying for a Master’s degree in business. (Courtesy Photo)

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Playing basketball has taken Fawaz Mass a long way. From the Boys & Girls Club as a youth to three seasons on varsity at Taunton High to one season at Bristol Community College (BCC) to three years at Bridgewater State University (BSU) and now all the way across the Atlantic to England.

Mass, who was an all-star guard for the Tigers (both in the Old Colony League and the Hockomock) and was twice named an All-MASCAC player at BSU, has taken an opportunity to study and to play at Bournemouth (U.K.) University. Located about 90 minutes to the west of London, Bournemouth plays in the British Universities and College Sport (BUCS) Western Division and currently tops its table with a 7-0 record (and a remarkable point differential of plus-337).

The chance to take his talents across the pond came after a scout saw him play at Bridgewater State, where he was the Bears leading scorer at 15.9 points per game his senior season. BSU coach Joe Farroba got an email saying there might be a scholarship to play in England and work towards a graduate degree.

“I was interested right away and didn’t know where specifically in England I’d be going at the time,” Mass said in an email this week. It turned out that the location would be Bournemouth University where Mass is taking part in a one-year, accelerated program to earn a master’s degree in business administration.

He already has family living in London and language wouldn’t be an issue, so Mass jumped at the chance to take his game to a new country. He started school in September and his season on the First Performance Squad began a month later.

“I’ve fit pretty smoothly into the team,” Mass said. “My coaches and teammates have been great, and it’s a good balance between British and other internationals.”

His long history with the game at a high level has made him a natural leader for the team. Mass explained, “I would say I’m an experienced veteran as well as a couple others on the squad who have some similar backgrounds and the coaching staff really looks for me to be that leader with my game and vocally to set the tone for the team.”

Mass was battling a nagging ankle injury during the early part of the season, but Bournemouth has been on a break to start the winter. Its last game was on Dec. 12, a 117-62 win over Cardiff University, and the next game on the fixture list won’t be until Jan. 30 against the University of Southampton (which Bournemouth beat 97-70 back in October). The break has given Mass the chance to recuperate and he is ready to come back strong when the season resumes.

“For me personally it was a great start,” he said. “The break helped a bit…now it’s all about continuing rehab and trying to get the 100% for the tougher part of the schedule.”

Basketball is a growing sport in England, lagging in popularity behind traditional games like soccer, rugby, and cricket, and the competition, especially in the Western division, isn’t at the same level that Mass faced at BSU and the game is officiated a little differently (“They allow you use your hands a bit more here.”), but he is expecting things to get a little tighter as the season hits the home stretch.

“The competition compared to Bridgewater isn’t as high [because] the specific region we are located in has a lot of British players,” he said, “but as we progress through the season the competition is supposed to get really tough and well play more teams with more internationals so I’m excited for that.”

In addition to league play, Bournemouth is also involved in a knockout cup competition, the BUCS Basketball Trophy. Bournemouth is into the last 16 and will face East London’s second team on Feb. 6 to try and reach the quarterfinal.

Having family just 90 minutes away and having the opportunity to play basketball competitively gives Mass a slice of home that has made it easier to get acclimated, but there are of course things he misses.

“I miss my family and friends and wish I could see my little brother play in his basketball games,” Mass admitted. “I also miss watching NBA games frequently, but I can’t with the time difference…and I almost forgot my mom’s cooking!”

After this year is up, Mass isn’t sure what the future will hold. He will have a master’s degree and some experience living and playing in Europe, which may open doors for him going forward. He is open to what may come his may and is just enjoying the unique experience that he has been offered.

“I’ve already gained a lot from being here and just being in a different environment and having to adjust,” he said. “Who knows what else this opportunity will give me…It’s been positive so far, hopefully it continues.”