Mansfield’s Boulter Scores Milestone at Merrimack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canton’s McNeil Continues Family Field Hockey Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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