Jim Fennell's NH College Notebook: Several Granite State teams take aim at NCAA playoff berths
The sounds of basketballs bouncing on gym floors and pucks banging off boards in hockey arenas are becoming more frequent as colleges around the state start shifting their focus from one season to another.
But there are a few teams from the fall season that are still not ready to call it a year.
There are close to a dozen teams in soccer, volleyball and field hockey that have a shot to go deep into their conference tournaments and snag bids to NCAA tournaments.
Outside of the Southern New Hampshire University men's soccer team, there are probably no teams that are a lock to get at-large bids, although the Dartmouth women's soccer team and Dartmouth field hockey team are close.
Going into this weekend, the best shots to make some noise in their conference tournament - and snag the automatic bids that go to the winners - are Colby-Sawyer and Keene State in women's soccer, Franklin Pierce. New England College and Keene State in men's soccer, Colby-Sawyer, Rivier and Keene State in volleyball, and Keene State and Plymouth State in field hockey.
One of the more intriguing teams is the Keene State College volleyball team. The Owls lost the core of the team that went to the semifinals of the ECAC Division III tournament last year, going into this season with no seniors, one junior and nine freshmen on their roster of 14.
The Owls lost five of their first seven matches, but the maturation process is starting to become evident as they started October by going 8-4.
Four of the freshmen that have made immediate impacts are middle blocker Olivia Broderick of Gilford, right side hitter Catherine Kazazian of Merrimack, middle blocker Madeline Nossif of Portsmouth and setter Alexis Michal of Windham (Central catholic).
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HONOR ROLL: Shayla Bergeron of Hudson Alvirne) was one of three unanimous picks to the America East women's soccer first team. The senior forward from the University of Albany finished second in the conference in goals (11), assists (6) and points. ... Laura Egounis of Boscawen (Merrimack Valley) was named the ECAC Division III New England defensive player of the week in field hockey after helping the University of New England beat previously unbeaten Endicott and assisting in a shutout win over Gordon. ... Kara Poirier of Berlin was named the North Atlantic Conference and Synapse Sports player of the week in field hockey after racking up two goals and three assists in a pair of wins for Husson of Bangor, Maine. ... Another Husson standout, senior Hannah Olstad of Farmington, collected her seventh career conference player of the week honor in volleyball. The Eagles went into the conference tournament at 16-9 and five of the nine players on the team are from New Hampshire. ... Emily Strese of Gilmanton (Gilford) was named the NAC player of the week in women's soccer after scoring two goals and assisting on another in a pair of wins for Lyndon (Vt.) State.
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GOING OUT ON A HIGH NOTE: It probably wasn't the season the Daniel Webster College men's soccer team or Franklin Pierce University field hockey team had hoped for record-wise, but each team had a senior that ended their careers in style.
Eliot Kilgore of Milford went into Saturday's regular-season final having scored a career-high six goals for the Eagles. The senior went into the season having scored eight goals in his first three years at Daniel Webster. Kilgore score three of his goals in the final week of the season.
Megan Bird of Laconia set the FPU record for career assists when she set up two goals in the season finale for the Ravens last week. Bird, a senior midfielder, set a single-season record with eight assists last season.
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TOO CLOSE TO HOME? When Casey DeSmith signed to play hockey at the University of New Hampshire, it was the first time the Rochester native attended a school in his home state since middle school. DeSmith never went to Spaulding High, attending Berwick Academy in Maine and Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts before eventually playing junior hockey in Indiana.
Well, Wildcat Nation is certainly glad he finally decided to matriculate at a school back in his home state. DeSmith, now a sophomore, grabbed the job in goal for the Wildcats last year and has emerged as one of the top keepers in Hockey East.
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SEMINOLE MOMENT: Mark Krikorian was established as one of the top coaches in college women's soccer long before this year, he's just cementing his reputation this season. The New Hampshire native has the No. 1-ranked team in the country at Florida State, guiding the Seminoles to the top seed in the ACC tournament that starts today.
Krikorian has molded a program that was already solid into one that has become a consistent national title contender. During Krikorian's first seven years at FSU, the Seminoles are the only team in the country to finish ranked in the top 10 every year, a streak that is sure to continue this year.
The architect of Franklin Pierce University's small college dynasty, Krikorian has a team capable of winning its first national championship. The Seminoles were unbeaten for most of the season before suffering a 3-2 loss at Boston College 10 days ago. Alison Foley, who played at Keene State when Krikorian was coaching at Franklin Pierce, coaches BC.
The two teams play again today in Tallahassee in the first round of the conference tournament. FSU is gunning for its second straight ACC title and has its eye on a return trip the College Cup.
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THE BEYOND THE BORDERS SPOTLIGHT SHINES ON: Jenna Freitas of Manchester. The former Memorial High standout is helping the UMass Lowell field hockey team to another successful season. The freshman forward has made an immediate impact on a team gunning for its sixth straight trip to the NCAA Division II tournament. She scored five goals during the regular season, including a pair in the team's regular season finale against AIC, and opened the NE-10 tournament with the game-winning goal in a 3-1 win over Stonehill College. Freitas and her twin sister Kelly - who also plays at UMass Lowell - helped lead Memorial to the Division I finals a year ago. Jenna was named the high school player of the year after scoring a program-record 19 goals.
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Jim Fennell's New Hampshire College Notebook appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..