Jim Fennell's NH College Notebook: Plymouth State ice hockey team looks to build on success
Plymouth State University men's hockey coach Craig Russell is hoping more depth and more skill up front helps the Panthers top last year's record-setting season.
PSU won the Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference - its first title in 40 years --and reached the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time in program history a year ago. The Panthers return almost intact and are the preseason favorites to win the conference again. Russell thinks this year's team may be even deeper up front than the one that lost 3-1 at home to Wentworth in the first round of the NCAAs.
"We're definitely hungry to get back to that spot so we can have a better showing," Russell said.
The addition of three highly touted forwards, including freshman Zech Fox of Sandown (Timberline), will allow Russell to rotate four solid lines. Russell expects Fox to pair with seniors Alex Cottle and Kyle Greco on what could be a potent first line. Expect even more from junior Phil Arnone of Litchfield (Winchendon School), who came back lighter and faster.
The rest of the state's small college programs are a mixed bag.
St. Anselm is expected to defend its Northest-10 Conference title, but the Hawks will certainly want to improve on a losing record in ECAC East play. They return their top five scorers from a year ago, including senior forward Mike Richard of Derry (Pinkerton).
Franklin Pierce University is still looking for its first winning season since moving from a club program 11 years ago, while Southern New Hampshire is trying to snap a streak of six straight losing seasons.
New England College is looking for its first winning season in four years and the Pilgrims will try to end the streak with a roster that includes 24 international players, including 12 from Sweden. Sophomore forward Kevin Marceau from Concord, who played in 14 games last year, represents the team's homegrown talent.
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GOLD STARS TO: Stonehill College freshman Stephen Grzywacz of Manchester (Central) was one of 31 college kickers recognized by the Fred Mitchell Award committee for October. The award, which goes to a place kicker for excellence in the field and the community, will be announced in December. Grzywacz, who kicked eight field goals, including one game-winner in three games during October, leads the NE-10 with 10 field goals. Off the field, Grzywacz is a volunteer at the New Horizons soup kitchen in Manchester. ... While we're on the subject of kickers, junior Charlie Donahue of Plymouth had another good day last week for Bates, booting a career-best 31-yard field goal and converting all four of his extra point tries. ... Jenna Freitas didn't take long to get into the swing of this postseason thing for the UMass Lowell field hockey team. The River Hawks, a two-time Division II champion, have one of the top programs in the country and the freshman from Manchester (Memorial) is emerging a key contributor. Freitas recently set up the lone goal in UMass Lowell's 1-0 win over Merrimack in the NE-10 championship game. Carrie Dresser of Plaistow (Timberlane) also started for the River Hawks, while Jen Otis of Penacook (Merrimack Valley), Katie Bishop of Conway (Kennett) and sisters Katie and Christine Zubkus of Dover started for Merrimack. The Warriors are also in the NCAAs. ... Courtney Pollard of Lebanon finished her field hockey career at Virginia Wesleyan by leading the team with seven goals and 14 points. ...St. Michael's junior midfielder Chris George of Stratham (Exeter) was named to the NCAA Division II Academic All-District 1 soccer team
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PUTTING THE STUDENT IN STUDENT-ATHLETE: The NCAA recently released its graduation date for Division II colleges and St. Anselm, Southern New Hampshire and Franklin Pierce University were all above the national average academic success rate of 72 percent.
St. Anselm had an ASR of 90 percent, while SNHU and FPU each scored 79 percent.
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STILL IN THE SWING: The University of New Hampshire's club golf team is headed to the National Collegiate Club Golf Association's national tournament later this month at the Sea Island Retreat in Sea Island, Ga. The team hasn't lost a tournament this year, winning both Northeast Regional tournaments last month. UNH claimed individual medalist honors at both events, with Troy Goliber posting the low score at one regional and C.J. Konkowski and James Miller sharing honors at the other.
Another in-state golf team that enjoyed a standout season was St. Anselm, which tied UMass Lowell for first place out of 35 teams recently at the 78th annual New England Intercollegiate Golf Championships.
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NEW HAMPSHIRE SOUTH: There is a definite Granite State connection building within the men's basketball program at Pfeiffer College in Misenheimer, N.C. Pfeiffer coach Jeremy Currier is a Hampstead native who went to Pinkerton Academy. One of his assistants is Matt Adams, who went to Keene High and Keene State, and the other is Steven Enright, a former assistant at Endicott College to Phil Rowe, the long-time coach at Plymouth State and Keene State. But the team's most visible connection to New Hampshire is 6-foot-11 freshman center Silvere Aluko of Manchester. Currier used his contacts in New Hampshire to recruit Aluko out of Trinity and he expects the big man to help the team immediately. Pfeiffer, a Division II program that competes in the Conference Carolinas, recently played Division I UNC Charlotte in an exhibition game and Aluko was in the starting lineup. Currier is in his third year as head coach. He was an assistant there for two seasons after being head coach at Daniel Webster College in Nashua for two years.
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THE BEYOND THE BORDERS SPOTLIGHT SHINES ON: Jeff LaCoste of Amherst. LaCoste's collegiate career probably didn't get off to the start he was expecting, but the former state champion out of Bishop Guertin High of Nashua is certainly making up for lost time with the High Point University men's cross country team. LaCoste, a red-shirt freshman, has emerged as one of the top runners for High Point, a Division I program that competes in the Big South conference. He recently finished eighth in the conference championship, helping High Point finish second as a team, while earning individual all-conference honors and a spot in the upcoming NCAA regional. LaCoste had to deal with a hip flexor and freak leg and elbow injury at the start of the season, but started rounding into shape by winning the sub-varsity race at the Charlotte Invitational before winning two regular-season varsity races and finishing 36th overall at the prestigious Chile Pepper Festival 10K in Fayetteville, Ark. LaCoste had a top 10 finish in his first race last year, but sat out the rest of the cross country season with mononucleosis. He came back during the track season to post several top 10 finishes, including a fifth in the 5K during the Big South championships.
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Jim Fennell may be reached at email@example.com.