Jim Fennell's College Notebook: Keene State men's basketball team looks to 'big' season
The Keene State College men's basketball team has big plans for this year.
We mean really big.
The Owls, coming off a 19-win season that ended in the semifinals of the Little East Conference tournament, already had one of the biggest players in the region in 6-foot-10 senior Rashad Wright. Now, they've added 7-footer Nate Howard, a freshman from Cheshire, Conn., into the mix.
Heck, junior center Montel Walcott almost seems small at 6-8.
But for all that size, you can expect the success of the Owls will still revolve around the smallest player of the roster.
Senior guard Ryan Martin, who's 5-9, was named a preseason Division III All-America by D3hoops.com for good reason. He is coming off a year when he was named to the Little East Conference first team, having led the Owls in scoring average (17.3) and assists (3.7). He led Division III in free throw percentage (.918) for the second straight season and was the second most accurate 3-point shooter in the LEC (.450).
Last season was a down year for most of the Division III men's programs in the state, with the exceptions being Keene State and Colby-Sawyer College of New London, which went 20-9 during its first season in the North Atlantic Conference.
The opposite was true on the women's side, where five of the state's six programs had between 18 and 22 wins.
Here's a quick look around the state.
The KSC men could challenge for the LEC title and their first trip to the NCAAs in six years. Martin is obviously the centerpiece, but the team is deep and talented. Seven players, including junior forward John Boyatsis of Dover, all logged regular minutes.
A crop of new players that includes Howard and freshman point guard Tre' Tipton adds to the depth. Two other new players who may be worth watching are junior guard Sean Walker, a transfer from Division II Concordia College who hasn't played in three years, and junior swingman Jasmin Handanovic, who is on his fourth college since leaving Milford High.
The KSC women went 19-10 and reached the championship game of the ECAC tournament last year. However, that was a veteran team - four of the team's five starters and almost all of its scoring graduated - and now the Owls are building over.
It was a rough year all around for the Panthers.
The men's team was 9-16 in Andrew Novick's first year as coach. The second year expects to be better.
Junior guard Petey Skevas led the team in scoring last year and could be one of the top guards in the LEC. Junior Mark MacGregor of Rochester (Spaulding) and sophomore Adam Goodwin of Lee (Oyster River), both 6-6, are the only players over 6-4. Junior guard Alex Burt of Dover is back after taking last year off.
Novick has turned over the roster. New players include sophomore guard Tom Barbeau of Waterville Valley (Holderness) and a pair of former Manchester Central players, freshman forward Gage LaCount and sophomore guard Joe Stisser.
The women's team has a new look now that Lauren Lavigne has stepped down as 14 years as coach. Former Division I assistant Liz Stitch takes over and will charged with rebuilding a program that has a total of 13 wins over the past two seasons.
The team's top five scorers from last year, including four with eligibility remaining, are not with the program, leaving Stitch with a team short on numbers and inexperience. There are 10 players on the roster and only two - sophomore forward Tiffany Lewis of Hillsborough and sophomore guard Kristen Hrubowchak of Litchfield (Campbell) - average at least 15 minutes a game last year.
The men's team went 20-8 and lost in the championship game of the NAC tournament. Don't be surprised if the Chargers go one more step this season. Sure, they lost two double-digits scorers in Will Bardaglio and James Tobin of Brookline, but almost everyone else is back on a team that went 10 deep, including sophomore forward Kyle Nelson of Milford.
Among the newcomers are guards Wol Majong of Manchester (New Hope Academy), Kohl Meyers of Wolfeboro (Kingswood) and Kenaan Al-Darraji of Barrington (Dover).
No college basketball team in the state won more games than the Colby-Sawyer women (22-8) last year, but a loss in the NAC finals forced the Chargers to settle for a spot in the ECACs. The top seven scorers from a year ago are back, including Taylor DeSanty (20.4 ppg.) and Cailin Bullett (15.4).
Junior forward Tom Poitras of Bow will have to be a key figure if the men's team is going to improve on last year's 5-20 record, while the women's team will have to figure out a way to deal with the loss of all-everything Amandra Purcell of Hudson if they expect to come close to last year's 18-10 mark. The good news is that Purcell's younger sister Deanna, a sophomore guard, is back. Deanna was the GNAC freshman of the year after averaging a team-high 20.8 points per game.
Former Dartmouth coach Dave Faucher, now in his fifth year with the Eagles, gets back into the Ivy League for at least one game this season when he brings his team to Providence to play Brown on Jan. 12. The other highlight is Thursday's Midnight Madness Tip Off game against crosstown rival Rivier that starts one minute after midnight. It will be the first Division III game played in the country.
Other than that, the Eagles have their work to cut out for them if they expect to have their first winning season in four years.
The women's team went 19-9 a year ago. The bad news is the Eagles lost almost its entire team; the good news is that guard Vanessa Bosques is back. Bosques was the NECC player of the year as a sophomore and helped the Eagles make the NCAA tournament as a junior, but she tore her knee right before last season and sat out the entire year.
New England College
Former Nashua North teammates Javon Williams and Dezron Wilson, a pair of freshman guards, will be looked on to help turn around a men's team that went 7-19 a year ago, while the women's team will have to figure out how to replace Rachel Williams, the heart and soul of a team that went 18-8 a year ago.
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THE BEYOND THE BORDERS SPOTLIGHT SHINES ON: Hanna Collins of Londonderry. Collins, a senior right hitter, had a standout season for the Case Western Reserve volleyball team, helping the Spartans to a 24-11 record this season. Collins was given honorable mention on the University Athletic Association all-conference team after racking up 183 kills and 43 blocks this season. Collins, a nursing major, is a three-time UAA all-academic pick and is part of the winningest class in the volleyball program's history. The Spartans won 94 games during her four years.
Jim Fennell's New Hampshire College Notebook appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News..