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January 14. 2013 9:21PM

December Athlete of the Month making quite a splash

Jennifer French of Nashua, a Keene State College swimmer, is December's Union Leader Athlete of the Month. (COURTESY)


On the first day of December, Keene State College swimmer Jennifer French had a breakout performance at the Little East Conference swimming and diving championships. A freshman from Nashua, French won all three races in which she was entered - the 100-yard freestyle, the 500-yard freestyle and the 1,000-yard freestyle - to lead the Owls to victory with a meet-record 630 points.

With her prowess in the pool, French earned the December Athlete of the Month award as voted on by the New Hampshire Union Leader Board of Judges.

French will be honored, along with the 11 previous 2012 Athletes of the Month and other award winners, on Feb. 10 at the Union Leader's annual sports banquet, The Leaders: A Celebration of New Hampshire Sports Champions. The winners of the male and female Red Rolfe Athlete of the Year awards, chosen from the Athletes of the Month, will be announced at the banquet.

French, 18, edged John Wickey of Manchester (Central), a Babson College basketball standout, and Pembroke Academy cager Pat Welch for December honors. Others receiving votes included basketball players Dina Pitsas of Milford High and Zobel Iradukunda of Manchester Memorial, young cross-country runner Caroline Fischer of Merrimack and Manchester Memorial hockey player Brendan Sullivan.

A former Southern New Hampshire Fins club swimmer who was part of Nashua North High School's 2011 NHIAA Division I girls state championship swimming and diving squad, French started her college career with two 1,000-yard freestyle victories - one at the New England Invitational in Worcester, Mass., on Nov. 3 and the other at a home meet against Tufts University on Nov. 18. Still, she surpassed her expectations at the Little East Championships in North Dartmouth, Mass., where Keene State won 13 of 16 races en route to its seventh consecutive conference crown and 10th overall. The Owls defeated runner-up Eastern Connecticut State by a whopping 304 points.

"I knew we were expected to win, but I didn't think it would be by that much," French said. "It was nice having three (victories) to go toward that."

French won the 1,000-yard freestyle in 10:55.23 before winning the 100-yard freestyle in 54.56 and 500-yard freestyle in 5:18.79.

A double major in special education and psychology, French is a versatile freestyler who performs well at various distances, as her Little East performance attested.

"She's a very aggressive distance swimmer, and she can swim down several events," said Keene State coach Jack Fabian. "She has a lot of endurance, and some natural speed that goes along with that endurance."

Buoyed by its Little East victory, Keene State improved to 15th in the College Swimming Coaches Association of America Division III ranking that was released on Dec. 13. Although French is not among the Owl swimmers expected to qualify for the NCAA Division III Championships in March, qualifying and placing at the nationals is one of her primary goals, she said.

"We're hoping she'll qualify in the future," Fabian said. "She definitely has the potential to."


January: Drew Ledwith, Keene, swimming

February: Zach Bridson, Sandown, wrestling

March: Curtis Arsenault, Berlin, basketball

April: Peter Williamson, Hanover, golf

May: Morgan Andrews, Milford, soccer

June: Hillary Holmes, Exeter, track and field

July: Lauren Thibodeau, Hampstead, golf

August: Sarah Groff, Hanover, triathlon

September: Victoria Arlen, Exeter, swimming

October: Chelso Barrett, Keene, golf

November: Casey DeSmith, Rochester, hockey


Carl Lundholm Memorial
(for dedication to youth in athletics)

Tom Walton, Hopkinton

John R. Clark Officials
Roland Bourque, New Hampton

Fran Maineri, New Hampton

Rick Forge, Moultonborough

Harry Irwin, Somersworth

Mike Gould, Nashua

Walter A. Smith Coaches

Charlie Beach, Keene

Deb Beach, Keene

Al Halpern, Goffstown

Tony Johnson, formerly of Manchester

Stan Lyford, North Hampton

NHIAA Athletes and Coaches of the Year
Boys' basketball
Player: Dimitri Floras, Merrimack

Coach: David Wheeler, Manchester Central

Girls' basketball

Player: Jane White, Souhegan

Coach: John Fagula, Londonderry

Boys' ice hockey

Player: Zach Sanford, Pinkerton

Coach: Mark Putney, Manchester Memorial

Girls' ice hockey

Player: Maddie Dewhirst, Hanover

Coach: Stacy Boudrias, Concord

Boys' indoor track and field

Athlete: Jonathan Vinnenberg, Bow

Coach: Ian French, Pinkerton

Girls' indoor track and field

Athlete: Hillary Holmes, Exeter

Coach: Emily Blahnik, Bedford

Boys' swimming and diving

Athlete: David Pfeifer, Bishop Guertin

Coach: Karla Black, Bishop Guertin

Girls' swimming and diving

Athlete: Emily Wadlinger, Lebanon

Coach: Karla Black, Bishop Guertin


Athlete: Zach Bridson, Timberlane

Coach: Barry Chooljian, Timberlane


Player: Graham McIntire, Concord

Coach: Marc Schoff, St. Thomas Aquinas

Boys' lacrosse

Player: Bob Fahey, Bishop Guertin

Coach: Brian O'Reilly, Pinkerton

Girls' lacrosse

Player: Jane Symmes, Concord

Coach: Beth Rogers, Merrimack


Player: Taylor Carbone, Alvirne

Coach: Dennis Bruce, Winnacunnet

Boys' tennis

Player: Mark Hosang, Bedford

Coach: Shawna Morley, Bedford

Girls' tennis

Player: Julia Keenan, St. Thomas Aquinas

Coach: Debbie Lloyd, Bishop Guertin

Boys' outdoor track and field

Athlete: Romario Bailey, Stevens

Coach: Walter Roberts, Pinkerton

Girls' outdoor track and field

Athlete: Betsy Garnick, Bishop Guertin

Coach: Jarod Mills, White Mountains

Boys' cross country

Athlete: Jeremy Brassard, Coe-Brown

Coach: Jeff Wilson, Souhegan

Girls' cross country

Athlete: Elizabeth Conway, Manch. Central

Coach: Tim Cox, Coe-Brown

Field hockey

Player: Lindsey Nerbonne, Bow

Coach: Amanda Ward, Windham


Player: Tyler Grant, Exeter

Coach: Chuck Lenahan, Plymouth

Boys' soccer

Player: Erik Martel, Bedford

Coach: Mike Hachey, Windham

Girls' soccer

Player: Morgan Andrews, Milford

Coach: Michelle Winning, Bedford


Player: Molly Wotton, Dover

Coach: John Roemer, Salem

Special Recognition
(for commitment to youth)

Dan Duval*, Manchester

*Presented posthumously

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