Two season ago, when Kerry Finnigan was hired to coach the New Hampshire Technical Institute of Concord's softball team, he only had three kids show up for the first practice.
"I told (NHTI athletic director) Paul Hogan, maybe we should cancel the season," laughed Finnigan. "We ended up with 10 players and we were halfway competitive. I went out and started getting players to come to NHTI. I figured if everything went well, we'd have a chance of playing in the national tournament in about three years. I'm happy to say I was wrong, because we did it a lot sooner than I thought."
The Lynx, behind a 25-11-1 record, earned an at-large berth to the 2014 Small College World Series USCAA Softball National Championships. NHTI will begin the double-elimination tournament on Monday at 10 a.m., against Penn College n Akron, Ohio. Win or lose, the Lynx will play their second game later in the afternoon.
Sixteen of the 17 players on the roster are from New Hampshire. The ace of the pitching staff is Manchester Memorial graduate Tori Lemay, who transferred to NHTI from New England College.
"Things didn't work out for her there, but they certainly did here with us," said Finnigan. "I've never seen numbers at our level like the ones she has attained this year. In 140 innings, she has 266 strikeouts, an ERA under 1.00 and has allowed just 20 walks. She's been outstanding."
On Thursday, the Yankee Small College Conference named Lemay Player of the Year and Finnigan as its Coach of the Year in softball.
Kasie Tucker of Bow and Lindsey Hampson of Manchester (Central) join Lemay in the rotation. Offensively the big bats in the line-up belong to Cassandra Camire of Farmington and Joardyn Douillette of Loudon (Merrimack Valley).
"We play a split season and we won the Yankee Small College Conference in the fall (11-4 record)," said Finnigan. "That's when our girls collectively said they were going to the nationals this spring. That's when they set their sights and went after it."
NHTI won nine straight games during the fall and spring seasons.
Finnigan is no stranger to winning programs.
The 1974 Manchester Central graduate led the Little Green boys' basketball program to the Division I state title. The starting five of Finnigan, Jim Houle, Ray Giroux, Mike Stanton and Phil Tsoubanos along with sixth man Jimmy Vailas under head coach Eddie Wade beat Portsmouth in the finals that season.
Finnigan was a softball assistant coach for seven seasons at St. Anselm College and served two seasons as head coach at Manchester Central. Until two years ago, he spent 10 seasons as the assistant boys' basketball coach at Central under head coach Dave "Doc" Wheeler.
At Central during his years with Wheeler, Finnigan met basketball team manager Michael Martineau. A medical condition slowed Martineau's development at an early age, but he was beloved by his teammates and fellow students. He was given a chance to play on the varsity team for two minutes against Nashua North during his senior season.
Martineau made the most of it, scoring from the baseline in a home game in front of his friends and family.
"Mike's a great person and he's majoring in sports management here at NHTI," said Finnigan. "He's well-liked and I asked him to join our program as our team manager. He's a great stat man."
NHTI hopes to add a few more wins in Akron this week in the World Series.
"I told our girls there's no pressure on us," said Finnigan. "We're the first softball team from NHTI to qualify for the World Series. I told them to go out and win, but to also have fun and enjoy the experience."
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New Hampshire native Adam Sherman has been named Coach of the Year in the North Atlantic Conference after leading the Maine Maritime Mariners to a 6-2 campaign in conference play and earning the third seed in the conference tournament.
Sherman has delivered the Mariners to the NAC Semifinals for the third time in his three-year turn at the helm.
Said Sherman, "It is an honor to be recognized for doing something you love to do, but the credit belongs to the hard working group of Mariner athletes".
Sherman, who played lacrosse and football at Souhegan High School in Amherst, is a graduate of Springfield College, where he was an offensive lineman for the Pride.
It has been a year full of honors for Sherman, who works with Maine Maritime's football team as the offensive line coach.
That unit led the NCAA in rushing yards per game last fall.
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Drew Simoneau, a junior face-off specialist at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., has been named the Player of the Year in the Empire 8 Conference for the second straight season. Simoneau was born in Manchester and attened Goffstown High School and Kimball Union Academy.
He started all 18 games he appeared in, posting a team-high 230 groundballs and a face-off percentage of .679. His 12.72 ground balls per game led the conference and ranks first in NCAA Division III. He ranks 10th in Division III in face-off percentage. Simoneau is the first player in E8 history to earn the yearly award twice.
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Assumption College freshman second baseman Ashley Abad, a graduate of Bedford High School, who was named to the Northeast-10 All-Rookie Team, became just the second player in program history to homer in her first career at-bat as she launched a two-run shot in the season opener vs. Queens.
Starting all 36 games, Abad finished with a .306 average that included 30 hits, 20 runs scored, seven doubles, two home runs and 18 runs batted in. She also posted 43 total bases, a .439 slugging percentage and a .395 on-base percentage as she drew a team-high 14 walks. She ranked third on the team in assists with 63 and led the team with three stolen bases. Abad had hits in 22 of 36 games, including seven multi-hit games, while reaching base successfully in 27 contests. Abad was also a one-time Northeast-10 Rookie of the Week honoree.
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Junior Sam Henke and sophomore Madison Lightfoot of the University of New Hampshire volleyball team were both bestowed awards by the University last week.
Henke was the recipient of the Barbara King Newman Memorial Scholarship while Lightfoot garnered the Movers and Shakers award.
Henke, a three-year letterwinner for the Wildcats, has been a diligent student in the classroom as well as the court. She is a three-time honoree on the America East Honor Roll with twice being tabbed to the Commissioner's Honor Roll for achieving a semester grade point average of a 3.50 or higher. On the court, Henke has played in every match since her arrival to Durham and helped lead New Hampshire to its fourth America East title in program history this past fall.
Lightfoot, a two-year letterwinner for New Hampshire, was an integral piece to the 2013 America East championship team, playing every set during the season. Named to the Commissioner's Honor Roll in 2013, the sophomore defensive specialist logged the second highest total of digs in a single season (546) in UNH volleyball history. In addition, Lightfoot is the record holder for digs in a single game (39), recording the feat in a five-set win against Binghamton University on Nov. 17.
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Seamus O'Neill of Manchester, of the football team and Lauren McCandless of the women's swimming and diving team were named the 2013-14 Jim Urquhart Student-Athletes of the year by the University of New Hampshire athletic department.
The Jim Urquhart Student-Athlete of the Year award, which was established in 1999, is named in memory of longtime UNH coach and administrator Jim Urquhart, who coached the men's lacrosse team for 17 seasons and mentored the wrestling program for 11 seasons. The Urquhart award is bestowed upon senior student-athletes who excel in both athletic competition and in the classroom, as well as possessing great character, sportsmanship and a passion for sports.
O'Neill, who graduated in December with a Kinesiology: Sport Studies degree, was a stalwart on the Wildcats' offensive line for four straight years. After working his way into the starting lineup as a right guard on the opening day of his redshirt freshman season (2010), O'Neill shifted to left tackle as a sophomore and showed tremendous durability by starting the remaining 38 games of his career from 2011-13.
McCandless, who will graduate with magna cum laude distinction in May with a degree in molecular & cellular biology/biochemistry, owns the all-time UNH record in the 500- (4:51.20, 2013) 1,000- (10:00.97, 2011) and 1,650-yard freestyle (16:35.31, 2011), leading the Wildcats to three conference titles in four years (ECAC, 2011; America East, 2013; America East, 2014). In addition, McCandless is also associated with the program's fastest relay times in the 200-(1:41.70, 2011) and 400-yard medley relay 3:34.89, 2011).
In addition to O'Neill, the other men's nominees for the Urquhart Award were men's basketball captain Scott Morris and men's soccer captain Jeffrey Turner.
The other women's nominees for the Urquhart Award were Hannah Barile of the gymnastics team, Megan Bozek from the field hockey team, Jamie DePitris from the women's lacrosse team, Kelsey Hogan of Nashua, from the women's basketball team and Morgan Thatcher from the volleyball team.
The Tina True Memorial Award, which is given to athletes that exemplify commitment to strength and conditioning, was presented to Chris Setian of the football team and Hogan of the women's basketball team.
The Athletic Director's Award for Academic Excellence, presented annually since 2010 to the student-athletes with the highest cumulative grade-point averages, went to a pair of alpine skiers: Kris Hopkins and Laura Rozinowicz.
The Community Involvement Award, which debuted in 2011, was awarded to Turner of the men's soccer team.
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University of Newe England softball player Amanda Vaudreuil of Windham, was voted Commonwealth Coast Conference Player of the Year by the league's 10 head coaches. She was also a first team all-conference selection.
Vaudreuil, a senior shortstop, batted .500 (66-for-132) while leading the Nor'easters in runs scored (43), doubles (18), home runs (6) and runs batted in (37).
She was ranked in the top five of the CCC statistical leaders in all of those categories, leading the league in batting average, runs, doubles and RBI.
Vaudreuil wrapped up her four-year career with a .361 batting average, 104 runs scored and 100 RBI.
"College Notebook" is compiled by the staff of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Submissions may be emailed to email@example.com.