Merrimack's Maggie Kennedy in action for the UNH women's volleyball team. (COURTESY)
HEAD COACH Jill Hirschinger and her University of New Hampshire volleyball team are itching to start defending their America East Conference championship. The Wildcats have five returning starters from the squad that posted a 20-13 overall record and went 12-2 in conference play in 2013. Hirschinger is expecting some of the championship-level play last year to carry over this season.
"We're really excited to start the season. We ended on such a high note last year and we want to continue that," Hirschinger said.
Junior co-captain Tori Forrest and Madison Lightfoot were two big reasons the Wildcats were able to have the success they did a year ago. Forrest led the team in kills with 349 last season while Lightfoot contributed a conference-high 546 digs.
Hirschinger believes both players will provide leadership for their team, as well as Taylor Dunklau, whom the coach calls the quarterback of the Wildcats.
New Hampshire opened the season on the road in the UConn Classic, downing Central Connecticut State University, 3-2, after falling to Indiana University, 3-1, earlier in the day on Saturday.
"The past three weeks we've played against each other so it will be good experience to get tested on our strengths and weaknesses," said Hirschinger. "It's a good test playing against someone else and there are a good test of teams (in the tournament)."
The five-time America East Coach of the Year is especially looking forward to seeing how her team fairs against the Hoosiers and host UConn.
"Obviously Indiana will be a lot bigger than us and play a lot of quality competition in the Big 10. The same goes for UConn out of the Big East," said Hirschinger. "It will be a really good tournament for us."
Hirschinger said she doesn't have any specific expectations going into either game other than the team performing to the best of its ability.
"They are really good teams and I hope they really test us because if they play better then we play better," the coach said.
The opening non-conference games will also give Hirschinger the opportunity to evaluate some of her lesser experience players, such as Merrimack's Maggie Kennedy.
"Maggie had a great spring and really picked it up this fall and we'll see what she can do when she gets out on the court. This will be a good test for her," said Hirschinger. New Hampshire's first game in the UConn Classic is Friday against UConn at 7:30 p.m. at the Harry A. Gampell Pavillion in Storrs, Conn.
"They're really a team," Hirschinger said about her players. "They've figured out how to beat each other in practices and I hope that carries over when we play strangers."
JOE FREMEAU, a 2011 graduate of Bentley University, has returned to his alma mater as an assistant men's basketball coach, head coach Jay Lawson announced.
Fremeau spent the past two years as an assistant women's basketball coach at Southern New Hampshire University while he pursued his MBA in marketing. His coaching resume also includes a year (2011-12) as an assistant boys' basketball coach at his alma mater, Manchester Central High School.
"We're very excited to have Joe join our staff as the full-time assistant we rely heavily on," said Lawson, who coached Fremeau from 2007-11. "First of all, he played for us so he has an excellent knowledge of how we approach things.
Second, Joe was a very intelligent and unselfish player who always put the team ahead of himself and that mentality obviously transfers well to the coaching profession.
Most important, Joe is a very willing worker, proud alum and a person of high character who will be a strong role model for our present and future players to learn from. We lost an excellent person in Kevin Bettencourt but are fortunate to add another in Joe Fremeau."
Bentley reached the NCAA Division II Regional Final in all four years of Fremeau's career with the Falcons advancing to the national semifinals during his freshman and junior seasons. In total, the team posted a 110-23 record with Fremeau in uniform, including 50-15 during his junior and senior seasons when he started every game.
"I'm looking forward to representing Bentley again, this time as a coach, and to help our players gain the values that were instilled in me during my time as a player," said Fremeau. ""Looking forward to this season, I'm extremely excited to work with such a high character group of guys who really put the time in on and off the court."
On Tuesday, a landmark event in sports injury prevention will take place at Saint Anselm College's Sullivan Arena: the installation of The Look-Up Line.
The Look-Up Line is a safety-orange warning track designed to prevent hockey players from suffering head, neck and spinal cord injuries.
Saint Anselm is the first institution of higher education to install the line, which extends 40 inches in width around the hockey rink's circumference. Tucker Mullin, a hockey captain and 2013 graduate of the college, is a co-founder of the organization that launched the idea (the Thomas E. Smith Foundation).
The organization's founder (and Mullin's friend), Thomas Smith, suffered two spinal cord injuries playing hockey. The Look-Up Line was nationally debuted on the ice at 2014 Frozen Fenway. It was officially supported by the NCAA and USA Hockey at its annual Congress in June 2014.
In addition to its support, the NCAA and USA Hockey assembled the Look-Up Line Safety Task Force to provide scientific evidence for the line's efficacy in injury prevention.
Smith and Mullin both will participate in the installation of the Look-Up Line, along with members of the Thomas E. Smith Foundation, St. Anselm College president Steven DiSalvo, and St. Anselm hockey coach Ed Seney. Attendees will be able to participate in the painting of the line. Painting begins around 10:30.
THE COLBY SAWYER field hockey team was projected to finish last in the North Atlantic Conference by the league's coaches. Castleton State College was picked as the favorite to win the conference, receiving three first place vote and 32 points overall. Husson, UMaine-Farmington Thomas and New England College received second, third, fourth and fifth place, ahead of the Chargers.
The Spartans are the two-time defending NAC champions. Colby Sawyer finished last season 6-11 overall and went 1-8 in conference.
UNH's field hockey squad began its season Friday on the road against Indiana and lost, 3-2. . The Wildcats will play Louisville on Saturday before coming home to Durham for their home opener against Drexel on Friday, Sept. 5.
THE UNIVERSITY of New Hampshire women's soccer team has already kicked off their season, posting a record of 1-2 overall. The Wildcats opened the season competing in the TD Bank Classic at the University of Vermont, finishing the event 1-1.
In its opening game against Youngstown State, UNH earned a 1-0 victory thanks to the lone goal from freshman Brooke Murphy. The Wildcats lost their second game by the same score, falling to Central Connecticut State. Murphy and senior Caroline Murray were named to the All-Tournament Team.
In their home opener against Holy Cross, the Wildcats were blanked, 3-0. Their next game is today at 1 p.m. on the road against the Northeastern Huskies at Parsons Field in Boston.
THE NORTHEAST-10 Conference released its Preseason Coaches Poll on Wednesday, with Southern New Hampshire picked as the preseason favorite. The Penmen are the defending national champions and have won the conference the last two seasons.
Southern New Hampshire received 12 first place votes from the coaches and 168 points overall to top the preseason rankings. Merrimack College, Adelphi University, Southern Connecticut State and Franklin Pierce rounded out the top five positions. St. Anselm ranked last, receiving 24 points.
SNHU seniors Pierre Omanga and Manchester Memorial graduate Christian Rodriguez return as the team's top scorers from 2013. Omanga recorded a team-high 21 goals while Rodriguez finished with five goals and three assists last season.
The Penmen went undefeated in conference play and 22-1-1 overall en route to last year's national title. The team will open its season Thursday, Sept. 4 at home against Bloomfield College. Southern New Hampshire's first conference game is Wednesday, Sept. 17 at Franklin Pierce.
THE PLYMOUTH STATE women's tennis team wase ranked fifth in the Little East Preseason Coaches Poll. Rhode Island College topped the poll for the first time in program history, receiving seven first place votes and 71 total points.
Bridgewater State, UMass Dartmouth, Worcester State and the Panthers filled in the remaining top five spots, respectively.Nikki Lund, Nitsa Ioannides and Manchester Central graduate Chelsea Thibeault return as the Panthers' top performers from last season. Lund and Ioannides posted a 7-3 record as a team in doubles play. Thibeault finished with an individual record of 7-4 and 3-5 in double play with teammate Jane Duggan.
Alex Hall compiles the College Notebook for the New Hampshire Sunday News. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AlexKHall. C.J. McCarthy is the Sunday News Sports Editor