Local college teams kick off conference slate

NASHUA – It’s the second season for the area’s Division III college basketball teams. The feeling out process of November and December is over.

Now they’re in the January-February conference gauntlet, and the question is, who is best suited to survive?

It could be the Rivier University women’s basketball team.

The Raiders are 6-6 overall but are off to a 2-0 start in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference. They’ve won two out of three since returning from the semester break, with the loss coming against a tough Trinity College team, 64-51. They’ve handled GNAC foes Mount Ida, 70-54, and this past weekend St. Joeseph’s (Conn.), 81-62.

Riv is idle this week until it hosts Simmons on Saturday. After that, seven of its final 12 games will be on the road, and all but four (two with Fisher, one each vs. Salem State and Pine Manor) will be GNAC games.

"We played a very difficult non-conference schedule for a reason," Rivier coach Paul Williams said. "And that was to gear ourselves up for the conference play."

Nashua South alum Caitlyn Perry has raised her game to another level in her junior season with the Raiders. Perry leads Riv in scoring, averaging 17.7 points a game and hitting 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

"It’s all because of the confidence of my teammates," Perry said after a Raider win earlier this season over city rival Daniel Webster. "We all work together really well."

Perry has formed a one-two punch with Savanna Butterfield of Londonderry. Butterfield has averaged 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.

"She definitely picks up our team when we’re not doing well," Perry said after a recent win. "And when she starts going (well) the rest of us start going (well)."

But the Raiders are much more than just a two-woman team. Dracut, Mass., freshman Kaylee Kacavas led them with 18 points in the over Mount Ida and again last weekend with 22 points in the win over St. Joseph’s.

"As we begin conference play, a lot of pieces are coming together," Williams said. "We have a very young team with only one returning senior. So as we move forward we’re learning every day and getting better every day."

It’s been a different type of preparation for the conference slate. For the first time in a few years, the Raiders did not have a holiday tournament to travel to, so returning to the January grind was a little more difficult.

"It was definitely awkward," Williams said. "It was quite an adjustment to get ourselves back into true playing shape. The speed of a college basketball game, you can’t emulate that, no matter how much the girls are working out outside (of the regular schedule). Getting back into that college basketball mode, there’s a lot of layups missed, lot of free throws missed, just not having our legs.

"I expect moving forward we’re just going to continue to get better as the year goes on. That’s always our goal, to get better as the year goes on."

The Raiders have the building bocks to be competitive not just this year but in the next couple of years.

"I like this team a lot," Williams said. "We have a lot of very good players, and we’re deep."

DWC battles Ivy League

You want to talk about a tough non-conference schedule? Try what the Daniel Webster College men’s basketball team experienced this past weekend, playing both Yale and Brown on the road.

The Eagles (4-6) lost to Yale, 94-53, but were in their game with Brown, tied at halftime before fading in the second half, 69-43. But the scores hardly matter.

"It was a great experience," Eagles coach Donald Morris, Jr. said. "It gives our kids an opportunity to see what a Division I program is like; it’s every player’s aspiration to play Division I."

Once Brown’s depth took over in the second half,, Morris, Jr. pulled most of his starters as a precaution against injury. But expect the Division I experience, which began when former coach Dave Faucher would schedule an Ivy League team here and there over the years, to continue. Morris, Jr. says that there’s a game already on the schedule with Dartmouth College in mid January of 2017.

"When I was at Lesley we played UNH, Harvard, Dartmouth," he said. "It’s something we’ll always try to do here."

Nashua’s Ray Farmer, an Eagle junior, vaulted over the 500 career rebound mark in the Yale game.

"He’s playing very well for us," Morris, Jr. said. "He always does the right things on and off the court."

Eagles soaring post break

The DWC women went into Tuesday’s game at Mitchell College at 2-0 post break, reaping some of the benefits of players back from injury, as well as the addition of a 6-foot-3 transfer from NHTI, Jillian Gilman.

Meanwhile, senior guard Ashley England (Old Town, Maine) was named the New England Collegiate Conference’s Player of the Week. In those wins over Green Mountain College (81-70) and Bay Path, England averaged 16.5 points, seven rebounds and two assists, shooting 50 percent from the field. She’s averaging 16.3 points a game on the season for the 3-7 Eagles (2-2 NECC).

Men’s volleyball drawing near

Don’t look now but the local men’s college volleyball season is almost upon us. Rivier will begin playing matches on Friday at home with an international match vs. Fanshawe College of Ontario, Canada.

The Raiders will then have tournament play on Saturday, Jan. 23 vs. New Paltz State (Granite State Challenge) and local rival Daniel Webster College (Live Free Or Die tourney). They won’t begin GNAC play until Feb. 11. The Raiders were upset by Lasell in last year’s conference finals and missed the NCAAs.

The Eagles, meanwhile, will hope to rebound from a 5-13 season a year ago and begin their 28-game slate this Saturday with a tri-match in Boston vs. Emerson and MIT. Their first home match will be the first part of the Granite State Challenge vs. New Paltz on Friday, Jan. 22.

In all, DWC will face five programs that were ranked at one point last season in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division III top 15. Last season Springfield finished ranked No. 2 and New Paltz No. 3.