Riv volleyball enters rebuilding season

Rivier University men’s and women’s volleyball coach Craig Kolek was thrilled to see 2015 come to an end.

Both teams are typically at a championship level, but the previous calendar year saw both the Raider men and women lose in the Great Northeast Conference finals at the friendly confines of Riv’s Muldoon Center. The men fell to Lasell last April and the women to Johnson & Wales this past November, both five-set losses. Thus, no NCAA trip for either.

"Yeah, 2015 wasn’t a really good year," Kolek said. "To have both teams lose at home, championship games, five-set losses, that’s a little hard to swallow."

The Raiders now have their shot at redemption after opening the season last Friday. However, the high expectations of 2015 aren’t there for the 2016 season.

"It’s a different year," Kolek said. "We’ve never been more of an underdog. It’s been awhile."

Why the change? Youth. The Raiders had a nucleus that, among other things, took them to a No. 1 national ranking early in the 2014 season and an NCAA tourney berth and then a return trip to the GNAC Finals.

"We’re young," Kolek said. "A lot of those players have graduated and now the guys who have been waiting behind them finally get their turn. We were due at some point. They’re talented, they definitely have the potential to (be as good).

"But mentally it’s starting over. Not skill-wise, but in a tight game we need to see how they are going to react."

Six-foot junior setter Tyler Blank, called "the floor general" by Kolek, will key Riv as a third-year starter this season. Junior outside hitter Ian Wolski, his coach says, "has been waiting in the wings, and we think he’ll do a lot of things for us."

One key senior could be libero Nick Ochoa of Whittier, Calif. Two others who are relatively new would be are 5-foot-10 sophomore outside hitter Garrett Bucklind and 6-foot-6 freshman Khaynen Yocca out of Pittsburgh, Pa. Keep an eye on Bucklin.

"I think he’s going to be pretty exciting to watch," Kolek said.

Optimism high at DWC

Meanwhile, over at Daniel Webster, the roster number is small (nine) but the optimism is high after a tough 3-15 season a year ago.

Eagles coach Peter Kazlas came in just after the start of the season last year, when Braden Zaemore left to take the St. Anselm women’s vacancy.

"It’s more of a better player-coach connection type deal," Kazlas said. "We’ve got four seniors, and they’re all integral parts, all working hard for me. And we’ve got three freshman, so right now it’s all about getting chemistry."

The chemistry wasn’t bad this past weekend as the Eagles beat Emerson while falling to MIT in a tri-match in Cambridge, Mass.

Two keys to the season appear to be the play of 5-foot-11 senior Ryan Howdeshell, who hails from Fairbanks, Alaska, and Nate Makaiwi, a 5-foot-6 freshman from Las Vegas, Nev. He’s not big, but as Kazlas said, "He’s very athletic, very bright and he’ll be our quarterback."

It’s a small but diverse group. For example, outside hitter Tommy Reyes is the only junior on the team and New Ipswich’s Travis Somero (Mascenic Regional) is the only sophomore.

"In going with nine guys, each of them can play two or more positions," Kazlas said. "It’s not the biggest team, but we’ll be able to beat some teams with our versatility."

Simonini recognized among best

It seems the DWC women’s soccer players have been learning from the best. Eagles women’s coach Pete Simonini was recently named one of the 50 greatest players from New England in the January/February edition of New England Soccer Journal.

Simonini spent his college career as a goalkeeper at Plymouth State, where he posted a career 0.35 goals against average over four seasons, which remains tied for the lowest in NCAA Division III history. He was a first-round draft pick of the New England Tea Men of the old NASL in 1980 and was later an American Soccer League MVP with the same franchise after it moved to Jacksonville, Fla.

Simonini, who was previously a goalkeepers coach with the New England Revolution as well as the former Bentley University men’s head soccer coach, has guided the Eagles program the last three seasons.

DWC earns sweep

The DWC basketball teams enjoyed a rare sweep last weekend, as the women and men manhandled Newbury College, 66-53 and 68-54.

The women continue to be led by Ashley England, who had 19 points in the win, but don’t discount 6-foot-3 transfer Jillian Gilman, who can be a consistent double-double threat as she had 10 points and 13 rebounds.

The Eagles spoiled the day for Nashua’s Katelyn Roeser, who starts for Newbury and had four points, including a layup that got her team within eight late in the contest.

On the men’s side, Rondell Best continues to have a good season with 25 points and 10 boards, as does Ray Farmer (14 points, nine rebounds).

The pair has been incredibly consistent for the Eagles. Best is averaging 18.8 points and 9.1 boards a game; Nashua’s Farmer is at 16.1 and 7.3.

Notes

The Rivier men’s basketball team, coached by Nashua’s Lance Bisson, are experiencing the growing pains (2-14) one might expect from a team in transition. Riv has lost eight games by seven points or less. …

If you’re wondering when the college lacrosse season begins, it’s Feb. 27 for the Raider men (vs. UMass-Boston) and DWC men (at Green Mountain); March 2 for the Raider women (vs. Becker) and not until March 17 vs. Rivier for the Eagle women.