Top five UMass Lowell teams to watch in 2017-18

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August 25, 2017 by marlonpitter

Men’s soccer celebrates winning the 2016 America East regular season championship. (Courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)

Written by Marlon Pitter

It’s late August, and River Hawk teams are already in action to begin the 2017-18 campaign. Before we get deeper in the year, it’s time to look at which UMass Lowell teams you should get excited for if you’re a part of River Hawk Nation.

This year brings a critical next step in the university’s journey as a Division I institution. With the NCAA-mandated four-year transition in the rearview mirror, a crucial year of full eligibility awaits the River Hawks with some teams more prepared than others.

To predict and rank the various squads, I’ve assessed them based on objective success, their performances and records from last year; key factors, which consists of returners, departures, and circumstances that should the affect the team; and relative success, the projected increase in success from the 2016-17 campaign. Let’s get into it.

  1. Men’s soccer

Last year, Christian Figueroa and UMass Lowell men’s soccer pulled off an unbelievable season after being written off (selected eighth out of eight teams) in the America East preseason poll. This year should shock no one.

Objective success: The River Hawks went 13-1-2 in the regular season, earning national rankings and recognition along the way. The team went 5-1-1 in conference play en route to the America East Regular Season Championship (the only title they could earn due to the NCAA Division I transition). By all measures, the mission was accomplished last year.

Key factors: The loss of Wuilito Fernandes is huge but certainly not insurmountable. Ivan Abramovic should be ready to take the lead as the top scoring threat for the boys of Cushing Field. As a redshirt freshman, he was second on the team with 26 points (9 goals, 8 assists) to Fernandes with 27.

On the back end, Austin Kroll returns as one of the nation’s best goalkeepers. Kroll finished 12th in the nation with a .622 goals against average and tied for fourth overall with only nine goals allowed on the year. He’s definitely looking for a standout senior year to take the River Hawks to the NCAA tournament.

Relative success: Now that the playoff leash has come off, the next step is to win the America East tournament en route to the NCAA tournament. UMass Lowell was rightfully voted as the regular season favorite, and I do think the team will live up to that expectation. The matchups with No. 16 Akron and UAlbany (second in AE preseason poll) will be telling of what to make of this team come November, but all signs look positive.

UMass Lowell hockey wins its third Hockey East tournament championship in five years. (Courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)

  1. Hockey

Even when it looks like it’s a rebuilding year, it’s still UMass Lowell hockey and Norm Bazin’s team. Although the 2014-15 team didn’t make the NCAA tournament, they won 21 games and knocked on the doorstep that year, making it all the way to the Hockey East Championship game. That seems like the year they might have this time around.

Objective success: The River Hawks continued a tradition of excellence under Bazin as they went 27-11-3, won the Hockey East regular season and tournament championships and made the NCAA Northeast Regional Final in 2016-17. Deep playoff runs are simply par for the course, and the team will hang three new banners to show for it.

Key factors: There’s more to say for the departures than returners at this point, which isn’t the best sign for a title defense. Four of the team’s top five scorers are no longer with the team, which leaves questions as to which skaters will fill the offensive void. There is hope from the top three remaining scorers from last year – John Edwardh, Ryan Lohin, and Mattias Göransson – who tallied 39, 29, and 23 points, respectively. We’ll see who else steps up.

Relative success: On paper, we’re looking at a team that’s good but not great. They could sneak into the NCAA tournament as an at-large if the dominoes fall in the right places, and some already have. The non-conference schedule isn’t that tough (but PairWise doesn’t like that, so take from that what you will). It’ll depend on how the conference season shakes out, but the River Hawks should still win 20-plus games and be in the top four of the conference to earn a bye in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament. (With 11 teams remaining in Hockey East due to Notre Dame’s departure, presumably, the top five seeds earn opening round byes this year, while the bottom six play to eliminate three teams.) We’ll see who visits the Tsongas Center in the second week of March and take it from there.

  1. Baseball

UMass Lowell’s most successful spring team should be baseball, and I can’t see it any other way at this point.

Objective success: The boys of LeLacheur put together a 22-26 campaign last spring, going 10-13 in conference play and finished fifth out of seven. While that’s under .500, subtract the tough 0-7 end to the season and you have a 22-19 record for a team that played great ball against strong competition in 2017.

Key factors: When you have Steve Passatempo in your lineup, there’s always a chance to go yard. As a sophomore, Passatempo led the River Hawks with seven home runs, tied with Pittsburgh Pirates draftee Chris Sharpe. Meanwhile, Colby Maiola should bring a more consistent bat to the plate. He led the team with a .331 batting average in his junior season and has six homers of his own.

The River Hawks remain solid in starting pitching as well. Andrew Ryan and Collin Duffley each boast 5-3 records and sub-3 ERAs from the 2017 campaign.

Experience is key, and the River Hawks won’t be losing much of it. Only two seniors were on the 2017 squad, leaving plenty of remaining talent to continue competing and progressing next spring. On top of that, there are a handful of players who have redshirted, adding an additional year with the squad.

Relative success: The River Hawk baseball squad should be able to capitalize on the low roster turnover and the coaching of Ken Harring to improve on their 2017 results or hold steady at the least. After years of hosting the America East baseball tournament, the River Hawks will have a good chance to make their mark in the playoffs on their turf.

Women’s lacrosse continues to improve after three years at UMass Lowell. (Courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)

  1. Women’s lacrosse

In the words of Hannah Manning, managing editor of The Connector, “Carissa Medeiros is a nice lady who’s doing a fine job.” It’s true. In just three years of existence, the UMass Lowell women’s lacrosse program has gone from an 0-17 laughingstock to a respectable America East competitor.

Objective success: The River Hawks put forth their best season yet in 2017 with an 8-9 record. That does include a 1-5 mark in conference play (sixth of seven teams), but America East is a formidable conference in the NCAA women’s lacrosse landscape. The six-game win streak they compiled early in the season, though, shows that this team can string together a consistent and successful style of play moving forward.

Key factors: Leading scorers Jane Dudley (16-18-34), Rebecca Idson (25-1-26) and Taylor Sokol (19-7-26) should be the anchors on the offensive front again for the River Hawks. Meanwhile, Courtney Barrett has plenty of experience making saves against top opponents she can draw from to backstop an even better season in 2018. Barrett made 129 saves in 2017, good for third in the America East Conference.

Relative success: There’s no reason this team can’t finish better than sixth next spring. I’m not talking about dethroning Kylie Ohlmiller and the Stony Brook Seawolves, but I’m confident their ability to win games will carry over into the conference season as well.

  1. Field hockey

What good is hosting a party if you’re not going to attend it yourself? If Shannon Hlebichuk and the field hockey team needed any extra motivation this fall, they got it with the America East field hockey tournament coming to Lowell in November. All they need to do is be one of the top four teams in the East Division to make their second consecutive appearance in the conference tournament.

Objective success: The Division I transition has not been kind for field hockey, the program that had the most going for it during the recent Division II era. The team found their footing in 2016, compiling an 8-11 record with a 3-5 mark in conference play. They valiantly took Stanford to the wire in the America East quarterfinal round before losing 3-2 on a late second-half goal.

Key factors: The experience of going to the conference tournament and taking one of the best teams in the country to the final few minutes is an experience the River Hawks can surely build on. Furthermore, this team will be tested before the playoffs, as America East boasts four teams already ranked in the top 25 – Stanford at 13, UAlbany at 18, Maine at 24, and University of the Pacific at 25.

UMass Lowell returns a key goalie in senior Kelsey Federico and should expect a strong scoring output to continue from senior Christa Doiron (29 pts in 2016) and sophomore Anouk Lalande (31 pts in 2016) with role players filling in around them.

Relative success: I don’t see this team getting past the America East powerhouses on the east side in UAlbany or Maine, but they certainly have a chance to get past New Hampshire and Vermont to settle into third place in the division. That’ll lighten the load to give them the second-place team in the West. Anything can happen in November, especially on their (wicked blue) turf.

Honorable mention: Men’s basketball

Men’s basketball might seem underrated with the progress they’ve made, but the transfer bug continues to bite this program. Still, I’ll watch whoever Pat Duquette puts on the floor.

The win percentage has dipped over the last three years, but Duquette’s squad has managed double-digit wins and hasn’t finished lower than sixth in the nine-team America East Conference. The team can score from the outside, but a true paint presence offensively and defensively will tell the tale of this year’s campaign.

All things considered, you still couldn’t pay me to NOT watch Jahad Thomas and Ryan Jones, especially in the beautiful arena known as the Tsongas Center. I peg them sixth in the conference – exactly where they were last year – until the rest of the team shows me what they can do.

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