Soaring to the top
FPU FALL PREVIEWS
Over the last decade, Franklin Pierce University has steadily become one of the most respected and well known NCAA Division II athletic programs in the Northeast.
During that time, the Ravens have put together an amazing run of Northeast-10 Conference championships, NCAA tournament appearances that have also included trips to national semifinals and championship games, as well as a long list of athletes honored at both the conference and national level.
Athletes gravitate to the Rindge campus in search of their next great athletic endeavor and soon realize being a Raven provides a tremendous number of opportunities.
The NE-10 is one of the most competitive Division II conferences on the East Coast and requires the best from athletes and coaches on a daily basis.
For the last two weeks, the fall sports teams at FPU have been preparing for the grind of the upcoming season and soon all that hard work will be displayed in their respective season openers.
Whether it is on the turf, grass, court or running through the woods, the Ravens are ready to get to work in hopes of adding to the rich tradition that is FPU athletics.
The program enters just its second year of existence and has seen its numbers grow from 32 players in 2012 to 47 entering camp this fall.
The exciting part of the increase in numbers for coach Peter Ewald is the competition it will bring. In the inaugural campaign, the players were brought in to fill a specific role, but the second recruiting class will challenge for starting positions and spots on the depth chart.
“I think we have a very good class coming in,” said Ewald. “As a whole, this class is in the mold of what we had for our first class. Our focus is to get better.”
The Ravens were 1-4 last year, but of the four losses, three came by eight points or fewer.
“You play to win and we weren’t happy with being 1-4,” said Ewald. “We expect to beat everyone on our schedule.”
After starting the season with two straight close losses, the Ravens picked up the first victory in program history with a 21-14 defeat of Princeton on Oct. 12.
Ewald is excited about the direction of the program.
“Every year is a better year until we get established,” said Ewald.
Sprint football has the same rules as NCAA College Football with the only exception being players must weigh 172 pounds or less.
With 30 returning players, Ewald knows that the majority of his team has the experience of playing the sprint game.
“Last year the lack of having that experience hurt us,” said Ewald.
While there are a lot of returnees, practice just began last Wednesday and Ewald isn’t quite sure how the lineup will shake out.
He is confident that sophomore D.J. MacDonald — last year’s leading rusher with 380 yards in five games — will play a huge part in the offense.
“We expect big things from him,” said Ewald.
On defense, the Ravens return last year’s leading tackler in sophomore linebacker James Willette and sophomore corner back Mike Abrams, who had two interceptions and played a role in the kick return game.
The Ravens advanced to the NCAA Division II tournament for the 10th straight year, but fell in the first round to NE-10 foe Merrimack in the opening round just one year after advancing to the national semifinals.
FPU was an at-large bid following a loss in the NE-10 semifinals, also to Merrimack, and finished the season with an 11-6-2 record.
But second year coach Ian Clerihew is expecting bigger and better things in 2013. Not only does he anticipate another trip to the national tournament, but he wants to contend for the conference title.
“We want to win the NE-10 and win the conference tournament,” said Clerihew.
He wants to work toward returning the program to national prominence and believes this year’s squad has the leadership, talent and work ethic to do it.
“I think with the overall quality of our team, our goal is to win the NE-10 regular season,” said Clerihew.
Coming into preseason camp, Clerihew had three key positions he was looking to fill. He brought in five keepers to battle for the starting spot and was also in need of a central defender and an outside midfielder.
But besides those spots, Clerihew has the players to either fill in or return to their spots from a year ago.
“We have more depth than we had last year,” said Clerihew.
The Ravens lost quite a bit of offensive production from a year ago, but return graduate student Ryan Ruffing at the striker position, who finished with five goals.
Senior Gareth Dudney also scored five goals and will remain on the midfield line along with graduate Chris Stoker and Jefferson Rojas.
“We don’t return a ton of points, but I feel really confident with the depth of our group,” said Clerihew.
The defense will have a pair of impact returners in Terence Ciavarra and Carlos Alvarez.
And the incoming recruiting class should make their presence known throughout the season.
“I expect a lot of the new guys to do well,” said Clerihew. “There are some good young players.”
The Ravens are coming off one of the most impressive campaigns in school history and plan to build off that success in 2013.
FPU made its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division II nationals tournament a year ago after finishing third in the Northeast-10, making it to the conference quarterfinals and posting 19 wins.
“Last year we just wanted to qualify for the NE-10 tournament,” said coach Stephanie Dragan. “They were shooting for the top eight and we finished third.”
But even with all that success, Dragan, the 2012 NE-10 Coach of the Year, believes that was just the beginning for her team. Some may think the squads 2012 season was a fluke, but Dragan knows that is not the case.
The Ravens return six of seven starters from last year, six seniors and 10 players overall from the team that lost to NY Tech, 3-1, in the East Region quarterfinals. And each one of them knows the team could have done better.
“It leaves me a very hungry team,” said Dragan. “They know they lost out on an opportunity.”
Dragan is expecting another top four finish in the conference and a run at the NE-10 title. If the Ravens can do that, another NCAA tournament appearance will take care of itself.
“We’re going to have a very mature and experienced team,” said Dragan.
Senior libero Lauren Miller paces the defense for FPU and is on her way to becoming the all-time digs leader in school history.
The offense has a balanced attack of hitter starting with senior Natasha Ray, junior Catie Swiderski and sophomore Sydni Schulz. Freshman Aiden Garcia could also contribute on offense.
Senior setter Stephanie Svorinic returns, but is also being pushed by freshman Kelsey Hausman.
“Depending on the rotation, we could have the exact same lineup as last year,” said Dragan.
The men’s program is just in its second year of existence and the women’s team is on the rise, but coach Zach Emerson believes this year is just a precursor of what is to come.
He expects the men’s team to be very competitive this season despite the fact that most of the top seven will be made up of freshmen and sophomores.
“We think we’re going to beat more teams than we lose to,” said Emerson. “Our expectations are far above where we thought they were a year ago.”
Emerson has brought in back-to-back strong recruiting class. The 2012 group included Colton Ham of Merrimack Valley, who won the NHIAA Division II title as a senior in 2011, and this year’s is highlighted by the 2012 NH Division I champion B.J. Smith of Concord and Dage Minors, a star track athlete from St. Johnsbury, Vt.
“We’ve been able to attract a number of high level athletes,” said Emerson.
Junior Antoine Gisore, a transfer from New England College, has huge expectations from Emerson, who coached the Concord native before taking the FPU job.
“He’s expected to be one of the best in the region,” said Emerson.
The women’s team will be led by sophomore Alyssa Lambert, who is coming off a breakout track season.
The addition of freshman Holly Lindoe, a national race walk champion, will bolster the squad that will be much better in 2014.
Over the last two seasons, the Ravens have been decimated by injuries and 2013 is not looking much better.
Two weeks before the start of preseason, senior Talita Pereira tore her ACL and is out for the year. Senior Elizabeth Guimond also needed surgery for a torn meniscus and will miss the entire season and one of the Ravens’ top recruits also went down with a torn ACL in the spring.
“It’s frustrating because you spend a year putting a team together and then this happens,” said longtime coach Jeff Bailey.
Being down three key players is not what Bailey wanted to see this year, but he still has high expectations for his team.
“The group we have is pretty good, but we’re at a point where we can’t take another injury,” said Bailey. “If we can keep this group healthy, we’ll compete for the top two or three in the conference.”
Last year, FPU lost a number of close games and the conference tournament was no different with a 1-0 overtime loss to Merrimack to finish 9-7-2.
“We lost a couple games last year we shouldn’t have,” said Bailey.
Bailey is confident this group can compete in a tough NE-10 and hopefully make a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
He has an experienced defense with senior Eize Vieira along with Anna Hultschlag and Hayley Barnard. Sophomore Katie Weldon, who earned the starting job toward the end of last year, will return in net.
Reigning NE-10 Rookie of the Year Hannah Weagle, a sophomore who led FPU in goals and also landed on the conference’s second team, will be counted on to pace the offense especially with Pereira out for the year.
“We need to play more of a team game,” said Bailey. “We’ve got all the pieces there.”
The Ravens are coming off a disappointing season where they won just three games and lost a number of contests by wide margins.
But with the loss of only two seniors from last year and a strong group of incoming freshmen, coach Meighan Guiney-Allison is expecting a much better season in 2013.
FPU will still be young with 20 freshmen and sophomores and only three seniors, yet the youth and college inexperience is something Guiney-Allison is excited about.
“We have some very talented freshmen,” said Guiney-Allison. “My freshmen will play a lot.”
Guiney-Allison is anticipating many of the freshmen seeing quite a bit of playing time and is hoping it will translate into a bright future.
“I’m excited for this season, but I’m very excited for my freshmen’s junior year,” said Guiney-Allison.
A big objective for the season is to score more goals, while also limiting opposing offenses’ opportunities.
“One of our goals for this year is to decrease the scoring margin,” said Guiney-Allison.
The three seniors, Chanelle Letarte, who is the top returning scorer, Jessica Rogers and Alesia Gleason, will play a big part in Guiney-Allison plans for the season, while the likes of junior Taylor Libby and sophomores Erin Trainor and Natalia Bachelder should play a huge role in the team’s success.
The Ravens are entering the fall with a solid lineup despite losing two from their top five last year.
With the return of senior Adam Spencer and sophomores Brad Auclair and Nick Adjutant, FPU will be a strong team in the NE-10.
Auclair won the SNHU Invitational last fall and Spencer captured one of the individual titles at an FPU invite.
The team was seventh at the NE-10 Championships last year and will look to improve upon that finish with a good incoming freshmen class under new head coach Tyler Bishop.
The men’s and women’s tennis teams will play a slightly smaller schedule this fall in anticipation of the spring season.
Senior Patrick Gilhuly returns to the top of the lineup for his final season and will be one of the ore consistent players on the team, along with junior Chris Brewer.
Senior Natasha McCarthy is another four-year player who will be a fixture at the top of the lineup. McCarthy, who played at Conant, was the top player in singles for the Ravens and also part of the No. 1 doubles team. Sophomore Kirby Melbourne and junior Leslie Rodgers also figure to help the Ravens improve upon last season.