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Annie Villare continuing Chelmsford line for UMass Lowell field hockey

Annie Villare is now at UMass Lowell.

David Gillies

Annie Villare is now at UMass Lowell.

Chelmsford’s Villare continues tradition

Annie Villare was just 8 when she first started tagging along with her older sister, Kim , then a junior at Chelmsford High, to the summer field hockey clinics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

As her sister blossomed into an All-American and helped the River Hawks capture the NCAA Division 2 national championship in 2005 as a junior, Annie quickly realized she wanted to do the same.

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“I was too young [in 2005] to realize the importance of a national championship,” Annie Villare said. “But knowing the background of the program, that meant a lot to those girls.”

For Villare, the Merrimack Valley Conference MVP as a senior at Chelmsford High last season, the decision to attend UMass Lowell was an easy one.

On the first day of preseason practice on Aug. 16, Villare continued a longstanding tradition of former Chelmsford High players suiting up for the River Hawks. As Lowell embarks on its inaugural season as a Division 1 program, in the America East Conference, the freshman midfielder will take the field alongside former high school teammate Kayla MacDonald , a senior defender, and Chelsea Gillies , a fifth-year senior, who also played for the Lions.

“The majority of Chelmsford is a field hockey community and they start playing young in the youth twilight leagues,” UMass Lowell coach Shannon Hlebichuk said. “They come to our clinics and are very familiar with the campus and the turf. When they start looking at schools their junior and senior years, UMass Lowell is their first choice.”

The strong bond and presence of former Chelmsford players provides a comforting cushion, softening the transition to the Division 1 level.

“After going to the clinics, I definitely know what I need to work on,” Villare said. “[The players] really push me to do my best and get me ready for the season as much as they can.

“Being around both programs for so long, both coaches knew what to expect from me so I need to give them my best. I don’t want to let myself down, because I know my where I should be.”

For UMass Lowell, which advanced to the Division 2 championship game in a 19-4-0 campaign last year, the jump to the skill of Division 1 will be a challenge.

The biggest change is the speed of the game, according to Hlebichuk. Division 1 matches are played on synthetic turf, a smooth, carpet-like surface that is faster than field turf.

However, Hlebichuk is confident the River Hawks, minus just three graduates from last season, will make the proper adjustments.

Gillies, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during her sophomore season, tore it again just two games into the 2012 campaign. She weighed her options and opted to redshirt, allowing her to return for a fifth season.

“There was word we were moving to Division 1, and that really made me decide to come back,” said Gillies, who has been attending the UMass Lowell camps since she was in fifth grade.

“I’m just excited for the challenge it’s going to bring. And it helps especially because we know we’ve played together before and there’s a comfort level on the field. For Annie as a freshman, it’s comforting to her.”

Hlebichuk, hired in 2002, made Chelmsford High star Lyndsey Hadley one of her first recruits.

Every year since, a former Chelmsford player has played for the River Hawks.

But the connection was rooted even further.

Chelmsford native Anne Perriello, who coached the River Hawks from 2000-2001 and was a teammate of Hlebichuk’s at UMass Lowell (1997-98), introduced the Thursday night clinic. Perriello fostered a close relationship with longtime Chelmsford High coach Maura Devaney.

“It’s a compliment that she continues to look at our kids,” Devaney said, entering her 19th season at the helm of the Chelmsford program.

But even with the strong connections, Hlebichuk is careful not to make a student-athlete feel obligated to play for the River Hawks.

“We didn’t go after Annie hard right away because I didn’t want to put pressure on her to go here,” Hlebichuk said. “We were really careful with that family relationship. I had a sister, so I was familiar with the feeling of the younger sister falling in the older sister’s footsteps. We backed off a bit before we made it clear we wanted her. Moving to Division 1, we felt she could make an impact.”

While the weekly clinics provided players like Villare, MacDonald, and Gillies with an early introduction to the program, the similar coaching styles of Devaney and Hlebichuk has laid the foundation for a seamless transition to from the Chelmsford program to UMass Lowell’s.

“Our coaching philosophies are so similar, it’s always really worked out,” said Devaney, who called the similarities coincidental. “Our kids feel very comfortable.”

Of course, Hlebichuk ramps up the intensity at the collegiate level.

“I always tease our kids that leave and say, ‘Now you’re going to realize I’m not that tough,’ ” Devaney said.

But for many of the former Chelmsford players, it is as if they never left.

Affannato a captain;
gold for Frevold

Haverhill native Chris Affannato (Whittier Tech), now a senior at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, has been named a tricaptain of the Bucs’ cross-country team, along with Steven Migridichian and Erik King . Together, they will try and lead the Buccaneers to the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference title.

“They know the challenges that lie in front of them, and I have no doubt they will guide their teammates through those challenges to meet the goals and expectations that this program has always strived to attain,” said Mass Maritime coach Chris Ryan . . . .

Marblehead youth badminton player Nicole Frevold , a sophomore at Marblehead High, captured the gold medal in the junior singles at the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem last month. She also teamed up with Sophie Deutsch for a second-place finish in the junior female doubles competition.

Anthony Gulizia can be reached at gulizia.ant@gmail.com.
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