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Scituate’s Neil Levanchy taking charge for UMass-Lowell men’s soccer

Neil Lavanchy (9) of UMass Lowell men's soccer team.

Neil Lavanchy (9) of UMass Lowell men's soccer team.

Lavanchy steps up for UMass Lowell

This is shaping up to be a special final collegiate season for Neil Lavanchy, who is kicking off his third year as captain of the men’s soccer team at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

UMass Lowell has elevated its athletic programs to Division 1 and the America East Conference, so the River Hawks will be leaning on the 24-year-old senior left back, a Cushing Academy graduate who attended Scituate High for two years.

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“I’m really excited about it and looking forward to the travel and the experience of playing some top-level soccer,” said Lavanchy, who was recruited to play hockey for the independent prep school in Ashburnham. “We definitely need to keep our fitness up. Some of these teams are a lot faster and stronger than us but we’ll be fine if we push it. I don’t know what to expect, but if we go out and play the game like we usually play we’ll be fine.”

The Rivers Hawks dropped their Division 1 opener in overtime (1-0) at Stetson, and fell to Florida Atlantic, 3-1, on Sunday.

With 56 consecutive starts, Lavanchy has been a key contributor to the UMass Lowell back line since his freshman season, when he started all 16 games and notched two assists in earning a spot on the Northeast-10 Conference all-rookie team. He was a second-team conference pick last season, when he anchored a River Hawks defense that yielded just 1.43 goals per game while recording four shutouts.

“The leadership that Neil brings is obviously very important to our transition to Division 1,” said coach Christian Figueroa. “We want to win right away but we know it won’t be easy. There is an understanding that at the end of the day it’s a transition that we are building to become competitive. Our captains need to be positive and lead by example, and so far they’ve done a great job doing that.”

After transferring to Cushing, Lavanchy repeated his sophomore year and played hockey for three seasons. However, he realized that he had a better chance of playing college soccer.

Lavanchy skipped a Division 1 tryout at UMass Amherst after committing to Lowell after making one visit.

Now, the 5-foot-11 Lavanchy has the chance to play Division 1 ball after all. He said UMass Lowell’s deep run in the NCAA Division 2 tournament last fall, in which the River Hawks were eliminated in the third round, will serve as a confidence builder this year.

“We defeated LIU Post in the East Region semifinals and they were the No. 1 team in the country,” said Lavanchy, a criminal justice major. “We handled them pretty well, so that definitely gives us confidence as a group that we can be competitive with teams similar to them.”

Expectations are high despite the move up to Division 1.

“Coach expects a lot more out of us this year and he pushed us to the limit in preseason,” said Lavanchy. “I need to be more aggressive. I could get to the ball pretty easily in Division 2. I expect the players I’ll be going up against in D1 to be faster and stronger, so I need to get the ball off my feet quicker. The Division 1 game will be much faster than Division 2.”

The River Hawks are also counting on more scoring from Kyle Garvan , a senior from Braintree. The center midfielder, a three-year starter, registered two goals and seven assists last season.

“Kyle is probably one of the toughest kids we have,” said Figueroa. “He’s not afraid to tackle and set the tone early. He’s good on the ball so he can keep the ball moving for us, but he also has the capability to break plays up when the other team is possessing the ball.”

Here and there

Bentley University senior outside hitter Ashley Ahearn has been named one of three captains for the women’s volleyball team. As the team’s only senior, the Marshfield High graduate will be looked upon for floor leadership and her organizational skills. Her junior campaign was interrupted by injuries. Her most productive season came as a freshman in 2010, when she averaged 2.31 kills and 0.53 digs. She begins the season with a team-high 401 career kills. . . . Hanson’s Samantha Mewis netted her first goal of the season to lead the UCLA women’s soccer team to a 2-1 victory over Marquette. The 5-11 junior midfielder connected for the game-winner at 60:59 when she drilled the ball into the left corner from the top of the box for the 4-0 Bruins. . . . Dedham’s Hillary Saeger was a member of the US women’s lightweight quad boat that earned a silver medal at this year’s World Rowing Championships, which wrapped up Sunday in South Korea. It marked Saeger’s third trip to the podium at the international competition, where she won bronze medals in 2009 and 2011. “Moving up on the podium — that was awesome,” she told USRowing. “There was so much power in the boat. You could feel it all the way down. The level of competition keeps getting harder every year, and we just keep coming at it.”

John R. Johnson can be reached at jjohnson49@comcast.net.
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