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Vizakis, Burke grow into Bridgewater State roles

Vizakis, Burke grow into Bridgewater State roles

Carissa Vizakis and Mattie Burke , fifth-year senior captains on the field hockey team at Bridgewater State University, often go head-to-head in practice, challenging each other.

Vizakis, who shared the Tri-Valley League’s MVP honor as a Bellingham High senior, was tied for second in the Little East Conference with 14 goals, and was named Offensive Player of the Week for the conference and ECAC Division 3 for her recent exploits. A left forward, she had a career game last weekend, scoring four goals during a 5-1 victory over Worcester State.

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Burke, who played on a Division 1 state finalist her junior year at Shrewsbury High, is a solid defender and a key to Bridgewater State’s recent four-game shutout streak. “Mattie makes incredible plays at crucial times,’’ said Vizakis, a 2008 Globe All-Scholastic. “We like to test each other at practice and we also worked out together this summer. I sharpen my stick skills while she works on her blocks.’’

Burke returned the nod. “We’re great friends on and off the field and it’s fun to challenge one another. You only get better when you play against skilled players like Carissa.’’

Both have overcome obstacles to become leaders on a team that was 10-2 (5-1 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference) last week.

Vizakis, whose older brother, Anthony, was a football captain at Bridgewater State, was sidelined for two seasons (2010-11) after undergoing three surgeries on her right knee.

Burke, who also graduated from high school in 2009, was a final cut at Bridgewater State her freshman year. After skipping the 2010 season, she tried out the next year, and is a three-year starter. “So Carissa and I have been together for just two seasons,’’ she said, “although it seems like a longer time — in a good way.’’

Bears head coach Erika Smith said she appreciates both players. “Carissa is a vocal leader who can really fire up her teammates. She’s like a bulldog who never lets up,’’ said Smith. “She’s our inserter on penalty corners; her quickness is one of her strengths, and this season her anticipation and reading the game have improved.’’

Smith said Burke is more quiet and her experience is vital to the defense. “I can always count on Mattie’s stick skills and ability to read an attacker,’’ said Smith.

Vizakis, who played 15 games as a freshman, reported last year after missing two seasons. “I was pretty nervous that first day, wondering if I had lost my speed or my stick skills, but I knew the correct way to train after years of rehabbing and treatment, and that I had to go 100 percent all out to be fair to myself and the team,’’ said Vizakis, who scored 22 goals and 14 assists last fall and was named to the Little East third team.

She has shed her knee brace, reports to the trainer two hours before practices, and ices her knee after practices and games. “I was fearful that I might not play again and that continues to drive me,’’ said Vizakis. Her father, John, who played lacrosse and football at Newton North High, is her biggest fan, she said, and “the most influential person in my life.’’

A 27-year veteran of the Framingham police Department force, John Vizakis adjusted his schedule to watch his son and daughter play. “Carissa is one determined kid,’’ he said. “It’s been fun to watch her develop as a player, and the athlete in me comes out at times when I’ll give her my thoughts or a suggestion. She’s always been self-motivated, but she also can take advice and run with it which is a great combination.’’

Vizakis has a not-so-secret weapon — and it is not the curve on her field hockey stick . “Last year I was hungry before a game and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We won, I had a good game, and so I have the same sandwich before every game now, and my teammates give me a lot of grief about it.’’

Burke credits her coach at Shrewsbury High, Lauren Chenevert, with being there for her after she doubted her ability to make the Bridgewater team.

“She always wanted her players to strive to be the best, and she encouraged me to stay with it and give it one more try,’’ said Burke. She also credits Smith and assistant coach Kayla Littig for teaching her about conditioning, “and knowing how to prepare for games, which added to my confidence.

“As a defense we all play a part and trust one another, and being a captain I try to be positive and encouraging. It’s an honor and very rewarding and I know it will be a highlight of my life when I look back on it.’’

Here and there

Needham’s Andrew Murowchick was named the New England Small College Athletic Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after the Bowdoin sophomore kicked two field goals in the team’s 13-10 victory over Tufts last weekend . . . Holly Hatton, program director for Bare Hill Racing Association in Harvard and head coach of the Bromfield /Acton-Boxborough women’s rowing program, has been nominated for US Rowing’s Coach of the Year award.

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.
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