Mongue, 23, takes NCC coaching job
Justin Mongue got a little more than he bargained for when he signed up for a Spanish course two months ago at Nashua Community College.
While leaving campus, he noticed a flier advertising the formation of a club baseball team and soliciting players.
Mongue is no stranger to the diamond, and the flier piqued his interest. He was an All-Merrimack Valley Conference catcher at Methuen High before tendinitis shelved his career. Maybe he couldn’t play, but he could certainly help get things organized and do a little recruiting.
He retraced his steps to the office of Erica Knolhoff, who, as the only full-time staff member in the athletics department, serves as athletic director, sports information director, wellness director, and “too many others to mention,’’ she said.
“I knew some kids attending Nashua that had played baseball and thought I might be able to interest them in the program,’’ said Mongue, who, after graduating from Methuen in 2007 attended Keene State, where he majored in occupational health and safety with a minor in criminal justice. “I threw some ideas at her and she threw some ideas at me. We just seemed to hit it off.’’
When he left the meeting, Mongue, at 23, was head coach.
“Age wasn’t an issue at all,’’ recalled Knolhoff. “He approached me, we talked, he had some great ideas about organizing and recruiting and knowing this was going to be a club team, I felt confident that he could do the job. Thus far he’s been outstanding and has held up his end of the deal. He has enough players in the program now for me to go out and start lining up games.’’
Knolhoff has already scheduled a three-game weekend series April 21-22 at Eastern Maine Community College and is in contact with New Hampshire Technical College for a series to be played at historic Holman Stadium.
“It’s hard at this point to say how many total games we will play this first season, but we’ll schedule as many as we possibly can,’’ said Knolhoff.
This year, at least, Mongue will move forward without school funding. He will survive with donated game jerseys and pants, and self-provided bats and balls. In addition, there will be fund-raisers and each player will kick in $15 toward expenses.
If this season goes smoothly, Nashua Community College could seek varsity status for its baseball team as early as next year and gain admittance into the Yankee Small College Conference, which is associated with the US Collegiate Athletic Association.
NCC already competes in the Yankee conference in men’s and women’s basketball and cross-country, women’s volleyball, and coed golf. “If we can have consistent numbers in the baseball program this spring, and carry those numbers over the summer and into the fall, it’s not too complicated to get a club team varsity status,’’ said Knolhoff. “If that happens, the school will fund the program.’’
Mongue has recruited 16 freshmen and sophomores, ranging in age from 18 to 23.
“At our very first meeting, I asked them what positions they played, and I had infielders, outfielders, catchers, and pitchers,’’ said Mongue. “I asked them where they had played baseball and most of them said in high school and in summer leagues. That certainly made my job a little bit easier, knowing that I had recruits at every position.’’
Mongue said one of his biggest challenges has been separating his role as friend from coach.
“It’s been different making the transition from player to coach,’’ he added. “I wanted to be one of the guys, but realized I had to separate myself from them.’’
One player, Central Catholic grad Kevin Michaud of Lawrence, is a year older than Mongue. “He’s separated himself pretty much from the players already, and we’ve separated ourselves pretty much from him,’’ said Michaud, who did not play at Central, but did suit up in the Mont Vernon Summer League.
“We all know he is the coach and we are his players. There’s been no problem with that. It’s especially exciting for me to be playing organized baseball again.’’
Mongue, who signed up for the Spanish course hoping it would help him in his job as a health and safety officer at VHG Labs in Manchester, said if and when the program attains varsity status, next year or the year after, he hopes to play an integral part.
Hockey East honors for UMass Lowell
Congrats to University of Massachusetts Lowell coach Norm Bazin and freshman phenom Scott Wilson, who picked up two of the top three postseason awards from Hockey East.
Bazin, named coach of the year, took over a team that won just five games a year ago and guided the River Hawks to a 23-12-1 slate this season and a runner-up finish. That 18-win differential is an NCAA record for a first-year coach. Wilson, the Hockey East rookie of the year, led all freshmen in points (28) and assists (16) and tied Boston College’s Johnnny Gaudreau for goals scored (12). The River Hawks played Miami of Ohio in the first round of the NCAA East Regional Friday in Worcester.
Merrimack senior forwards Ryan Flanigan (Rochester, N.Y.) and Jesse Todd (Calgary) have signed amateur contracts with Hamilton of the American Hockey League, an affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. Flanigan led Merrimack in scoring this season with 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points and Todd was right behind with 12-15-27. . . . University of New Hampshire senior gymnast Ali Carr of Chelmsford had team-high scores in the vault (9.8) and balance beam (9.775) to lead the Wildcats in a tri-meet against Oregon State and Seattle Pacific. A week earlier, Carr tied for second on the vault, the uneven bars, and beam against Arizona.
Around and about
Lawrence is one of four Massachusetts high school football programs to receive a $3,000 grant from the Silvio Cella Family Foundation. Other grants were awarded to Jeremiah Burke High School in Boston, and Millis and Ware. The awards are earmarked to help improve playing conditions, increase player safety and participation, build teamwork, pride, and confidence, and help prepare players for the future. Since Cella’s death in April 2010, the foundation has awarded nearly $25,000 in his memory. Cella was football coach and athletic director at Revere High for 49 years. . . . New York Knicks interim head coach Mike Woodson has added Billerica native and former Salem State men’s basketball coach Jim Todd to his staff. Todd coached at Salem from 1987-96 and compiled a 192-57 record. He later moved on to the NBA, where he has had stints with the LA Clippers, Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, and Sacramento Kings. Todd served as an assistant with Woodson in Atlanta.
John Vellante can be reached at JohnPVel@aol.com.