UMass Lowell soccer preps for Division 1
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 status, 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.
“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 Homero Morais , a 5-11, 160-pound junior from Somerville who was a third-team Division 2 All-American last season after tallying 13 goals and six assists. He was the NE-10 Rookie of the Year as a freshman.
Murphy to assist with Tufts hockey squad
At Northeastern University, Matt Keating was a scholarship athlete in baseball and hockey. On the ice, the 6-2, 200-pound forward tallied 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists) in 106 appearances.
On the diamond, starting at first base, he was NU’s Athlete of the Year and was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2000 draft, the start of a three-year minor league career.
Now he is back on the ice, as the lead assistant to head coach Brian Murphy with the men’s hockey program at Tufts.
“We are fortunate to be able to add Matt to our staff,’’ Murphy said of the Arlington native, who worked as an assistant at Bentley during the 2010-11 season.John R. Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.