River Hawks Raise the Athletic Bar

Winter Teams Playing Strong

Ryan McGrath scores against Providence, one of UMass Lowell's many recent athletic successes. Photo by Bob Ellis.

Ryan McGrath scores against Providence, one of UMass Lowell's many recent athletic successes. Photo by Bob Ellis.

01/23/2013
By Julia Gavin

The River Hawks haven’t cooled off in the winter season. With scores climbing and school records falling, the teams are on fire in the rink, on the court and on the track.

On the Ice

The men’s ice hockey team has vaulted onto the national stage, tallying the longest winning streak in Hockey East and toppling high-ranking opponents, including Boston University. Their home ice win over Providence College was broadcast on NBC Sports Network, allowing alumni and new fans across the country a view at their success.

"When good things are happening, there's a domino effect; the same as when we were losing close games at the beginning of the year,” says head coach Norm Bazin ‘94, ‘99. "But, I think the hockey gods have their way of evening things out at times."

Accolades have been numerous for the team. Freshman goaltender Connor Hellebuyck’s impressive work has earned him several awards this season, including Hockey East’s Defensive Player of the Month for December. The Winnipeg Jets draft pick has shut out several opponents, leading a strong class of first-year players.

The team has had some extra guidance this season, with NHL goaltender Dwayne Roloson ‘94 volunteering during several practices while waiting for the NHL lockout to end. Roloson, who played with Bazin as a River Hawk before goaltending professionally, helped players on and off the ice, discussing life as a professional athlete and how to get past a goaltender.

"I've told them about dedication, how hard they'll have to work on and off the ice to make themselves pro players, and also about how important it is to balance their schoolwork and their hockey,” says Roloson.

On the Court

On the basketball court, Bianca Simmons is pushing the women’s team to new heights. Named Player of the Week more often than not this season and chasing the University’s career scoring record, Simmons will attend the WNBA’s Free Agent Camp in April. The senior guard is also leading the nation in Division II scoring, averaging more than 25 points a game. 

"She's one of the best players around at any level," head coach Sarah Behn says of Simmons.

The second half of the River Hawks’ winning combination this season is Ashley Rivera, a senior point guard transfer who has quickly found a groove with Simmons. Rivera’s filling of Simmons’ old position has freed the guard up to assist, rebound and score much more this season.

"Ashley is very important to our recent success as a team and to Bianca individually," Behn says. "When Ashley brings it up court and penetrates, other teams have to worry about her, and that takes some of the pressure off Bianca."

While the men’s team has struggled to hit its stride this season, recent events have spurred them to action. The team celebrated head coach Greg Herenda’s 100th win in January, making him the most successful coach in the program’s history. Later in the month, legendary college basketball coach Jim Calhoun visited the players, giving tips from his long career and guidance toward a strong season.

"Our practice had an extra level of energy,” says coach Herenda. “I think coach Calhoun was pretty excited himself."

On the Track

Excitement has hit the track as the men’s and women’s teams came back from winter vacation ready to break records. Senior Eric McDonald ran the fastest mile in Division II early in the season and promptly beat his own record the next week. 

Junior Candace Greene climbed the shot put rankings while several teammates qualified for NCAA championships early in the season. Both have earned honors in the conference as the teams rack up points at meets.