By Carmine Frongillo
LOWELL -- Keith Vinci isn't going to be involved in devising the X's and O's strategy that determines the outcome of the games UMass Lowell's student-athletes play.
Yet, Vinci's impact on the won-loss record of UMass Lowell's men's and women's sports teams is sure to be palpable in the coming weeks, months and years. As the River Hawks continue working toward the goal of having their programs take flight at the Division 1 level, eventual success depends not only on bringing in quality recruits, but making sure these athletes are properly trained once they arrive on campus.
With the Rivers Hawks preparing to begin their second year of Division 1 competition in the America East Conference (UMass Lowell's hockey team has been a member of Division 1 Hockey East since the league was founded in 1984), Vinci has been entrusted with the job of making UMass Lowell's athletes bigger, faster and stronger.
The 38-year-old former Marine, a native of Milford, Conn., has been hired as UMass Lowell's Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Performance. He will be responsible for overseeing the strength/conditioning of the River Hawks' 18 Division 1 intercollegiate sports. Vinci had been working as Canisius College's Head Coach of Athletics Performance the past three years.
"I like being part of a program that is in the process of laying a solid foundation while making the transition to Division 1," Vinci. "You can see the passion and vision they have for athletics here. There's so much growth going on. You see all the construction. What's happening is so exciting. UMass Lowell is making a true commitment to not only being a Division 1 school, but a competitive Division 1 school.
"My job is to help make our athletes better. My training programs are sport specific. I tailor everything to what the coach wants from their players. I consider myself an extension of the coaching staff. I'm not a separate entity. Whatever the coach and players' needs are, that's what I'm going to try to do."
Vinci is joined in UMass Lowell's sports performance department by Devan McConnell, who has served as the Director of Sports Performance since September of 2011. McConnell works primarily with the River Hawks' hockey team, but also oversees training for other programs.
The work out techniques, lifts, tests and evaluations being implemented by Vinci are done with an eye toward the future of UMass Lowell athletics. He works with athletes in-season, but most of the rigorous strength training takes place during the off-season. In the off-season Vinci can spend up to six hours a week working with teams.
"The key for me is keeping our athletes motivated so they will work hard at getting better, and ultimately our teams will win a lot more games," said Vinci. "There's much more to the change in culture from Division 2 to Division 1 than playing games against teams at a higher level. You have to train at a higher level."
After graduating from high school, Vinci served in the United States Marine Corps for eight years. While in the Marines, Vinci was a marksmen, squad leader and combat swimming instructor.
During his time in the Marines, Vinci got involved in fitness training and competed in triathlons and biathlons. After the Marines, he earned his bachelor's degree in human performance and exercise physiology from Southern Connecticut State University, where he played rugby.
Besides Canisius, Vinci has spent time at Binghamton University and the University of Pittsburgh.
Despite all the technological advances in the science of human performance, Vinci remains a hands-on teacher. Vinci not only raises the heart rate of his athletes during a workout, he builds relationships that allow him to take the pulse of the teams they play for.
"I get right in there with the athletes," said Vinci. "I explain it to them and demonstrate how it's done. Psychology plays a big part in it. You deal differently with each athlete. You learn what motivates them. Positive reinforcement gets positive results.
"From a physical standpoint, in the majority of our sports the goal is to be as strong and powerful as you can be without the extra size or bulk."
Like any coach, Vinci is results driven. Improved fitness/performance isn't his only goal. His bottom line includes increasing the win totals in every sport at UMass Lowell.
"I definitely look at it by wins and losses," said Vinci. "I'm a competitive guy. But this is a transition period for UMass Lowell athletics. An important part of the change includes getting kids excited about being in the weight room.
"I want kids who put in the time to eventually become leaders in the weight room. To me that's what's important. The wins will come and so will the championships. Right now, now I want to see our athletes to become stronger leaders."