The Hawks’ Herald – RWU Official Newspaper

Beginning my sophomore year at Roger Williams University, I dedicated much of my time to RWU’s official newspaper, The Hawks’ Herald. Rewind to when I was freshman journalism student at the time, I was told by many that the Herald wasn’t a quality publication for students to write for who aspired to be serious reporters. As a result of hearing that, I didn’t write for the Herald my freshman year.

A short while later, the objectiveness of the journalist inside me began to rise. So I asked then, why not be a part of the solution?

It was behind my love of sports and writing that I decided to use this platform as a place where I could hone my skills as a sports reporter and offer my journalistic knowledge to make the Herald a better respected publication. Eventually, I worked my way up from contributor my sophomore year to Sports Editor in the second semester of my junior year.

Working for the Herald and being an editor has taught me so much about the craft of journalism. From becoming a better writer and reporter to making editorial decisions to assigning and finding stories to making the newspaper’s layouts. I’ve learned so much from my staff and I’ve attained valuable leadership experience in the process. I have also established many lasting relationships with players and coaches that will be valuable for my career.

My goal going into this was to practice the craft and try to make this publication as elite and professional as possible. I take profound pride in the work published on this page and it is my hope whoever reads it will see that too.

Check back on this page frequently for my most recent stories. In edition to being editor, I am currently covering our Division III men’s basketball team.


The bench of the Roger Williams University men’s basketball team has some new faces this season. From left to right: Dalton Prendergast, Jonah St. Clair, Doug Hostetler, JJ Pfohl, Jeff Stockmal, Ian Carmichael, Jake Heaton, Bryan Donovan and Andrew Hart. (Photo courtesy Kaylee Pugliese)

From stars to scrubs

By Andrew Wuebker | November 16, 2017

BRISTOL, R.I. — The far end of the Hawks’ bench has some new scrubs. And they’re making a heck of a lot of noise.

Making the jump from high school to college is already a difficult transition for some students. For student-athletes who were the cream of the crop in high school, it can be even tougher.

Not these guys — at least not anymore, anyway. That’s just how they make it out to be.

“Let’s go!” said freshman JJ Pfohl. “Bench squad!”

A confident and charismatic “bench squad,” the latest additions to the Roger Williams University men’s basketball team consisting of true freshmen Chris Chapell, Jonah St. Clair, Andrew Hart, Doug Hostetler, Pfohl, and Jeff Stockmal are no longer taking their time tip-toeing through the greener than green grass at RWU, but rolling in it. 

The group hasn’t been intimidated by the drastic change in scenery from high school to college, nor their change in roles on the court that routinely happens to many student-athletes–going from a star, go-to guy in high school to being part of the latest batch of scrubs on a college bench.

So it begs the questions: how did these freshmen seamlessly make this transition? How were they so willing to accept their new roles on the court?

The answer actually can be found off the court, as much as it can on it.

“A thing I’ve noticed a lot is everyone fits in pretty well,” St. Clair said. “It’s not like there’s the starters and there’s everyone else. I feel like [because we are] practicing so much together everyone feels like a part of the team.”

Even with differing personalities, the freshmen have found a way to fit in and mesh with a well-established Hawks team that features nine returners and is looking to build off a 19-win season. Pfohl for one, claims he’s an outgoing and talkative guy that loves heavy sleep and takes four plates of food at Commons. Stockmal is the opposite; a shy, hardcore… gamer?

“Call of Duty is me in the group,” Stockmal admitted. “I’m the one that is the ‘gamer’ I guess.”

“If he spent a third of the time he spent on Call of Duty doing classwork,” St. Clair said, turning to Stockmal, “you would’ve already graduated.”

The relationships of the entire team extends beyond the boundaries of basketball. The team can often be seen eating meals together, especially on the weekends. Late night practices often lead to late night food runs at Lower Commons. After consecutive intense weeks of practice, the Hawks went bowling as a team a couple weekends ago for some much-needed r&r. And players-only meetings every other week provide players an opportunity to talk about what’s going on and voice whatever thoughts are on their minds.

Once the relationships were down, the off-the-court stuff became easy.

On the court, it was slightly more difficult. The freshmen used the words “rough,” “competitive,” and “fast-paced” to describe practices in the early going. The level of conditioning and physicality that needed be met to be able to compete at the Division III level was naturally a bit of an obstacle for these eyases. Shortly, however, the freshmen class began showing their potential through practice and even earned the praise of coaches Michael Tully and Dan Weidmann, calling them “coachable,” “attentive,” “unselfish,” and “talented.”

This freshmen class’ talent in part was the other difficult aspect of this transition. To go from starting to scrubbing can be difficult for some players to deal with at first. Pfohl was a starter since his junior year in high school. St. Clair was also a starter in the later years of his high school career. Hostetler scored 1,000 points. Stockmal, a 1,300-plus point scorer, was shouldered with the load of carrying a team since he was a sophomore. 

“I was a man since sophomore year in high school,” Stockmal said, “so like I was the go-to guy since I was 16 and now it’s different because I was used to that role but now it’s different being a bench player… but it also makes it kind of competitive because now I’m working against these guys for minutes on the team, so it makes it competitive but also fun. All of us want to win.”

At the end of the day, the Hawks’ dominating culture of hard work, sacrifice, and a willingness to win prevails over the personal goals of a single player. Now in the supporting role, the freshmen will have to make their biggest impact from the bench. 

“You just have to be ready, just have to keep engaged while you’re on the bench,” Hart said. “You can’t just be like sitting back there relaxing, having a good time. Like you still need to be in the game and know what’s going on. And the coaches also make a big point of getting the bench involved. Like having a loud bench because that kind of keeps you in the game and it also helps the players on the court at that time.”

Of course, these freshmen don’t know the day when their number will be called. Pfohl and St. Clair pointed out that in the meantime, they’re investing in “starting from the ground up” and keeping a “positive mindset” until their opportunity arrives.

“We always say we’re gonna push each other to the limits on the court, but we’re gonna be friends, family all off the court,” Pfohl said.

It’s a whole new stage for these young players. Although unproven, the potential in their talent is possibly reason enough for them to contribute this season in limited minutes.

Fittingly, Stockmal believes in the young guns and provided some quality parting words.

“Watch out for the bench players.”

Click here for the published article.

Jaylen layuo
Senior captain Jaylen Jennings goes in for a layup over junior Ben Stone during practice. (Photo courtesy Kayla Ebner)

Hawks focused on one day at a time, prepared to build on last season’s successes

By Andrew Wuebker | November 9, 2017

BRISTOL, R.I. — One day at a time.

That’s been the recurring theme for the Roger Williams University men’s basketball team throughout much of their preseason as they’re just about ready to lace up for the 2017-18 campaign.

Nearly nine months removed from the completion of what arguably was the team’s best regular season performance in program history earning 19 victories, the Hawks are starting over and seeking more, ready to combat the challenges of a new season and build on last year’s achievements.

“Well, I think it’s helpful when you have a core of players returning from that and that’s certainly helpful,” said Head Coach Michael Tully, who’s entering his 16th season as head coach of the Hawks. “They’ve sort of set the bar. And now to raise that bar, there’s a certain amount of expectations that just naturally come with it and the season didn’t end the way we wanted so there’s some motivation there. I thought they did a really good job this fall, prior to the 15th [of October] when they’re on their own. I think we have good captains, good senior leadership. I think the returners have done a great job doing the necessary things to continue in that direction.”

The Hawks returned nine players from last season’s roster with their core intact. Experienced veterans in seniors Nick Marini, Conor O’Brien and Jaylen Jennings, as well as junior Austin Coene are among that core of key players for RWU. All of whom have also taken on the role of captains this season.

Other notable returning players include juniors Dalton Prendergast, Jake Heaton and Ben Stone, as well as sophomores Ian Carmichael and Rich Pugliese. With the exception of Heaton who is projected to be the fifth starter alongside the four captains, the junior and sophomore class is poised to play important minutes off the bench.

While the team has the top half of their roster returning, the back half boasts seven new faces, welcoming aboard six bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshmen in JJ Pfohl, Chris Chappell, Jeff Stockmal, Andrew Hart, Doug Hostetler and Jonah St. Clair. The seventh guy is Bryan Donovan, a transfer from Providence College.

To some teams, that somewhat unexpected roster turnover could pose an issue, but Tully likes what he’s seen out of his new players thus far and how they’ve integrated into the team.

“It’s a talented first-year group for sure,” he said.

The general consensus around this roster is the Hawks got deeper, better and more athletic, something they lacked in previous seasons. In practice, the freshmen in particular have shown their potential to contribute right away, offering not just skills like 3-point shooting and ball handling, but also intangibles like quickness, good size for their guards and athleticism.

The Hawks’ starters in particular are also talented offensively. Marini, an All-CCC player last season, was very effective at the point, scoring 12.4 points a game while leading the team with 5.6 assists and a 55.9 percent field goal percentage. Coene, also an All-CCC player last season, led the team in scoring with nearly 21 a game on 50.6 percent shooting. O’Brien rounds out the top three scorers on the team chipping in 10.1 a game. Finally, Jennings and Heaton add some 3-point expertise, who made 54 3-pointers combined last year.

The Hawks no doubt have some skill on offense, but according to Tully and assistant coach Dan Weidmann, the defense early on will be a work in progress. In past seasons, the Hawks have moreso been known for being a strong defensive team. Anchored by graduated senior Josh Syska last season, RWU held their opponents to 72.5 points per game last season on a mere 40.6 percent shooting.

It will take some time for RWU to find their identity and adjust on the defensive end.

“I think they’re gonna have to find their identity a little bit,” Tully said. “I think every team’s different. I think what you will see with this team, I do think that a part of their identity will be that they play hard and they’ll be very unselfish. I think that’s what they’ll see for sure. Whether they lean to be a really strong defensive team or a more offensive oriented team or a pretty good balance, that’s what I don’t know yet. I know they’re gonna be unselfish. I know they’re gonna play hard. Those two things are certainly two things that we ask them the most.”

Weidmann believes the adjustment defensively will have to happen as a collective unit.

“It definitely happens as a collective unit,” Weidmann said. “I think it’s just focusing more on what you can do with the guys that you have and I think now we have more guys that can pressure the ball, react quicker, be in the right position quicker and really just work on containing the ball because now you don’t have Syska behind you to bail you out like he used to do so many times.”

With so much to improve on before the season begins, the players and coaches are heavily focused on the aspect of getting better each and every day.

“We don’t talk much about season expectations,” Weidmann said. “We talk about daily expectations and we set daily goals of just trying to get better every single day. That’s our goal as a team and as a staff. I would say as a staff, what’s our goal is, ‘What’s the best thing we can do for our team today?’ We try to design our practice around that. We try to communicate to our guys about that. ‘What is the best thing we can do for our team today?’ And then for the guys it’s just the goal to get better everyday, to improve on the little things we’re working on everyday, form those habits, get them to think positively and act positively, teach ‘em how that all comes together on the court.”

Besides playing in a competitive Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) with teams such as Endicott College, Gordon College and defending CCC champion Nichols College near the top of the pack every year, the Hawks are more worried about the challenge of overcoming themselves. A quick playoff exit last season to Eastern Nazarene College is one example of that.

“When you come off a good season and you have a team that’s pretty good on paper, it’s easy to lose sight on working hard every single day, staying competitive every single day and knowing that nothing’s for granted,” Weidmann said. “And I think for the most part these guys realize that because they had a good season and they lost in the first round of the playoffs. I think for sure our number one competition is ourselves and not ever getting comfortable.”

The Hawks certainly feel they look good on paper, but what happens in between the lines is what will really matter during the 25-game grind of a season. However, this Hawks team appears ready to embrace these challenges head on.

“As far as what I’m seeing in practice, everyone’s hungry,” Jennings said. “Whether it be just learning a drill, running to the next drill, talking more, everyone wants to get better. Even though we have new guys and it was just like, you know, it’s tough for them obviously. I can see that they want to grow. They want to improve and that’s just everyone across the board.”

“I think it’s a really good team that has a chance to do some special things,” Tully said.

The Hawks take on Coast Guard Academy in their season opener on Wednesday evening, Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Click here for the published article.

Injured in his first game as a Boston Celtic, Gordon Hayward will not return to the floor for the rest of the 2017-18 season. (Photo courtesy

Editorial: An open letter to Gordon Hayward

By Andrew Wuebker | November 2, 2017

Dear Gordon,

Man, I’m sorry. I feel for you, man. I really do.

To see you go down like that in the first game of the season just plain sucks. All that excitement and anticipation for what was supposed to be a fun season was gone the moment you went down. I cannot say enough how unfair this is to you. There’s no other way to put it.

I’m sure you’ve had so many thoughts going through your head since you went up for that alley oop and got hurt. Maybe you even have regrets since then; maybe jumping on that play, coming to Boston or whatever. I’ll tell you now though, I don’t think you should have any regrets. If anyone is to have regrets here, it is me.

I just regret not seeing the game from the very beginning that night.

You’re probably thinking now, why would this guy want to watch me get hurt?

You see, I have these superstitions when it comes to sports. Ever since I was a kid, good things have never happened when I watched games from behind on my DVR.


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched games on the DVR when we were ahead, only for me to skip through the commercials and the other team came back to win.

I know, man. I gotta watch that live.

Before this game, I was driving home from school that night and it was probably 9 o’clock or so. I had stopped to get some food somewhere and opened up Facebook on my phone for just a minute.

I was careful to make sure I didn’t see the score or any highlights about the game, but Sports Illustrated was at the top of my feed.

I don’t remember the whole headline, but I just saw the words “Gordon Hayward” and “horrific injury” in the same sentence. I shut my phone off and went home knowing something happened to you, but no idea what.

I really should’ve gotten home on time for tip-off.

I finally got home and my dad and I started watching the game in our basement. For the first five minutes of that game, I was tense. I knew it would happen, just didn’t know when. Then you went up for that alley oop and… yeah. I could feel the eerie silence of that arena in my basement.

When it happened, I got mad.

No, not at you. Injuries are a freak thing and I completely understand that. I was mad at Kevin Harlan when he proclaimed you’d broken your leg.

“Hayward broke his leg! Hayward has broken his leg! Hayward has broken his leg!”

I didn’t have any words so all I could think was, “How the hell do you know if he’s broken his leg?”

Then came the camera angle of you on the floor with your foot turned 90 degrees outward. I jumped out of my seat on the couch in shock, then immediately sat back down and turned away. I don’t recall seeing anything as gruesome as that since Paul George and Kevin Ware.

Like I said before, I feel for you. Man, I really do.

I was so excited to see what you could do in Celtic green this season. I’ll admit, I was a little hesitant at first when Danny Ainge signed you to that max deal last summer. We already had a couple of up and coming wing players in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, so I wasn’t entirely sure where I’d see you fit in. I wanted those guys to get playing time to develop. But then we got Kyrie and I looked at our team from top to bottom…

Woo. That is some crazy depth. Deepest since the run in ‘08 when we won it all.

I still remember the introductory press conference with you and Kyrie. It was reminiscent of when the Big 3 of Pierce, Allen and Garnett came together. I still remember the newly free Kyrie saying, “It’s about to get crazy G.”

It is amazing how quickly things can change. If only I didn’t have to wait another year to see what this team can really do. Seven games in now though, I don’t mind waiting as much anymore.

You shouldn’t mind either.

We got this, Gordon. The Jay Crew is growing up fast and Kyrie will learn how to be the leader. Big Al is gonna step up and don’t forget the rest of the guys. Seeing you on the sideline again will be relief for Celtics fans.

I realize you don’t know me. I haven’t had to endure anything like this, so I know it is far too easy for me to say all this, but you can come back from this. Take the Black Mamba’s advice and everyone else’s who is supporting you.

As a Massachusetts native and a New England sports fan my entire life, I’ve seen some pretty amazing comebacks here in Beantown as I’m sure you’re aware. So I can speak for every fan like-minded: We are behind you, Gordon. We support you. We have faith in you. Take your time. Stay strong. Don’t get discouraged. Come back better than ever.

Be the next Boston sports icon that’s part of the next great comeback. And when you do come back, we know Cleveland and Golden State have nothing on us.

Andrew Wuebker

Pain makes potential: Jadon Desmarais prepares for knee surgery

Andrew Wuebker | September 28, 2017

BRISTOL, R.I. — For Jadon Desmarais, the unknown awaits him.

What he does know isn’t much. Sometime Friday at Kent Hospital in Warwick, Rhode Island, Jadon knows he’ll be under the knife. He knows he’ll be on some surgeon’s operating table. He knows all of this was his choice.

To Jadon, all these extracurriculars are only for a chance. A chance to make his body better. A chance to end the pain. A chance for things to finally be right again.

“I am not that fearful of the surgery,” he says. “I believe that everything is to go right. I am focusing day by day to keep my head from dwelling on the what ifs.”

A 19-year-old freshman on the Roger Williams University men’s soccer team who’s out for the season, Desmarais is preparing for patellar tendon debridement surgery in his left knee. The patellar tendon is a strong, flat, ligament that originates on the patella (kneecap) and stretches to help the muscles extend the knee. When overused to the point when it is elongated, torn or ruptured, surgery is usually required. The procedure involves the removal of dead patellar tissue and sewing together of the remaining, healthy tissue.

The surgery is a result of aftereffects from many injuries Desmarais sustained in his left knee that began almost four years ago during his sophomore season in high school. The injury has not only affected his availability and play on the field throughout his last four seasons, but also his everyday life. By making the decision to undergo surgery, Desmarais has taken this chance to unleash his ultimate potential as a soccer player and make daily life a little less painful.

A former three-time Division II All-Division selection from Mt. Hope High School in his hometown of Bristol, Desmarais has loved soccer since he was young, routinely kicking “whatever he saw.” He’s a self-described loyal and compassionate person who cares about his friends. His immediate and extended family members came to every game in his high school career, despite the team’s performances being mediocre for the majority. His key trait is a desire for success, calling himself “extremely ambitious” and boasting that he “hates to lose.”

“You can ask my friends that,” Desmarais said with confidence. “I don’t like losing. I’ll try harder than anybody else tries.”

Blossoming from his unrelenting desire to succeed was even a dream to play Division I soccer, but then, the injury happened.

“I blocked a shot, a kid ran through my knee and I sprained my [medial collateral ligament],” he said. “I ended up pushing through the pain and the injury, so that ended up in the long run messed up my knee, so I needed to have patellar surgery.”

Since then, it has been a long list of ailments for Desmarais. The overcompensation of his knee led to a meniscus sprain, a posterior cruciate ligament sprain and the MCL tears.

Everyday life for him since then has been a challenge. If Desmarais sits in a certain position for too long, when he runs — and even walks — he gets a sharp, pulsating pain in his left knee. It comes and goes like jabbing pins and needles. Before he knew it, Ibuprofen became his best friend. On the field, the pain is intensified. Desmarais, who was such a crucial part to his high school team’s success, played through his injuries much of the time throughout his career, but not without a cost.

“Sometimes it gets unbearable,” he said. “In high school I had both my knees taped up to the point where I was a mummy, I would say. They were heavy.”

Even worse than the physical pain sometimes for Desmarais is the pain of “what ifs.” Desmarais believes his recruitment to Division I soccer programs was effected by his injuries, as well. Conversations he had with coaches from Long Island University, Bryant University and Northeastern University ultimately led nowhere.

Over the last four years, he’s missed games he’s regretted missing. It wasn’t until this year when he decided to shut himself down and take the chance to make himself better.

“The hardest part about this was it wasn’t a forced surgery,” he said. “It wasn’t like I had to get surgery. That’s different. It was my decision. I had to decide for myself whether or not I wanted to miss games. So, I just decided that the pain was getting [to be] too much and it was better to get surgery now than in the future. I’m happy because if I get back to 100 percent, I mean, there’s nothing better. I was capable of doing things on an injury that a lot of other players couldn’t and I can’t wait to see what I can do fully healthy.”

When surgery is over, Desmarais will be on crutches and sporting a knee brace for two to three weeks, then the rehabilitation process begins. The usual timetable for recovery is at least three months, but Desmarais plans to take rehab slow, do it right and become an even better player than he once was.  

The uncertainty that athletes face after a potentially career-changing injury is what makes surgery only a chance for Desmarais. Some athletes simply are just never the same post-op. However, Desmarais’s confidence and motivation is unwavering. When he’s back on the field, he is ready to make his debut for his hometown Hawks.

“If all goes well, I’ll be grateful to be able to focus on all the aspects of soccer without the feeling of being held back,” Desmarais said. “A word cannot describe what it will feel like to be allowed to push my body to its physical and mental limits for the first time in a while. It’s one of my only wishes to be able to show not only myself but everyone what my potential really is.”


The last line of defense: Geschickter, Nelson lead Hawks in goal

Andrew Wuebker | September 21, 2017

BRISTOL, R.I. — Standing in front of the goalpost on Bayside Field last Saturday afternoon, Hawks goalkeeper Edmund Geschickter had to make a crucial stop. It’s the 80th minute, and the Roger Williams University men’s soccer team is holding on to a slim 1-0 lead against vaunted Commonwealth Coast Conference rival Gordon College.

A foul on the Hawks just moments before set up a scoring chance for the Fighting Scots. The difference between a win and tie game is literally in Geschickter’s hands. With a chance to play the role of hero, Gordon’s Ben Gradert lined up for the penalty kick. He fired his shot, and like seven other times in the game, Geschickter made the save.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re not going to overtime. You’re not tying this up,’” Geschickter said on the thoughts going through his head in that crucial moment. “In my mind, I was a thousand percent saving that.”

Quarterback in football, catcher in baseball, the point guard in basketball. The three previously mentioned positions are among the toughest to play in sports, but arguably the hardest is goalkeeper. On a Hawks team that’s seeking a bounceback season after some lackluster performances a year ago, Geschickter, a sophomore, and senior Nick Nelson have been tasked as being the last lines of defense.

This season, they’ve met the challenge.

Roger Williams would walk out of the contest against Gordon with a 1-0 win; a statement victory for a team that boasted a surprising undefeated record of 5-0-2 through their first seven games with their goalie play leading the way.

Only in season No. 2, Geschickter has already eclipsed his overall win total as a freshman with four wins this season and three of them being shutouts. Geschickter also recently earned CCC Defensive Player of the Week and leads the CCC with a .929 save percentage.

Nelson, a steady backup this season to Geschickter who has also seen time as a starter in his previous three years, has accumulated eight wins and four career shutouts, and sits right behind his teammate in CCC leading save percentage, posting one of .857 this season.

Geschickter got his start as goalie in the third grade and went back and forth between that and other field positions all through high school. Nelson also started playing the position when he was younger, but claims to have taken up defending the net on somewhat of a whim.

“I actually became goalie because I didn’t want to run,” Nelson said. “My coach asked who wanted to become goalie and no one raised their hand. He said you won’t have to run and that’s how I became a goalie. I stuck with it ever since.”

The main job is to stop the ball and be the field general, communicating with teammates about everything they see within the 90 or so yards in front of them. Sounds simple since the duo has been strong this season, but it hasn’t come without the work.

Playing such a dynamic position obviously has a high amount of thinking and technique involved. For Geschickter and Nelson, it starts with the basics.

Every practice, the two break off with assistant coach Sean Scott to work on two basic catching techniques. The contour catch, a catch that’s made by forming both hands together into a “W” shape is the first. The other is the basket catch, when the goalie forms their arms together into a curled position to scoop up the ball. Both techniques require impeccable hand-eye coordination. In addition to stopping the ball, the two work on variations of these catches and practice correct diving form and lateral movements. Scott also has them do conditioning drills like short bursts of sprints and fitness ladders.

Perhaps more important than technique though is the mental aspect of defending the goal.

“You need to be a little bit of a headcase or a psycho,” Geschickter said.

Nelson agreed: “You got to be a little crazy.”

The pressure of being the lone man standing before a 8-foot tall and 24-foot wide net when a player is streaking across the field toward them can be intimidating. However, being the least bit timid isn’t an option for the two.

“I think I play better when there’s more pressure because there’s more thinking involved,” Nelson said. “Sometimes you can think about it too much and you’re not set or you’re thinking, ‘Keep my hands in front,’ you’re thinking about all this stuff. Sometimes you just got to focus on keeping the ball out of the net.”

Agreeing with his senior teammate, Geschickter summed it up best.

“Our position is, a shot comes in and you give it all you have in that split second.”

As the Hawks continue their improbable turnaround, Geschickter and Nelson will need to continue their efficiency in the net, as the Hawks face Endicott College on Saturday.


Sean Janson staying in the moment during final college season

By Andrew Wuebker | September 14, 2017

BRISTOL, R.I. — It’s almost half past six on the turf.

The shadows settling in mean the sun has barely begun to set on this 72-degree evening in mid-September. Standing on the Hawk logo at midfield on the turf, the head coach of Roger Williams University’s men’s soccer team barks. He shouts commands to the 20-plus players surrounding him, describing the effort he desires from a scrimmage that’s about to begin.  

Once breaking up into two teams with one wearing neon green pinnies (the yellows), and the other a mix of non-matching T-shirts (the whites), the players take their positions.

It may only be a scrimmage, but at half past six on the turf this night, blinding floodlights almost a hundred feet high in the air illuminate the field, suggesting it’s like any other game night for this Hawks team.

After kickoff, the scrimmage begins. The two teams take turns with possession, attempting to move the ball up and down the field into enemy territory to score, but to no avail. Players shout and yell directions to one another like traffic guards. Suddenly, three minutes into the scrimmage, the head coach commands them to stop. Not liking what he sees, he orders his team to drop to the ground and the young men on the field begin partaking in an assortment of exercises.

Some players start doing what seem to be half-raised jumping jacks, push-ups and knee to elbow touches on their backs. A couple minutes go by and the scrimmage begins again.

Little things like this during a scrimmage may appear excessive to some, but these early autumn practices are the new staple for the 32-man roster that clads the blue and gold at Bayside Field on September and October nights.  

Among those young men is senior captain Sean Janson.

A self-described hard worker that leads by example and puts his cleats on right foot first, Sean is a key piece in the Hawks’ winning puzzle, leading the team in points the last two seasons with 12 points in ‘15 and 11 in ‘17, putting up a combined eight goals and seven assists in the last two seasons. Senior captain Charlie Mader offered more insight to their relationship and what Sean brings to the team.

“Janson and I have a great relationship on and off the field,” Mader said. “Both of us have been starters for four years so that has led to us getting to know each other very well and how we like to play which has made our chemistry better. He’s a great player to work with because he always gives 110 percent and he’s not afraid to offer help to other teammates. He wants to win so badly and it is clear to see that every time he steps on the field.”

Beyond the offensive load placed on his shoulders in recent years however, the load Sean’s taken on for the team has gotten a little heavier.

After an underwhelming last two seasons for the men’s soccer program in which the team has gone 14-21-3 overall, the team has needed to step up their play. Elected to be a captain in preseason, Sean has been dealt the task of aiding the team’s turnaround in the 2017-18 slate. Specifically, by being a leader on and off the field.   

“I was really happy. It was a proud moment.” Sean said on being elected to captain. “Wearing the armband on the field comes with a lot of responsibility, but it’s an awesome feeling… It just motivated me more to help the team win.”

Sean is a 21-year-old senior Business Management student from Avon, Connecticut; a suburban town in the Farmington Valley region of Hartford County with a population of over 18,000. It was there in Avon from the second grade onward where Sean grew up and acquired his love for the game of soccer. Sean was initially wooed by the game when he drew inspiration from his older brother when he was young, but had also gone through the usual routine of trying out different sports as he grew up, including stints playing basketball and golf in high school. However, neither stuck with him as soccer became his dominant sport. He eventually earned the title of captain in his senior season and enjoyed much success, being a two-time state runner-up.

When entering the college search during his senior year of high school, Sean had a solid idea of the priorities and interests most important to him: business management and soccer predominantly. For the business side of things, Sean of course sought a strong business curriculum in the college of his choosing, but was partly motivated with this because majoring in business was somewhat of a family tradition. As for soccer, Sean was just hoping things fell into place. As he went through the all too normal college application process — going on tours, seeing games, talking to coaches at potential schools — he came away choosing Roger Williams over other suitors in the area such as Salve Regina University, Endicott College and Union College.

It was talking to Roger Williams University men’s soccer Head Coach Jim Cook at the time and seeing the atmosphere on campus that led him to the Hawks.

“I really liked coach Cook and we talked on the phone pretty frequently,” he said. “We just came to a good understanding and I decided to commit.”

“Walking on the campus it’s beautiful right?” he added. “It’s on the water. The field is a massive attraction in terms of just the soccer aspect and when I came and met with him I think it was Gordon College and it was alumni weekend — there was tons of fans. Even though they ended up losing it just seemed like a really great atmosphere and the team was really, really good. They made the N.C.A.A. tournament that year so kind of right away I was into the school.”

Once the decision had been made, it was time for Sean to make the jump. Going from his senior year of high school to freshman year of college would usually present some obstacles, but the dynamic and togetherness of the team kept Sean feeling comfortable. In his rookie season of 2014-15, the team posted an 11-6-3 record under coach Cook.

However, coach Cook left the team after the 2014-15 season ended, thus starting another kind of transition for Sean and the team.

“It was definitely a little disappointing when I found out,” he said.

Cook’s departure left the team starting from scratch and following new leadership in James Greenslit, who’s now in his third year coaching RWU. The transition from year to year was never a problem for Sean, but the team’s success began to dip. The coaching change as well as issues with team culture and chemistry became a black mark.

During the 2015-16 campaign, the team posted a losing record of 8-9-1, their first losing season in over 15 years when Cook was the head coach.

Some of reasoning for the struggles last season stemmed from an animosity between the seniors and freshmen. A lack of communication between the classes and fighting for playing time was at the forefront of the problems the team faced, resulting in a divided locker room.

However, entering this season it seems the Hawks have finally begun to turn things around for the better. Behind leaders in Sean, the other two captains in Mader and John McCarthy, as well as the other six seniors on the team, the Hawks are off to their best start four-game start since 2014, going 3-0-1 this season, including shutout wins over Newbury College and Emmanuel College.

“A big point of emphasis throughout the offseason and coming into the 2017 season was improving our team culture,” Greenslit said last week. “We as a team looked in the mirror and saw that we needed to make some changes to the way we approached everything both on and off the field. Our players have really made an effort to work harder in preparing for the season which showed in the fitness levels coming into preseason. They also have tried to come together more as a team which has been led by our captains and seniors. The chemistry between the players has been much improved which can be seen by the support that the players show each other in both practice and on gameday.”

Last spring, Sean had just returned from a study abroad trip in Barcelona, only to be called by coach Greenslit. In that call, Greenslit laid out his expectations for Sean in the upcoming season, encouraging positivity and stepping up as a leader. These philosophies have since trickled down throughout the senior class and among the captains.

In the same way he steps into his cleats and laces ‘em up, Sean stepped into the right-footed role of leader first and the left-footed role of captain second. From delegating the grunt work of bringing equipment to and from the practice field, to deciding what to wear at away games and organizing team events so the team can bond closer together have been critically important to the team’s hot start.

“Just leading by example I think is the most important thing,” said Sean on what’s important about being a leader, regardless of being a captain or not. “With so many seniors having really big roles on the team, I think the freshmen especially get to see that. That’s gonna be them one day so it’s important for them to work hard in every training session.”

Mader added: “The leaders on the team try to put as much emphasis on leading by example. We believe in showing the younger guys that nothing is given to you easily and in order for us to be the best we have to put in the extra work.”

The Hawks have certainly done their part in that department, practicing nearly every day during the season and even twice a day in the offseason. In addition to their newfound work ethic, the Hawks also have the luxury of depth this time around at nearly every position and a strong sophomore class.

“I just want the team to win honestly,” said Sean on what he wants most to come out of this season. “I think that’s the most important thing after these last two seasons have been really tough. It’s tough to have so much expectation for the season and then have it be so poor.”

Despite the positive start in the early going, this weekend the Hawks will face their stiffest test yet in a matchup against Commonwealth Coast Conference rival Gordon College at home. The Fighting Scots have gotten the best of the Hawks in recent seasons, including a 2-1 double-overtime victory in the quarterfinal round of the 2015 CCC tournament and a 2-2 tie last season on Gordon’s home field turf. If the Hawks hope to be a serious contender for the CCC title in late October, early November, it wouldn’t hurt to exorcise some demons.

Four years later, it appears Sean’s journey is finally starting to come full circle.

But in his final season, has the moment of playing in his final college games hit him yet?

“No, definitely not,” Sean said. “That’s probably gonna come in the first CCC championship game. You know, the first round, whatever it is because you can be done after one game, which for me that’s one of those things you think about a little bit but you just know the confidence comes in and you know you’re gonna win. In terms of that feeling, it’s just gonna come when it’s over.”


Team camaraderie, chemistry focuses for men’s soccer in 2017

By Andrew Wuebker | September 7, 2017

BRISTOL, R.I. — A newfound work ethic and team camaraderie has seemingly taken over the Roger Williams University men’s soccer team ahead of their 2017-18 campaign.

Last season, the men’s soccer program struggled to find consistency in the win column, finishing fifth in the Commonwealth Coast Conference with a 6-12-2 overall record (4-3-2 CCC) and were a quick out in the postseason, falling to Western New England 3-1 in the CCC tourney quarterfinal round.

To put the team’s troubles into perspective, Roger Williams had arguably their toughest out of conference schedule in recent memory, going 2-8 and losing big to opponents such as University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Johnson and Wales University and Rhode Island College among others.

In addition to their strong non-conference opponents, the Hawks suffered fits in the second halves of games on numerous occasions. Such was the case against Gordon College, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Bridgewater State University and Nichols College when the Hawks either had a lead or were within striking distance of a win, only to break down in the second half settling for a tie or crushing loss.

Head Coach James Greenslit, entering his third year as the guy for RWU, admitted the team took a step back in 2016. He specifically cited the team’s culture and their approach to games and practices last season as reasons for lackluster results. Going into 2017, he says the team needed to change the way they “approached everything both on and off the field.”

Rather than blaming their stiff competition and dwelling on the past however, the team has looked at themselves over the offseason, making a new commitment and desire to improve their play and bond better as a group.

Although the season is barely underway, Greenslit believes his players have responded early to the challenges and philosophies his coaching staff has composed for them.

“Our players have really made an effort to work harder in preparing for the season which showed in the fitness levels coming into preseason,” Greenslit said. “They also have tried to come together more as a team which has been led by our captains and seniors. The chemistry between the players has been much improved which can be seen by the support that the players show each other in both practice and on gameday.”

Senior captains Sean Janson, Charlie Mader and John McCarthy have been the biggest influences for the squad early on. The trio has taken the responsibility upon themselves to ensure the team is driven, focused and united in all phases, but it’s shown particularly on the practice field where practices have become more competitive. Janson believes the team’s togetherness has been a strong indication of what can be achieved.

“This year we are a much closer team, we have a great mentality and are all working towards the same goal,” he said.

This 2017 roster features depth at every position that the Hawks haven’t seen in recent years, but particularly their experience at the goalkeeper (Edmund Geschickter, Nick Nelson), forward (Tyler Kuchenbecker, Kabine Conde, Spencer Thibodeau, Cole Owens) and midfield (Janson, Colby Decker, Brent Durante) positions are key spots that make the Hawks a tougher group in the front and back ends of the field. Positional battles on the practice field can be critical in taking a team from average to a CCC title contending level.

Two games into the season, Roger Williams seems to be trending in the right direction. With a 6-0 shutout of Newbury College to open the season last Saturday and tying with Keene State College 1-1 on Sunday, the Hawks are off to the start they were looking for. Sixteen games remain on the regular season schedule however with four of their next five contests against conference opponents. For now, coach Greenslit and his Hawks are staying optimistic.

“We have had a very good preseason and our players are focused and hungry to be successful,” Greenslit said. “ Last season was a wake up call that we needed to do things differently as a team in order to be successful. The players have really bought into the system and style that the coaching staff has presented them. It is a much different feeling surrounding the men’s soccer program, and one that we are all excited about.”


Equestrians Stephanie Main, Kaia Lindberg take talents to Nationals

By Andrew Wuebker | May 4, 2017

Wearing a buttoned white-collar shirt, covered by a black show coat, black gloves, a black helmet, tan-colored breeches, and tall boots, equestrian Stephanie Main is ready. The attire, which is not only unique, but also represents class, is standard and necessary for show riders.

Before mounting her horse, she checks her girth and adjusts the reins in her hand. She puts her foot in the stirrup and lifts herself into the saddle, before starting her warm-ups.

All of these preparations are for show day.

Show days are the most exciting days within the riding world. They are tense, and unpredictable, but they are what any serious equestrian like Stephanie lives for.

“The best thing you can do for shows like these is know how to ride any horse you are put on,” said Stephanie on how to prepare for the unpredictability the show day can bring. “We’re ready to show our coach enters us into the show. She knows when we we’re ready and are prepared. Going in, we always feel like we can ride anything that we get put on.”

Last month, senior Stephanie Main was one of two riders from the Roger Williams University equestrian team to qualify for the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championships after placing first in the Intermediate Fences division at the Zone 1 Championships. The other rider, sophomore Kaia Lindberg, earned her nationals spot by taking the Reserve Champion title in Zone 1 for Walk-Trot-Canter.

Kaia says the hardest part about competing is working with different horses right before you have to compete. Every horse is different and it can be difficult to get to know the way they behave in such a short time.

Kaia says she’s nervous, but her assistant coach, Rachel Pelisson, says she looks ready.

Kaia will be judged mostly on her position on the horse.

“In order to have good position you have to be strong,” said Pelisson.

Pelisson is also a pilates instructor and has been giving Kaia exercises to do on the ground to help keep her strong. You need muscle strength, and Kaia’s assistant coach encourages Kaia to correct muscles weaknesses on the ground so it’s easier to do when you get on the horse.

Pelisson says there are a ton of things to think about when you’re on the horse, like steering, correcting the horse, and holding your body in one position.

“We always want to find a straight, balanced rider to make a straight, balanced horse” said Pelisson.

The two girls are also the first two Hawks to compete in the IHSA National Championships since 2012. The show begins today in Lexington, Kentucky, hosted by the well-renowned Kentucky Horse Park; or in Stephanie’s words, “the Disney World for horse people.”

“Well, I’ve never even been to Kentucky before,” Stephanie said. “But, they are the horse capital of the country and hold some of the largest shows. This is also my first time riding in a big final so just being there is going to be super cool.”

A 22-year-old senior Criminal Justice student from Ridgefield, Connecticut, Stephanie has been riding horses since she was 8-years-old. She first happened upon these amazing animals through her mother’s best friend. The friend’s daughter had ridden horses and was also best friends with Stephanie’s older sister, who then followed and started horseback riding also. As most little sister’s do, Stephanie copied everything her older sister did and made horseback riding her passion ever since.

Ridgefield Equestrian Center was the birthplace of her newfound love for horses. Stephanie walked the few minutes from her home to REC every single day to accompany and care for the horses there for hours on end. When she was 9-years-old, she competed in her first horse show the following summer. She couldn’t answer how many shows she had exactly competed in, the number was too high to count, but said the number had to be well over 100.

You could say after all that experience, her spot at nationals was a long time coming, but her career on the equestrian team didn’t start at Roger Williams. Stephanie initially went to college in her home state at Western Connecticut State University, but transferred her sophomore year and joined the equestrian team.

While on the team here at RWU, she has excelled in every capacity. She led the team as the High-Point rider early on this season. To qualify for nationals, Stephanie needed to qualify for regionals first. She only needed five points before the season began to qualify. In the Salve Regina University Show, the first of the season, Stephanie placed second, earning four points. In the Brown University Show the very next week, she earned third in the Intermediate Fences division, giving her three points. The finish advanced her into the Open Fences division for the rest of the season, and also qualified her for regionals in the spring. At regionals, she captured first place in Intermediate Fences, then won zones to advance to nationals.

For Stephanie, she says being a great rider is all about believing in yourself.

“You need to have confidence in yourself,” she says. “If you don’t believe in yourself then your horse can sense everything. If you’re nervous your horse will get nervous. When you’re confident you can have a confident horse.”

However, Stephanie says she couldn’t have done it alone. She credits her supportive teammates and their new head coach, Nora Harris, for her individual success.

“The team this year is really close,” she says. “We spend a lot of time at the barn. We just know each other so well. We’re always so comfortable with each other. As a team we all ride the same horses which makes us great at offering each other input and very supportive of one another. I’m gonna miss it.”

Of coach Harris she said: “She’s probably been my biggest supporter. She’s definitely transformed my riding and I think having her as a coach is the reason I’ve excelled so much this year. She puts so much effort into our entire team and she’s just a great person to have as a coach. I don’t think they could have picked a better coach for our team.”

Although, when Stephanie isn’t riding on the team’s horses, she’s riding her own. Her 21-year-old Dutch warmblood, Mary, was given to her by the previous equestrian coach, Ted Torrey, for $1 because of Stephanie’s strong infatuation for her.

“She’s the sweetest horse,” she said. “I’m biased obviously, but you can do anything to her. You can put two people on her back and she doesn’t care. She just has such a nice personality and she’ll never do anything mean to you. I love her a lot.”

Besides her role on the team and competing in shows, Stephanie’s passion for horses transcends those things. To her, riding means something a little more.

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Women’s club rugby takes Beast of East title

By Andrew Wuebker| April 28, 2017

While the Roger Williams University club women’s rugby team was cladding their namesake Hawks in a tournament last weekend, the team appeared to take the form of something much more menacing… a bunch of beasts.

On Sunday, April 23, the RWU club women’s rugby team won their third consecutive Beast of the East tournament with a 38-5 victory over State University of New York at Albany.

“[I was] completely overwhelmed with pride and joy for the team,” said senior captain Sadia Crosby on her immediate emotions in the championship-clinching moment. “It was one of those brief moments where everything comes together perfectly and I wouldn’t have wanted to share the victory with any other group of women.”

For the Hawks, this Beast of the East title is only the latest accomplishment in a string of impressive successes for the women’s rugby program as a whole.

Before this season began, the team moved up from Division III to Division II after winning their previous two Beast of the East titles back-to-back from 2013-14. Most impressive however, is the program’s two national championships it boasts from the 2007 and 2014 seasons.

Ultimately, the team’s consistency and dominance of its opponents from season to season began to culminate into further good fortune for the program in early February. It was announced then by the university athletic department that the women’s rugby program would attain varsity status in the 2018-19 academic year.

In last weekend’s tourney held in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, the Hawks’ brilliance was on full display.

Roger Williams was one of 14 teams in the Division II Beast of the East field, but separated themselves from the rest of the pack rather early with blowout victories over their first three opponents; a 24-0 shutout over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a 50-12 pounding of University of Vermont and a 71-0 embarassment of University of New Hampshire.

Despite the Hawks’ ability to cruise in the first three rounds of play, RWU still had various concerns as the tourney progressed.

“A main concern was the number of games we had and our depth,” said head coach Kevin Martell who took reign over the team last fall. “I knew we would have to call on reserves throughout the tournament.”

Crosby echoed her coach’s concerns and referred to maintaining the team’s “stamina” and keeping “defensive shape” as key areas that’d need to be addressed, but Crosby says they were ready, crediting an intense strength and conditioning program drawn up by their coach.

“I knew that stepping into a higher division would mean a much more difficult tournament than the team was experienced with, so I implemented a strength and conditioning program that the players began as soon as they returned from winter break, consisting of three sessions per week,” Martell says. “We remained training inside until the weather permitted us to move outdoors and continue our training on the pitch three times a week from 5 p.m. until it’s too dark to see. The whole team stepped up to the challenge and our fitness really paid off down the stretch in this tournament.”

The Hawks’ hard work would be tested by their stiffest opponent yet in the semifinal round versus Providence College. But what were once mild concerns quickly became afterthoughts as the team got contributions from top to bottom in a grit and grind 26-19 victory.

“Providence College probably offered us our hardest test in the tournament,” said Martell. “Our defense had been absolutely solid all weekend, but the backline on PC has some very good players that were able to open space and score tries. Our women made some amazing plays and we came out on top.”

After the win over PC, RWU made quick work of SUNY Albany and the Hawks became the title-winning beasts once again.

“This tournament was a great milestone for the program and the best possible ending for this stellar year and our graduating seniors,” Martell said.

But it begs the question, what makes this team so good year after year?

“There are many things that make this program so good but it all starts with recruitment to make the team grow,” said senior Madison Newton. “The team’s past success definitely makes it more desirable to be a part of as well as joining the community we create. We are such a close knit team that it reflects on and off of the field. It’s also each person’s individual dedication to the team, our coach pushes us hard during practice but it’s our job to push ourselves on our own.”

While the Hawks’ winning culture is crafted from past and present successes paired with a willingness to be great, the players—seniors in particular—see rugby as so much more than that. Family seems to be the predominant theme.

“Easily the biggest takeaway from rugby is simply your teammates that become your family,” said senior Morgan Quagliaroli. “We’re so incredibly close and I know these people will always be in my life. I’ve played all different sports my entire life, and there is no stronger bond than the bond between a rugby team. I’d trust any one of them with my life. Everyone is constantly putting their body on the line to protect each other in a game, life is no different. My teammates are what make this the best game in the world.”

It’s safe to say that many of the team’s seniors will miss the scrums, mauls and lineouts that rugby has given them over their four years, Newton included.

“Of course I’m going to miss it all after graduation,” she said. “I’ve been able to play my favorite sport with girls who have become my family over the past four years, nothing will ever compare to that.”

Although they are graduating, Crosby believes what the seniors on team have done in their four years will leave behind a legacy for future players on the team to follow.

“A love for the game of rugby, pride in my teammates and contentment in knowing that our legacy will live on in the players that come after us,” said Crosby. “Our time may be coming to pass but the memories will never fade.”

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Women’s lacrosse posts convincing win over Gordon College

By Andrew Wuebker| 
April 13, 2017

BRISTOL, R.I. — In a matchup of two of the top three women’s lacrosse teams in the Commonwealth Coast Conference, one would figure a close game is in store.

Tuesday afternoon wasn’t the case.

The then third-placed Roger Williams University women’s lacrosse team made short work of formerly second-placed Gordon College with a convincing 15-2 victory on Tuesday afternoon, giving RWU their fourth straight win.

“I think that we have really started to come together as one,” said junior Kaelin Hogan. “Each day we are trying to improve to be a championship-caliber team. Our defense comes up with big plays, which leads the attack to getting the goals we do. Our unity is really starting to show on the field and on the scoreboard.”

Led by the offensive duo of Hogan and senior McKenna Everding once again, who had seven goals and five assists between them, the Hawks didn’t give the Fighting Scots much of a chance.

Hogan scored three of her four goals in the first half en route to a 6-2 halftime lead. Roger Williams struck first 20 seconds into the game when junior Carly Martin took a sweet dish from Hogan for a score. Gordon answered just over two minutes later to tie it 1-1, but Hogan scored three straight times to pull the Hawks away.

“We spend so much time in practice preparing for plays and formations that other teams could throw at us,” Hogan said on how she’s able to consistently penetrate into opposing defenses. “The defense is constantly pushing the attackers and vice versa. When it comes to game time we are more than prepared and that’s what gets us to find the holes on the opposing team’s defense.”

Through a balanced offense and stout defense that left Gordon without many scoring chances, Roger Williams cruised to a 6-2 halftime lead. However, the Hawks showed some more in the second frame, scoring nine unanswered goals.

Among the other Hawks to contribute were a pair of juniors and sophomores. The juniors, Martin and Paige Byrne, had one goal and one assist each, while sophomores Marin Owens and Emily Stoeppel had two goals and two assists each. Freshman Shayne Rivard punched in two goals as well.

A distasteful loss against CCC-leading Endicott College in the tail end of March seems like all but a distant memory for a squad that has the conference title on their minds. With their fourth straight win on Tuesday against a strong opponent in Gordon College, Hogan is hoping the team’s best defensive outing is a sign their best LAX is yet to come.

“With each game our team has one mindset and that’s to win. Before today’s game Gordon did have the better record, but we’ve been working hard at practice to prepare and work on our weaknesses,” she said. “It feels very good to win against a strong competitor, like Gordon, and we hope to continue our winning streak. Our goal is the championship again and we know how hard we need to work in order to get the same results as last year. Losing to Endicott was tough, but it opened our eyes to the weaknesses we’ve been working on in practice to fix.”

With another picture perfect offensive showing, Hogan is currently tied in the CCC lead for most points on the season with 65. It begs the question: Does she ever get tired of scoring?

Hogan offered a more humble response.

“During the game, our objective is to get the ball in the back of the net,” she said. “It isn’t who has the most goals or who has the most assists. There are so many key contributors on the attacking and defensive end, that play a part in achieving our main goal. If our defense didn’t come up with a big stop or we didn’t get the ball off the draw control, the scores of our past games would be different. It goes back to the saying, ‘You’re as strong as your weakest link.’ When it comes to game time, all 21 of us give it 100 percent to get the results we want.”

The Hawks will have a chance to continue their push for excellence against conference foe Western New England next Wednesday, April 19 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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Men’s polo wins first national championship in second season

By Andrew Wuebker | April 12, 2017

BRISTOL, R.I. — When the Roger Williams University men’s polo team won their first ever national championship in the program’s young two-year history last Saturday, nobody had realized what just happened.

“I didn’t even know we won until everyone started screaming and cheering,” said Daymar Rosser, a junior on the team. “In the moment it just felt like winning a game, until the next day we all realized we were national champions and all the emotions kicked in.”

Sophomore player George Hempt could also vouch for that.

“I didn’t know we won until I heard my teammate [Pedro Cabrera’s] burst of enthusiasm from across the arena,” he said.

Once the euphoria of the championship-clinching moment had ended, everyone knew only one thing: This was for real.

Roger Williams held off Southern Methodist University 12-11 in the national title game last Saturday afternoon, April 8 in only their second year of the program’s history.

For those unfamiliar with the sport, polo is a team game played on horseback with players attempting to drive a small plastic or wooden ball into a team’s opposing goal using a long-handled mallet or club. It can be played in an open field or within an arena, and only three players and their horses are necessary for both sides.

Hempt, who’s mounted more than a few horses in his short lifespan, described it differently.

“Some describe polo as hockey on horseback, but that really only captures the physicality of the game,” he said. “I like to think of it more as trying to play golf, during an earthquake, with clubs that are over 50 inches long.”

The Hawks were one of six teams to compete in the United States Polo Association Intercollegiate National Championship Tournament last week from April 3-8; held a not-too-far 3,000 miles away from Bristol, Rhode Island in Santa Barbara, California.

The Hawks’ three-man squad entered the tourney as the No. 2 seed, receiving a first round bye before defeating Ivy League school Cornell University 10-8 last Thursday, April 6 to advance to the final round.

In the final bout, Roger Williams was met by No. 1 seed Southern Methodist University. Going up against a team that boasts mustangs as their mascot could give the impression a simple polo match was bound to go in their favor, right?

Not quite.   

While SMU did have riding skills along with the applicable logo, RWU had some experienced guys mounting their horses as well.

Hempt claims he is a fifth generation polo player who was “born into” the sport. Cabrera is from the Dominican Republic, one of 18 countries where polo is played professionally. Rosser however, unlike his teammates, didn’t have a polo background embedded into the roots of his family history. His love for this game played atop the backs of stallions began from a much more personal relationship—a bond between brothers.

“I was exposed to horses by three older brothers when they discovered a program called Work to Ride in the city of Philadelphia,” he said. “WTR is a non-profit organization that helps inner-city kids get a better life. After my first day around the horses I knew this was the sport I wanted to do forever.”

With history and experience on their side, the Hawks got out to a good start in the title game, taking a 3-2 lead in the first chukka. However, SMU was a tough group to shake off, knotted it up at 4-4 by the end of the first session.

At the end of the second chukka, neither team could cover any ground as the match remained tied 7-7.

In the third chukka, RWU scored three unanswered goals to take a 10-7 lead into the fourth, but SMU fought back to eventually tie that game at 11-11 forcing a shootout.

Cabrera was the first Hawk to capitalize in the shootout after SMU tallied two consecutive misses. Having to score, Southern Methodist stayed alive by punching a goal home. With a chance to win, RWU missed and the shootout went to an extra round.

Rosser then nailed the first shot of the second shootout for the Hawks while SMU missed. The two teams alternated missed shots before SMU knocked in a goal to tie things up again. With one shot left for the Hawks in this round to potentially take the championship crown home, all eyes were on Hempt.

“Deep breaths,” Hempt said on what he was doing in the moments before the clinching goal. “I missed more penalty shots than I usually do in that game so I was just trying to clear my head of those mistakes and focus on the fundamentals.”

Hempt made the shot to put the Hawks up one and SMU couldn’t match, sending RWU’s season into the history books.

“It’s a great feeling to be an intercollegiate champion and it’s a big accomplishment for all of us,” Rosser said.

Head Coach Ted Torrey was at the helm of the team’s unprecedented run, saying the title was possible from the very beginning and it was their outright goal before the season started.

“Yeah, [winning a national title] was the goal… nationally, we were a force to be reckoned with all year long,” he said.

Hempt was also in agreeance with his coach.

“I knew as soon as I started playing alongside Pedro and Daymar as a freshman a national championship was in our reach,” Hempt said. “I knew from day one after seeing the enthusiasm these two boys displayed in addition to the tremendous support from our coach and athletic department, we were destined for success.”

Perhaps next year too the team will be destined for success, as the Hawks’ entire roster will be returning next season.

Click here for the published article.

Men’s basketball upset by Eastern Nazarene in CCC quarterfinal

By Andrew Wuebker | February 21, 2017

BRISTOL, R.I. — The Roger Williams University men’s basketball team suffered a crushing 83-78 defeat at the hands of Eastern Nazarene College in the quarterfinal round of the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) tournament on Tuesday night.

Roger Williams came into the matchup completing their best regular season in school history, finishing third in the conference with a 19-6 overall record; good enough for the No. 3 seed. However, records don’t matter when it comes to postseason play. The season’s abrupt ending on Tuesday night for this unique squad is bound to sting for some time.

“It was an upsetting ending,” said Assistant Coach Dan Weidmann. “The guys in the locker room have worked extremely hard all year long to get them to where we were. This group just put together the best regular season in RWU history and wanted to go out with a much different feeling. There are a lot of emotions after a loss like tonight but I think everyone felt worse we could not get it done for our seniors. Everyone put so much into the year and to underperform in the playoffs stings. And this one will hurt for a while, but that is okay, it just shows how important it is to the them.”

The Hawks were led by their All-CCC duo of guards in junior Nick Marini and sophomore Austin Coene. Marini dropped 20 points and dished five assists for the Hawks, while Coene added 13 on 4-of-13 shooting.

Junior Conor O’Brien and senior Josh Syska also chipped in scoring 11 points each.

Despite RWU defeating Eastern Nazarene by a combined point-differential of 29 in both matchups this season, Tuesday night’s contest was a rematch a year in the making.

These squads faced off in the same circumstances a year prior, but were reversed this time around. Eastern Nazarene and RWU were opposite seedings a year ago, but rewind to a last season and it was the Hawks coming out on top with a tight 68-67 decision in the CCC quarterfinal on the Lions’ home floor.

That being said, the sixth-seeded Lions came to play with playing the role of spoiler on their minds. Sparked by the fireworks of Lions senior guard Christian Lynch, the Lions made defending their fast-paced offense a nightmare for a normally stout Hawks defense.

“Lynch had a career night,” said Weidmann. “He was 9-for-10 in the first half and most of his shots were contested and forced but they went in. That is how basketball goes sometimes; any kid can get hot and take a game over. He is a senior — who was knocked out of the playoffs last season by us — and he came in and played very well. I wouldn’t say it was a surprise but more frustration for us because we are a much better defensive team to allow one player shoot the way he did in the first half.”

Despite Lynch’s heroics, the bout was a closely contested contest for the majority of the night, as RWU only trailed the Lions slightly by a halftime score of 35-33. However, Lynch’s teammates would bring the heat in the second half, scoring 36 of their 48 second-half points.

The Hawks had a lead as a big as seven midway through the first-half, but eventually turned into an 11-point edge for EN early in the second. The Hawks fought desperately to climb out of the hole, slicing the lead to as little as little as five behind a raucous RWU crowd, but a tough day for RWU on the defensive end finished their season prematurely.

After the game, Weidmann said that despite the loss, the team will move forward and was in no facet their season a waste.

“Coach [Michael Tully] told them the truth—one game does not change what we did this season and we wouldn’t trade this team not for one game,” said Weidmann. “They gave us everything they had all year and was as committed and focused a group as we ever had. This team has changed the program and the program is in its best place it has ever been. We thanked the seniors — it started with those guys four years ago — they have changed the culture of this program and their impact is far greater than the 19 wins we had this season.”

Hawks storm back from 16 down, beat Gordon in epic 2OT thriller

By Andrew Wuebker | February 8, 2017

BRISTOL, R.I. — On a night when things didn’t seem to be going so smoothly for the Roger Williams University men’s basketball team on their home floor against Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) opponent Gordon College, the Hawks put on a second-half clinic in what perhaps was their best performance of the season.

In the same week of the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, the Hawks pulled off a stellar come-from-behind victory of their own; a 92-85 double-overtime triumph even the New England Patriots would be proud of.

“The double overtime win was special because we stuck together when we went down,” said senior captain Josh Syska, who tied his season-high with 17 points along with seven boards. “Not one of us gave up and it took everyone from the last person on the bench to the five guys playing in the game to pull off the win. It is a conference win and just like any other conference games, there isn’t one bigger than the other. Gordon is a very good team with a lot of talent and they shot very well, not to mention having the best rebounder in the country on their team. The most important thing from this double-overtime win was that we stuck together.”

While it is true a comeback from 16 down is not exactly the same as rallying from a 25-point hole like our idols from Foxborough, Massachusetts did—and the fact that this comeback came to be won in two, not one, extra session—anyone could admit these boys were just as gritty.

“Our team is always positive,” said junior guard Nick Marini, who had a near triple-double on the night putting up 14 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. “Win or lose we’re always sticking together and in a game like that we’re encouraging each other to just focus on making the next play and chip away at that lead one possession at a time.”

For the bulk of the Hawks’ season, it has been a party in the home team’s gymnasium, going 11-1 in front of their home crowd since the season kicked off in early November.

However, for the majority of Wednesday’s contest, the Fighting Scots of Gordon College played the part of party-crasher.

The Fighting Scots held RWU to 33 percent first half shooting, partly with the help from some unfortunate bounces that didn’t go RWU’s way. And while the Hawks were missing, Gordon was hitting, shooting 59 percent in the opening frame en route to a 35-27 halftime lead. In the first two minutes of the second half, GC doubled their cushion to 16, giving the Hawks their biggest deficit of the night.

But for the last 18 minutes of regulation plus the two overtimes, the Hawks turned up.

Roger Williams would turn up on the defensive end for the remainder of the night, forcing GC into long jumpers and tougher looks at the rim.

The Hawks would score nine unanswered points to cut the lead to seven, 43-36, highlighted by two of sophomore Austin Coene’s 22 points on a steal and score.

Gordon then ended the Hawk run on a layup by GC’s Sam Johnson to push the lead back to nine, but was quickly answered by junior Conor O’Brien’s sensational four-point play with just under 14 to go in the second half, cutting the lead to five, 45-40.

Over the remainder of regulation, the Hawks continued their surge and the momentum in the gym had begun to shift, but Gordon was doing everything in their power to keep the home goers at bay. Largely due to GC’s Garrison Duvivier—one of the leading rebounders in the nation who also dropped a game-high 30 on the night—helped keep the Hawks at a distance.

While all season it’s been guys like Marini and Coene leading the Hawks, thrilling victories aren’t spurned without unsung heroes. Junior guard Jaylen Jennings was the guy.

Jennings would step up big off the bench in the waning minutes of the final frame to keep the Hawks alive. With just under nine ticks to go in regulation, Syska would make a spectacular acrobatic save from a ball headed out of bounds to freshman reserve guard Justin Leip, who found find a wide open Jennings and drilled a 3-pointer to pull the Hawks to within three, 54-51.

After trading a few possessions, the Hawks would tie it at 57 on a layup by Marini, but Gordon College would push the lead back to five, 65-60, with 3:20 to go on a free throw by Duvivier.

A layup by Coene with 2:53 to go cut the lead to three, so Gordon turned to Duvivier in crunch time. Syska wound up drawing a charge on Duvivier, sending the home crowd into delirium and gave RWU a chance to pull within one or take the lead. On the following possession, Jennings then sank another triple to tie the game at 65 with just over two minutes to play.

On the next play, Duvivier would make up for his foul on the previous possession by hitting two on this trip down the floor, giving GC a slight 67-65 advantage with 1:45 to play, but every chamber was filled for Jennings in the second half-plus, answering from way downtown again, giving RWU their first lead since the opening minutes of the first half with 1:30 remaining.

A foul by Coene on Gordon’s next possession would send Duvivier to the line, making the first, but missing the second, knotting it at 68. As the clock wound down with under a minute left, Hawks senior guard Andrew Wasik would make a go-ahead layup with 38 seconds left to put RWU up two, but then a layup by Duvivier would tie things up again at 70 with 23 ticks to go. Marini would get a chance for a drive to the bucket on the final possession of regulation, but he’d lose the ball and the game would be sent into overtime.

In the first five-minute extra session, it would be more of the same for Gordon, as Duvivier fueled the Fighting Scots to a slight four-point edge, 77-73, with 2:54 to go and also forced the Hawks’ leading scorer in Coene to foul out. Leip would fill in for Coene in the overtime periods, knocking down two freebies to pull them within two, 77-75.

The Hawks followed with a stop then a Jennings 3-pointer to give the Hawks a one-point edge again, but Gordon wouldn’t go quietly as GC’s Jake Haar answered with a three of his own, putting the Fighting Scots up two with 1:24 to play.

In the closing seconds of the first overtime, Marini would have a chance to drive to the basket, but lost the handle of the ball with six seconds left, leaving the bout undecided at 80 points apiece.

Although, however battered and beaten RWU was for most of the night, the Hawks refused to throw in the towel and delivered the knockout punch in the final overtime.

Gordon College would score the first point of the final extra session on a free throw, giving them an 81-80 lead, but little did they know it would be their last.

Although Jennings started the game 0-of-5 from distance, it seemed he couldn’t miss when it mattered most, scoring all 16 of his points in the second half and overtime frames, including a dagger in the second overtime.

After a pair of misses by both teams, Jennings hit his fifth of the night from distance to put the Hawks up for good by two at 83-81, sending the Hawk bench and home crowd into a frenzy.

“To be honest, I was frustrated the first half,” said Jennings. “My teammates and coaches kept on telling me to shoot. At the time, they had more confidence than I had in myself, but it’s just important to keep a positive mindset throughout the whole 40 minutes of basketball. I had some open looks and knew I can knock the shots down, so without any hesitation I let it fly.”

Seven straight points by Syska then extended the Hawk lead to seven, 90-83, putting the game out of reach and securing a crucial come-from-behind win against a top CCC opponent.

On what spurned that comeback, Syska said the team’s faith in each other, as well as poise was the key to overcoming the deficit.

“We kept telling each other ‘next play,’” he said. “We reminded each other as we went down like you said that we need to pick it up and we were going to win the game on the defensive end. We knew we needed to cut the lead but also knew it couldn’t be done all at once. Little by little with encouragement from each other, we got it done.”

After an emotional win against a top conference team, Jennings says while the team is optimistic they’re headed in the right direction, they need to remain focused down the stretch if they want to bring home the hardware.

“We’re all hungry and humble, which is what we talk about after each game,” said Jennings. “We’re still ready to work and position ourselves these last two games in preparation for the playoffs. Every practice we continue to strive and push each other in order to get better, because we’ve been determined the whole season for one common goal in mind—the CCC championship.”

However much work is left to be done for these Hawks, Syska says this team will let the work they’ve put in and trust he and his teammates have for one another determine how their magical season plays out.

“I don’t think there is a limit on this team,” said Syska. “Win or lose we have each other’s backs on and off the court. With this type of commitment from each one of my teammates, we have no limits and will work hard everyday to achieve the best.”

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