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Fighting for space, recognition

Newbury athletes try to make mark

The Newbury College Nighthawks (21-9) won their first ECAC men's basketball championship on March 9. The Newbury College Nighthawks (21-9) won their first ECAC men's basketball championship on March 9. (NEWBURY COLLEGE)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Steve Crowe
Globe Correspondent / April 27, 2008

Arch Mitchell donned his Newbury College colors as he arrived at Babson College's Staake Gymnasium two weeks ago for the Division 3 Senior All-Star Game. His Nighthawks (21-9) were fresh off their first ECAC men's basketball championship, and Mitchell, a senior, had been selected to play in the game by the New England Basketball Coaches Association.

He entered the locker room in Wellesley ready to chill with the other players. They, however, greeted him with blank stares and cold shoulders. No one knew him. "Nobody had any idea we had just won the ECAC championship," said Mitchell, who finished his career as the Brookline college's all-time leading scorer, with 1,955 points.

Mitchell was held scoreless in eight first-half minutes. At halftime, Massachusetts Institute of Technology coach Oliver Eslinger approached him and asked why he was shut down. "I didn't get any touches," Mitchell replied.

Mitchell scored 12 points in the second half, leading his team to victory and earning the game MVP award. "The other players were looking at me like I was a scrub," Mitchell said.

Such has been the life of a Newbury College athlete: a lack of respect and painstakingly unglamorous. Newbury became a four-year college just 10 years ago, and transferred its athletic programs from the National Junior College Athletic Association to the NCAA just five years ago.

It has 13 varsity programs, but does not have any facilities. The basketball and volleyball teams play home games at Hellenic College (former practice facility of the Boston Celtics) and the soccer, tennis, and softball squads play at Pine Manor College. The baseball team? Well, it has three home games at Buckingham Browne and Nichols and one at MIT.

"We've talked about the lack of facilities," said athletic director Peter Centola. "The space is very tight. It's a challenge to coach college teams, but it's been a whole other challenge doing what we've had to do."

East Hall, the school's athletic facility in Brookline, sticks out like a sore thumb from the beautiful landscape of Chestnut Hill. The first floor houses a small gym with a few treadmills, bikes, and workout stations. Upstairs, the AD's and coaches' offices are separated by shelves and filing cabinets.

"I wouldn't even call it an athletic facility," Centola said. "I want to bulldoze it."

There's nowhere for the athletes to go if they want to practice. The basketball team has been known to practice at playgrounds in Cleveland Circle. And it's not unusual to see the baseball team fielding grounders and running sprints in the tennis courts or in parking lots. Athletes can't even use the facilities the college leases without coaching supervision.

"We've practiced probably anywhere you can imagine," said Billy Maddock, a junior baseball and soccer player. "It doesn't matter where we practice. We have to do it."

"We didn't get on the field until our first game last season," said pitcher David Carroll.

The teams meet at East Hall and pile into vans to get to practice or games. Men's and women's volleyball coach Dave Hildebrandt said he usually has one to two freshmen each year who miss the van and run to practice. "I'd rather leave their names out," he quipped. "They'd probably be embarrassed."

But the Nighthawks are developing a strong athletic program, despite the lack of facilities. The men's volleyball team has won two consecutive ECAC titles and has been in the finals the last four. It traveled to Wisconsin last season and lost to Lewis University, ranked 15th in the country, by a combined 9 points (30-32, 26-30, 27-30). The team finished sixth in the CSTV/AVCA Division 3 Coaches Poll, the fourth time in the last five years it has finished the season nationally ranked.

Newbury is moving into the New England Collegiate Conference with eight other New England colleges and universities this fall. Centola said the change will give the teams more exposure and a better chance at competing on a game-to-game basis.

Perhaps the biggest sign of improvement is the baseball team, infamous for its 57-1 loss to Bridgewater State last season. Entering its double-header with St. Joseph's (N.Y.) College on April 13, 2007, the baseball team was 0-37 all-time. The vans arrived at BB&N, and the scoreboard was broken, still displaying a 10-9 victory for the home team.

After falling behind early, Newbury battled back and forced extra innings. Maddock led off the bottom of the eighth with a triple, and Carroll, the next batter, drove him in for the winning run with a sacrifice fly. The score? You guessed it: 10-9.

"It was a little eerie," Maddock said. "It was the biggest relief, to finally get that monkey off your back."

The sacrifice fly "felt good when it left the bat," Carroll said. He said Maddock "was going to score unless he tripped and fell from third, and I wouldn't have been surprised."

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