Globe North Sports Notebook

With new coach, a bright future

By John Vellante
April 17, 2011

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When Brianna and Whitney Wilson transferred to the University of Massachusetts Lowell after one season at Salem State, the twin sisters thought they would play the rest of their college basketball careers under Kathy O’Neill.

But after a disappointing 9-18 season, O’Neill did not have her contract renewed, ending a 26-year run. The move left the Lowell High grads, and the rest of their River Hawk teammates, wondering about the future.

Their anxiousness and worries subsided and their hopes soared, however, with the hiring of Sarah Behn as head coach on April 5.

“Our biggest concern was how the team would respond and how the style of play would change under a new coach,’’ said Brianna, a 6-foot-4 forward who averaged 6.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 26 games last season.

“We played just one season under coach O’Neill and now we have to adjust to a new coach and her way of doing things. But after meeting with coach Behn, we’re looking forward to the new challenge and if she can make us better, that’s all we want.’’

A legendary scorer at Foxborough High (2,562 points) and then Boston College (2,523), Behn has put together just as impressive a resume on the sideline, at both the high school (Franklin and Foxborough) and collegiate (Framingham State, Franklin Pierce) levels. She had been the head coach at her alma mater since 2004, directing Foxborough to sectional semifinal appearances in 2007 and 2010.

“When we met her for the first time, she seemed to have passion and emotion for the game,’’ Brianna said. “She threw herself out there and said she could make us better, but that it would take a lot of hard work on our end. She seemed very confident. She basically told us that whether we were scholarship players or nonscholarship players, that we all had to have the same goal and that was to work and play hard. I’m very excited and can’t wait to get started.’’

Her sister Whitney, a 6-3 forward who averaged 2.2 points and 1.5 rebounds in 23 games, said that she was most impressed with Behn’s honesty. “She told the team exactly what it would take to turn things around,’’ she said. “She pulled no punches.’’

Both sisters said they were familiar with Behn from her successful basketball camps and had heard about her exploits at Foxborough and Boston College. In her one season playing pro ball in Ettelbruck, Luxembourg, she led Central Europe in scoring with 35 points per game.

“I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity to get back into college coaching,’’ said Behn, who, in two seasons at Northeast-10 rival Franklin Pierce guided the Ravens from a 14th-place finish in 2001 to a conference tournament bid in 2002. She resigned to give birth to twin boys.

“I’m psyched and can’t wait to get started. I met the team during the interview process and again after being appointed. Right now we’re just getting to know each other,’’ she said. “They had a lot of questions about me and I told them I was a positive and high-energy person, but that I like to work on fundamentals, too. I tried to be honest with them. I know we’ve got a really strong group of women coming back. They seem committed and want to improve. If we can get everyone on the same page working hard together, I know we can build the program up sooner rather than later.’’

Behn realizes the players she will be coaching were recruited by O’Neill. “I am not going to come in and try to reinvent the wheel,’’ she said. “Kids acclimate well and I expect to do a lot of the same things [O’Neill] was doing. I have nothing but the greatest of respect for her and interacted with her many times when I was coaching college and high school.’’

Sophomore guard Danielle DePierro of Tewksbury had mixed emotions.

“I’m very sad to see [O’Neill] go because she gave me the opportunity to play at this level, yet at the same time I know I have to move on and I’m very excited about playing for coach Behn,’’ DePierro said. “My first impression of her was that she is excited to be here and motivated to get the best from us.’’

Campus corner Assumption junior Chelsea Durso of Salem, N.H. threw no-hit, no-run games against Adelphi and Bentley in the space of three days earlier this month. In each, she walked two batters and struck out eight. . . . For the second time in three weeks, Wheaton junior infielder Dan Haugh of Andover is the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference Player of the Week. In four games, he hit .538 (7-for-13) with two doubles, a home run, nine RBIs, and seven runs scored. . . . Junior Martha Buckley of Essex and sophomores Kyleigh Gaff of Lynnfield and Julianne Parece of North Reading were members of the Miami (Ohio) University synchronized skating team that recently won its seventh straight and 13th overall Collegiate National Championship in Burbank, Calif. Skating to a Brazilian Carnival theme, the RedHawks skaters topped the 12-team field with 96.26 points — 11 better than runner-up Michigan State. . . .University of Maryland Baltimore County sophomore Andrew Eckhoff of Chelmsford has been named to the America East Conference Swimming and Diving All-Academic team. He sports a 3.54 GPA with a major in economics. . . . The National Strength and Conditioning Association has named Vermont senior Evan ( O’Brien of Winthrop its men’s Athlete of the Year. The association recognizes a student-athlete’s dedication to strength training and conditioning. O’Brien captains the lacrosse team and is among the team’s leaders in ground balls. . . . UMass-Lowell will honor former coach Jim Stone and his 2001 World Series team, which won a school record 39 games, between games of an April 30 doubleheader against American International at LeLacheur Park. The event will also serve as a fund-raiser to honor Stone’s wife, Patricia, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Proceeds benefit the Ellie Fund in its fight against breast cancer. . . . Worcester State freshman Kevin Maciel of Tewksbury and Fitchburg State senior Matt Muolo of Stoneham are the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference track and field Athletes of the Week. Maciel won the 400-meter hurdles and anchored the winning 4 x 400 relay team at the UMass Dartmouth Corsair Classic; Muolo won the discus, was fourth in the hammer throw, and finished fifth in the shot put in the Umass Lowell George Davis Invitational.

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