The biggest day in UMB sports history

Ryan Thomas

In one day, in one fell swoop, UMass Boston Athletics upgraded from a murky basement dwelling to a cozy, one bedroom apartment in the complex that is the Little East Conference.

The day – November 4, 2008 – will be remembered for Barack Obama’s historic win, but two of UMass Boston’s teams made history of their own. And I couldn’t be happier for them.

The women’s soccer team continued their seemingly improbable ascension up the Little East ladder with a 4-0 quarterfinals win over UMass Dartmouth. Only hours later, the volleyball team began their trek towards a Little East crown with a 3-1 win over Rhode Island College in the first round of their tournament.

What a day for UMass Boston.

The Lady Beacons of soccer finally have the caliber of players needed to compete with the LEC’s perennially good teams – Keene State, Western and Eastern Conn.

Freshman Kristin Mulry, who led the charge with two goals in the groundbreaking win, finished second in the Little East with 29 points. Molly Kuchar, another freshman, has an amazing skill set. Her athletic ability and height make her standout on the pitch. And the team wouldn’t be where they are now without the leadership and defensive presence of sweeper Katherine Wall, who was a force to be reckoned with against UMass Dartmouth.

As a member of the athletic department said, this is easily the best season in the history of the women’s soccer program. Since their inception in 1995, the team had been mired in a deep rut. But this season has wiped away more than a decade of bad memories.

Let’s run down the laundry list of team records and firsts:

-September 29, 2007: The first ever in-conference point is recorded by the Lady Beacons in their 0-0 draw against UMass Dartmouth.

-September 20, 2008: The Lady Beacons record their first conference win in school history, defeating Rhode Island College, 2-0.

-October 9, 2008: A team record is set for goals scored in back-to-back matches, as UMB nets seven in a win over Newbury College and six in another over Wheelock College. With the win over Wheelock, the Lady Beacons extended their unbeaten streak to four games, also a team record.

-November 1, 2008: The fourth seed is clinched by the Lady Beacons in the Little East Conference tournament.

-November 4, 2008: Progression is full circle, as the Lady Beacons take down UMass Dartmouth to win their first-ever Tournament game.

Regardless of the final outcome, this season was about as improbable as the Tampa Bay Rays making the World Series.

Head coach Amy Zombeck said before the season started, “We should surprise a lot of people this year.” I would say her team surpassed “surprise” by about 20,000 leagues.

Volleyball didn’t have the same element of surprise soccer did. Even though 2007 brought the Lady Beacons a 2-4 conference record, they were beat soundly by Plymouth State, 3-0, in the first round of the post-season tournament.

This season has been four years in the making for Terry Condon and her team of nation-wide recruits. She built this team for one reason: to win the Little East Conference. It was LEC Championship-or-bust for the volleyball team (“Our goal is to win the LEC, and go to the NCAA tournament,’ Condon said in the preseason).

So far, the expectations are being met. With a core of setter Cassy Hanneman, libero Megan MacAuley and explosive outside hitters Kate White and Kate McWhorter, this team ripped off win streaks of 5 and 12 games, set a new single-season record with 23 wins and won their first tournament game since November 5, 1999, when they beat UMass Dartmouth, 3-2.

And let’s not forget that all this surprise winning started eight months ago when the men’s hockey team shocked Babson College in the quarterfinals of the ECAC East playoffs.

This school’s athletic program is pointed in the right direction. These coaches are recruiting hard and recruiting smart. With more success, UMB coaches will have fewer fears of athletes transferring out of The Peninsula to what they deem are better opportunities.

It looks like this success is only the tip of the iceberg for UMass Boston.

Ryan Thomas can be reached at [email protected]