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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Ciarletta and Belmonte Lead at UMB and Nationally

Andrea Ciarletta and Melissa Belmonte, freshmen on a freshman women’s ice hockey program, had one fabulous coming out party.

The two debutants wrapped up a 2003-04 season in style. The duo led a scrappy group of young UMass Boston women hockey players that awed the Division III in the team’s first season of varsity play.

Don’t let the 13-12-1 record fool you. Although the team’s season ended on March 6 with a 12-0 loss to Manhattanville in the ECAC East semifinals, that one game does not truthfully represent the amazing tale that is the women’s ice hockey team.

If you haven’t paid attention to the fiery Beacon squad so far, you’ve missed quite an astonishing story. It’s a tale full of talented players with a never-say-die attitude and a coach with an astonishing pedigree that would make the most elite of women’s college hockey programs green with envy.

University of Massachusetts Boston women’s hockey coach Laura Schuler was named the 2003-04 Eastern College Athletic Conference East Women’s Ice Hockey Coach of the Year last week, an award that she probably wrapped up weeks ago.

“She is very dedicated. And it’s fun to play for her,” said Belmonte. “It’s cool to know that you have a coach that has been there. I really liked coach [Schuler] when I first met her. She seemed down to earth. She had a ton of experience. When I met some other girls on the team, they were so welcoming. I fell in love with the program.”

The accolades did not end with the boss behind the bench. Ciarletta was named the ECAC East Rookie of the Year, and she was also named to the All-ECAC East Second team. Belmonte was selected All-ECAC East Honorable mention. Ciarletta and Belmonte were both selected to the ECAC East All-Rookie team as well.

And even though no one on the team will place any one player in the spotlight while the rest remain obscured in the shadows, it is easy to argue that the production of two particular Beacons is a huge reason that the women’s hockey team enjoyed a successful inaugural regular season campaign.

The movie “Miracle” epitomizes the essence of teamwork and the historical role of the underdog who triumphs. While no one will mistake these amateur women with the rag tag American bunch of four score and twenty years ago, it would be a mistake not to admit that these players know what teamwork entails, and that the role of the underdog is not to be shunned but to be relished.

The two linemates gushed over the movie when the entire team saw it a few weeks ago. The bonds of fellowship displayed on the big screen were something both players saw everyday on the ice in the Clark Athletic Center.

Ciarletta succinctly summed up the tightknit group’s reason for the success of the first year varsity program. “Our teammates are very close, and we give our all to each other, on and off the ice.”

To which Belmonte added, “I love my team, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

The Beacons came into the 2003-04 season with modest expectations. Of course, the modest expectations were those of college hockey pundits in the northeast, and UMB opponents. Coach Laura Shuler, ex-Olympian of the Canadian national hockey team, prophesized last November of impending Beacon success in this inaugural campaign, and her players did not let her down.

Belmonte and Ciarletta were recruited from different worlds. Belmonte is one year removed from Fontbonne Academy in Milton, Massachusetts, a perennial winner in Massachusetts playoff. She had initial interest from Salve Regina, Southern Maine, New England College, as well as UMass Boston. Ciarletta, on the other hand, came to UMass Boston from a program without a winning tradition. She was not a highly recruited player, with only New England College and UMass Boston showing interest in her hockey abilities. A product of Watertown High School, Ciarletta glowed at the inaugural success of the women’s ice hockey team.

“I definitely thought, even this year, we had a chance to do well. We beat the number one team in one conference [RPI]. We have confidence in ourselves and each other.”

Their backgrounds notwithstanding, Ciarletta and Belmonte have lit the Division III world on fire. Ciarletta ended the regular season with the highest point per game average in the nation. She currently has 30 goals (including one post season contest) after the Rochester Institute of Technology game. Ciarletta has been named ECAC East Rookie of the Week on two occasions (November 17-23 and February 9-15) and ECAC East Player of the Week for February 2-8.

Belmonte, while only netting two fewer goals than her linemate, may have been the hottest player in Division III at the end of the season. She had not one, but two four goal games in the last four outings. The Southie native had a fantastic rookie campaign overall, ranking second on the team in points with 53, 28 goals, and 25 assists. She was named the ECAC East Rookie of the Week three times this season.

Their personal success on the ice did not flower in isolation. Ciarletta and Belmonte were not the only players to receive postseason recognition by the ECAC. Forward Kerry Zizzo was named to the second team All-ECAC East team, and Jenn Murray was an All-ECAC East honorable mention. But top two scorers felt a special bond that resulted in eye-popping statistics.

“Sometimes players just click,” said Belmonte. “And me and Cheese [Ciarletta] here, we click. If I’m stuck in the corner, I know where she is.”

Ciarletta agreed wholeheartedly and suggested that their psychic connection runs along the line of something familial. “It’s like being twins. We know what the other is going to do.

Individual success was not prognosticated for the first campaign. While the high point totals were not foreseen, it didn’t come as a surprise. Yet, as of now, individual success that wows the nation won’t separate the top two Beacon scorers from their team.

“If a Division I program came up to me and offered me a full scholarship, I’d say ‘See you later'” said Belmonte. “I love my team, and I’m staying.”