The Westfield Voice

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The Westfield Voice

The Westfield Voice

WSU Winter Sports Playoff Preview
Client: Mass. State College Building Authority (617) 933-8345 Project: Westfield State – Football Field (Alumni Field) | Westfield, MA For more information Contact Gregg Shupe 508-877-7700

There is no better time in the world of sports than the playoffs, which is starting up this week for three of Westfield State’s sports teams. The Owls have already seen success this winter season with the women’s indoor track and field team winning the MASCAC championship for the fourth straight year, men’s indoor track and field finishing second, and women’s swimming
finishing third in the Little East conference championships. However, there are three seasons still alive and they’ll have to go through a tough tournament in order to be crowned champions.

Here’s what you should know about men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and men’s ice hockey before their playoffs get underway:

Men’s Basketball:

In a season defined by redemption, the Owls stormed their way to an 18-7 overall record and a conference record of 7-2. The Owls enter the tournament on a six-game winning streak (all of them won by double digits) and only lost two games since the start of the new year. Last year’s MASCAC runner-ups earned a share of the MASCAC regular season title with Worcester State, but thanks to a better overall record, the Owls earned the number one seed in the playoffs and home-court throughout the tournament. Having the championship go through the Woodward Center makes the Owls feel good considering they were 10-4 at home.

The Owls have been one of the best two-way teams this season as they led the MASCAC in points-per-game on both offense and defense (83.5 PPG, 74.2 PPG OPP). Also on offense, the Owls are very good at driving to the basket. Even if points don’t come on the initial drive, they know how to draw the fouls as they lead the entire nation in free throws attempted at 705. The big factor for the Owls is their size and athleticism that has helped them achieve the nation’s best rebounds-per-game average at nearly 47. It’s hard to find just one aspect that has made the Owls so dominate as of late, that many are calling them the favorite in the tournament.

Individually, the Owls have two incredible senior scorers leading the way with forward Jauch Green, Jr. and guard Vawn Lord. Both seniors are third and fourth in the MASCAC in points per-game with Lord averaging 19.8 and Green averaging 17.7. Lord has had amazing performances all season long only scoring less than double figures twice very early in the season.

The standout game for Lord came in the penultimate game of the regular season at Salem State when Lord put up a career-high 44 points, six points away from Ray Glynn’s Westfield record of 50 set back in 1969. Since transferring from Western Connecticut State, Green Jr. has scored over 1,000 career points in his two years at Westfield State. Green has an amazing ability to finish at the rim that when he drives to the basket, and very few are able to stop him.

The Owls also have key contributors as well such as four-time MASCAC Rookie of the Week freshman Brendon Hamilton, sharp-shooting junior Malik Pouncy, and veteran leaders senior Moody Bey and graduate Marcus Collins just to name a few.

The last time the Owls had the number one seed was back in 2014-15 when they went onto become MASCAC champions. The Owls are hoping that history will repeat itself and make them champions for the first time in five years. With a first-round bye, the Owls will host #5 Salem State in a rematch of last year’s MASCAC championship game in the semi-finals with tip-off scheduled for 7:30 P.M. at the Woodward Center.

Women’s Basketball:

In sounding like a broken record, the four-time defending MASCAC champions once again showed the effectiveness of “The System” with all-out sprints and full rotation substitutions every two minutes or so. Unfortunately, the Owls finished in second and did not have at least a share of the regular season title for the first time since 2013-14.

Playing some of the hardest non-conference teams, the Owls started 3-10 and finished 13-12 overall, but it was a strong conference record of 10-2 that led to the second first-round bye behind Framingham State. Since that tough start, the Owls roll into the conference tournament winners of five straight games and seven of their last eight.

Once again, the Owls were relentless with their full-court press as they forced a nationwide-best 32.6 turnovers-per-game and 19.4 steals-per-game. Complementing that was an offense that would just not stop shooting three-pointers as the 980 attempts were the second-most in the nation and their school-record 289 three-pointers were the most in the nation. Those many threes led an offense that average over 85 points-per-game which not only was the most in the MASCAC, but second in the nation. The problem that the Owls have faced is their lack of size with no presence at the center spot averaging a -15.8-rebounding margin. If teams can attack the paint and find a way to dominate inside, there is a chance for the champs to not repeat.

Without a doubt, the leader on offense for the Owls has been junior forward Melissa Gray. The MASCAC leader in points-per-game at 20.8 has only scored less than ten points in a game once at has already hit the 1,000-point mark in her junior year. In fact, her 1,270 career points have her ninth all-time in program history behind former player and current head coach Andrea Bertini. Gray has had a historic season averaging the most steals-per-game at 4.74 in the whole nation and putting on a sensational performance at home against Fitchburg State when she scored a career-high 37 points and made a school-record 10 three-pointers.

But it’s not just Gray, senior guard Chelsea Moussette is having statistically her best season of her career averaging almost 12 points-per-game and six and a half assists-per-game ranking which ranks fifth nationwide. Seniors Alyssa Camara and Cayla Durkee have also brought along a strong leadership quality to a team that is younger than teams of past championship seasons. The Owls play everyone on their bench, so everyone have been strong contributors to the success of this season.

It all kicks off this Thursday inside the Woodward Center at 5:30 P.M. when the Owls host #3 Worcester State for yet another MASCAC championship rematch from a year ago. Using the mantra “Bet Against Us,” the Owls are looking to prove the preseason predictors wrong and continue the dynasty with a fifth straight MASCAC championship.

Men’s Ice Hockey:

Since the inaugural season in 2008, the Owls have never won the MASCAC championship. Looking to right that wrong, the Owls have held steady in the conference at 11-9-5 overall and 9- 7-2 with 20 points in the MASCAC. The Owls did struggle though to end the regular season losing four straight games and going 2-5 in the month of February to clinch the fourth seed in the playoffs.

Unlike in years past, there’s been a nice balance of offense and defense for the Owls ranking the top three in goals-per-game (3.08) and goals-allowed-average (2.91). For opponents, they must be wary of the success on power play the Owls bring trailing only Plymouth State in power play (19-96, 17.8 percent). Even down a man, the Owls 86.1 percent success rate on the penalty kill should worry most teams.

The Owls are also helped by the tremendous depth with seven players amounting over 10 points on the season and five of them scoring over 20 points. Leading the charge is senior forward Daniel Backstrom with 24 points, including 11 goals (tied for fourth in the MASCAC). Helping the cause is another senior forward FX Girard with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists), but it’s not just the veterans leading the way. Sophomore forward Justin Alves (22 points) ranks second in the conference in assists with 15 and freshman forward John-Michael DiGregorio (21 points) is tied for second in points for freshmen.

And don’t forget about the man in between the pipes, senior goaltender Thierry Messervier. With the third-best save percentage in the conference (.921), Messervier has made it very difficult for opponents to get anything on the board to challenge the Owls. Throw in the former MASCAC Rookie of the Year and the first ever men’s hockey player in the NCAA from New Zealand Jake Ratcliffe, senior forward Robert Neuwirth, and sophomore defenseman Josh Boulos, this could be the dark horse team in the playoffs that no one wants to face.

The Owls kick off their playoff run with a quarterfinal matchup against the team who knocked them out of the semifinals last year #5 Salem State. Puck drop at Amelia Park Ice Arena is scheduled for 5:35 P.M. in which the Owls hope to turn their fortunes of a struggling end of the regular season around.

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