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09.13 The back to school guide to local sports

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By Mike Walsh

Contrary to how it may occasionally seem on television, one doesn’t need to travel to Texas to watch college football or North Carolina to take in some hoops. Worcester has its very own community of collegiate athletics waiting to be discovered.

In fact, Worcester’s colleges put together some of the best collegiate sports teams in New England ~ and every school brings something to the table.

The highest level of competition you’ll find in Worcester takes place at the College of the Holy Cross, which offers the only location for Division I athletics in central Massachusetts. The Crusaders also boast 25 athletic teams, most of which participate in the Patriot League.

The Patriot League recently opted to begin allowing full football scholarships, which means Holy Cross football will be on the rise in coming years. After finishing just 2-9 last season, the Crusaders will be looking to build upon their first class of scholarship athletes.

Holy Cross doesn’t have the only football game in town, however. Jumping down to Division III, there are a host of programs to keep an eye on. The Worcester Polytechnic Institute Engineers (2-8) play in the Liberty League, while the Worcester State College Lancers (6-4) and Nichols College Bison (1-9) battle in the New England Football Conference.

The Anna Maria College AmCats (2-8) and Becker College Hawks (3-7) play in the tough Eastern Collegiate Football Conference. The Assumption College Greyhounds (3-7) call the Northeast 10 home.

While the Clark University Cougars don’t do football, they are well-known for their basketball. Home of a prestigious yearly high school tournament, the Cougars aren’t too shabby in their own right. The men’s team finished 12-14 last year, while the women were an even 13-13.

In fact, college basketball is a major deal in the Worcester area. Nine schools, including Quinsigamond Community College, have both men’s and women’s basketball programs.

Some of those programs are quite good. Last season, the WPI Men’s team went 26-3, advancing to the second round of the Division III NCAA Tournament. That was WPI’s 10th consecutive season winning 20-plus games. The female Engineers finished 15-11.

The Greyhounds from Assumption placed both their teams in the Division II Tournament. The men finished 21-8, advancing to Round 2, while the 22-8 women were eliminated in the first game.

The Holy Cross Crusaders play at a level higher than the rest. In Division I, even if the teams aren’t successful, the games are always exciting at HC’s Hart Center. The women have experienced a few solid seasons lately, finishing 18-14 last year, but losing in the Patriot League Championship game. The men were 12-18 for the year.

Other teams to watch out for in the coming school year include both the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams at Holy Cross. The men were 20-14-3, while the women finished 16-6-5. The Crusaders baseball team won’t play again until the spring, but finished first in the Patriot League with a 28-25 record last year.

The Lancers softball team finished 2013 at 25-18, advancing all the way to the East Coast Athletic Conference Division III Tournament championship game. The Worcester State Women’s Lacrosse team went 13-6, but fell in the ECAC semifinals.

At Anna Maria, there is exciting news, as 2014 will be the first varsity season for men’s volleyball. Also, the AmCats field hockey team went 6-0 in conference play, 14-8 overall, taking the New England Collegiate Conference Championship before falling in the ECAC quarterfinals.

The Hawks of Becker College boasted a 22-15 softball team that made its first appearance in the ECAC Tournament.

The Clark Cougars field hockey team went 12-6 on the season, advancing to the New England Men’s and Women’s Athletic Conference playoffs.

The Bison men’s soccer team out of Nichols College finished 13-8 last fall, losing in the Commonwealth Coast Conference finals. The men’s hockey team finished 16-9-1, falling in the ECAC Northeast semifinals.

WPI’s Engineers put together solid men’s soccer (11-5) and women’s volleyball (19-9) seasons. The volleyball program made the NEWMAC playoffs.

WPI has won eight of the last 10 and four straight Worcester Cups, awarded by the Telegram & Gazette to the Worcester-area school with the highest overall winning percentage.

Sports are plentiful in Worcester throughout the year, so no matter what you are craving, local colleges are serving it up on playing fields throughout central Massachusetts.

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