A Home Run in Field Improvements
Westfield State baseball and softball played the 2017 spring season on improved fields. Both Bud and Jim Hagan Field (pictured above) and the softball field received new grandstands, press boxes, and walkways; the bullpen areas at both fields were upgraded; and the baseball hitting tunnel was expanded.
The work paid immediate dividends as the baseball team was ranked in New England for most of the spring and won the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) regular season title with a 28-9 overall record. Softball placed second in the conference and lost a heartbreaker in the tournament title game. Improvements to the field were largely done through gifts to support the programs in conjunction with the Westfield State Foundation, Inc. and a small percentage of funding for the project from the University.
Pray Earned All-American Status
Junior Sabrina Pray earned All-America honors at the 2017 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Geneva, Ohio. Pray placed seventh in the nation in the 100-meter hurdles, lowering her school-record time in the event to 14.42 seconds. Pray was at her best for her final few races of the season, setting new school-record time in each of her last three races. She won the Eastern College Athletic Conference title in a time of 14.58, which ultimately earned her the 22nd (and final) spot in the NCAA field. Pray had a dramatic rise at the NCAA meet, to improve her placing by 15 spots to earn All-America honors (the top eight finishers are named as All-Americans). “I’m a little bit shocked,” she says. “My last thought before the start of the race was just that ‘I love to hurdle.’ I wanted to have a race that I would be proud to look back on.”
Taking the Third Straight Smith Cup
Westfield State athletics claimed its third straight Smith Cup and seventh in the last 12 years as the best overall athletics program in the MASCAC. Westfield State finished the 2016-17 seasons with 116.5 points (72.8 percent) out of a possible 160 points, easily outdistancing runner-up Worcester State, which finished at 105.5 points and 65.9 percent.
“It’s a friendly rivalry between all of our institutions in the league, but all of our athletes, coaches, and administrators take great pride in winning the Cup,” says Westfield State Director of Athletics Richard Lenfest, Jr.
Westfield State took home the top spot in men’s and women’s cross country, women’s basketball, women’s outdoor track and field, and baseball. Owls’ teams also finished second in field hockey, volleyball, women’s soccer, women’s lacrosse, and softball to further pad the point total.
“Our student athletes are to be congratulated for a terrific year across the board in their arenas of competition,” says Lenfest.
Two Earn Kurty Awards
Senior hockey player Jackson Leef of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and senior women’s basketball player Jill Valley of Orange were named the recipients of the school’s John Kurty Award for Contributions to Athletics, considered the school’s highest athletic award, at the recent Student Athlete Advisory Committee Senior Awards banquet.
Leef, a four-year member of the men’s ice hockey program, graduates among the program’s all-time leading scorers.
He ranked ninth in the nation in scoring at 1.54 points per game, led the conference in scoring, and was named the MASCAC 2017 Hockey Player 0f the Year. He has already signed and played professionally with the Knoxville Ice Bears of the Southern Professional Hockey league and will look to further his professional career next fall, whether in the United States, Canada, or Europe.
At Westfield State, Leef also competed as a member of the men’s golf team, was a member of the MASCAC’s All-Academic Team and has been a part of the department’s game-day staff as well.
Valley, propelled by her record scoring pace, led the Owls to the NCAA tournament in each of the last two seasons and won three MASCAC regular season titles and two consecutive MASCAC tournament titles.
She set a school record with 52-points in a single game and graduates as the fourth all-time leading scorer in Westfield
State history. She is the best free-throw shooter in school history and led NCAA Division III in steals with more than four per game this season.
In the spring season, Valley was named the MASCAC Player of the Year, was an All-New England selection by both D3Hoops.com and the New England Women’s Basketball Association, and played in the NEWBA senior All-Star game.
She has been a MASCAC All-Academic team member and a three-time All-Conference pick.
The Coach John Kurty Award for Contributions to Athletics is presented annually and bestowed upon a student athlete who best exemplifies Coach Kurty’s many outstanding qualities, including commitment, loyalty, hard work, dedication, sportsmanship, leadership, and athletics ability.
Leading the Predators to the Stanley Cup Finals
Peter Laviolette ’86 led the Nashville Predators to the Stanley Cup Finals as head coach. Laviolette joined a select company as just the fourth coach in National Hockey League history to lead three different franchises to the Stanley Cup Finals. Laviolette coached the Carolina Hurricanes to the Cup in 2006, then led the Philadelphia Flyers to the finals in 2010, before taking the reins of the Predators last season.
Bertini and Women’s Basketball
Coach Andrea Bertini’s ’96 Westfield State Owls women’s basketball team made their second straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Owls won the MASCAC regular season and tournament titles along the way. The Owls have become one of the most exciting teams to watch play; they finished second in the country in scoring at 88.8 points per game, and led the nation in steals, steals per game, turnovers forced, and turnover margin. Bertini will be the guest of honor at the Owl Club Golf Tournament in August.