Friday, October 3, 2008

Rockport natives carry on field hockey tradition

Rockport native Michelle Harrington has been a key part of the UMass-Lowell field hockey team’s success in recent seasons.

CAPE ANN (US) - Molly Clay and Michelle Harrington figured out the quickest and most cost-effective way to the top of the NCAA Division 2 field hockey world.

Just go to the admissions office at UMass-Lowell, sign up for classes and get on the field hockey squad.

And it's a done deal -- and only 50 miles away.

Sure, it's not literally how the former Rockport High School standouts landed a spot on the River Hawks field hockey team. And the program isn't an automatic NCAA champion each year.

But these days, success at nationals for Lowell is as customary as a smile on a land-locked tourist the first time they come to the loop at the end of Bearskin Neck.

Harrington, an All-American midfielder last year and one of this year's captains as a senior, is already a national champion. UMass-Lowell won in 2005, her freshman year. Clay arrived the next year, when Lowell finished one game shy of a finals appearance. They reached the finals last year, falling to Bloomsburg.

The Rockport connection has played no small part in the River Hawks' success.

All this while keeping up their grades -- each of them have been named to the national All-Academic teams; Harrington is a psychology major; Clay is a chemical engineering major.

"'Mish' and Molly, where do you begin?" asked Mary Ryan, their former coach at Rockport. "I am extremely proud of their accomplishments. Both have taken their game to a new level. To watch their development from high school to now is just amazing. It's all done through hard work and dedication. It's very satisfying to watch them play. I am so proud of them. Both have contributed so much to an already hugely successful UMass-Lowell program."

Harrington: The 'best' around

Harrington -- "Mish" or Meech" to her teammates -- has a 10-game assist/point streak and leads Lowell with 11 assists on the season playing on the right side of the field. Harrington assisted on a goal in Tuesday's 2-1 over Stonehill College.

She credits a lot of her success to her days with the Vikings and Mary Ryan.

"We were so lucky because 'Ry' was a great coach," Harrington, 21, said. "They are struggling a bit because there are more girls going out for soccer now. But I was so lucky to have her. She knows what she's doing."

So does Harrington, if you talk to UMass-Lowell coach Shannon Hlebichuk, who knows about Rockport and its tradition very well. She played for Cape Ann League foe Amesbury.

"Mish has been playing very well for us," the coach said. "She has tremendous speed, and although I maybe a bit biased, I truly believe that she has the best individual stick skills in the conference. When you combine her skills and speed, she is one of the toughest players to defend. She has a terrific shot but chooses to set up plays more often than take the shot."

Moreover, Harrington has been a wonderful captain, especially for the younger players, her coach said.

"She leads by example and plays through everything," said Hlebichuk, a former Lowell two-time All-American. "She is a great role model for the younger players in teaching them what 'toughness' actually is. If necessary, she would carry the team on her shoulders to ensure a win. She is one of the most competitive players I have had the pleasure of coaching."

Harrington said she hopes she earns respect from her players as a captain, but doesn't want to take her role too seriously. Asked the one area in which she's improved the most, she pointed to her communication skills.

"She has amazing stick skills," Clay said of her Rockport and Lowell teammate. "She can go right through three defenders and get right up the field. She sees the field so well."

Clay: Consistency all around

Hlebichuk did not pull punches when asked about Clay's contributions.

"Molly Clay has been the most consistent left midfielder we have ever had," she said. "She is smart, poised, strong and fit. She rarely makes a mistake, and when she does she recovers immediately. She sees the field extremely well, and although it is not showing the stats column for assists, she sets up many of our goals (although she is one or two passes away from an assist). Molly has grown into a superior player, and what is most exciting is that she is only a junior, and we have another year with her on the team."

Clay said she's grown most in the maturity department as a player.

"I think over the years, I've become more confident," Clay, 20, said. "As a freshman, I was a little cautious."

Harrington has a great view of Clay's game: She plays on the opposite side in the midfield.

"Molly has been awesome," Harrington said. "She knows what she's doing. She's a good, hard runner and a hard worker."

She is also respected beyond the field hockey program. Clay was one of two Lowell athletes selected to represent the UMass-Lowell student-athlete population at a NCAA Leadership Conference in Disney World this past June. She has a 3.5 GPA in chemical engineering.

"What a great experience," Clay said. "I met so many amazing people and athletes. It was an amazing opportunity."

Amazing opportunity. That's kind of how each former Rockport standout describes playing for a national-championship contender each season.

"We want to take it one game at a time, but we expect to win the conference," Harrington said, taking into account Lowell's five straight Northeast-10 Tournament championships. "We just want to think it's possible to go to nationals again. It was the best feeling when we won. We definitely think we're capable of it, but it's always tough."

Clay, too, stressed the importance of not thinking about the national championship just yet. However, she and Harrington realize the possibility of climbing to the top at nationals is always there in Lowell.

Said Clay, "We work really hard in the offseason. During the season, we just click."

Lailin sets sights on one MHL title

FORMER International Lailin Abu Hassan (pic) will be in charge of Tenaga for the first time in the Malaysia Hockey League (MHL), and he has set his sights on at least one title.
The MHL starts on Oct 17, and Tenaga are the TNB Cup holders, while Ernst and Young the League champions.
Tenaga have six national players, and a motley of former national players and are expected to be among the con tenders again.
“I was assistant to (K.) Rajan last season and we won the TNB Cup, and this year I feel the team is still strong enough to win one title again,” said Lailin.
Tenaga have national goalkeeper S. Kumar, who has been named as the skipper for the Hamburg Masters in Germany, and national players S. Selvaraju, Baljit Singh, Madzli Ikmar, Amin Rahim and Sallehin Ghani.
“We did some light training during the fasting month, and will resume training again on Monday. When the six players return from Germany, I will finally get a chance to train the full team,” said Lailin.
Last season, Tenaga took the lead off Selvaraju, but Zulkifli Rejab scored the equaliser for Ernst and Young, and the score stood until the extra-time whistle.
The penalty shoot-out went into sudden-death, and Kumar saved Suffian Mohamad’s stroke to hand Tenaga the title on a 7-6 score.
There are six teams in Division One and nine in Division Two.
The top-two teams in Division Two will join the six in Division One for the knock-out quarterfinals.
DIVISION ONE: Sapura, Ernst and Young, Maybank, Tenaga Nasional, National Juniors, Nur Insafi.
DIVISION TWO: Border Forces Club, Sekolah Sultan Alam Shah of Putrajaya, Royal Malay Regiment (RMR), Jurutera Letrik Jentera (JLJ), Dolphins, Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS), Bandar Penawar Sports School (BPSS), Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and Universiti Malaysia Perlis (Unimap).