The past three months saw numerous teams have strong, record-setting seasons, like men’s soccer, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball, while others such as football are a work in progress. Each squad, though, had their fair share of standouts and here we will name the most valuable player for each of the fall sports based on their Â improvement throughout the season and game performance.
Football – Andrew Bose (LB)
Head coach Jim Fleming predicted wins for the Rams, and with an entirely new staff behind him the chances were at least decent. He brought in two players who, had they stayed healthy, could have made a running for the MVP in redshirt freshman quarterback Mack Lowrie and senior running back Lyle McCombs. Lowrie, a transfer from Boston College, and McCombs, a top-10 active rusher in all of college football at UConn, were poised to lead the offense. However, injury hampered them and point production was lackluster overall, so the workload fell on the defense and their leader, senior linebacker Andrew Bose.
Bose was a defensive force not only for Rhode Island, but in the Colonial Athletic Association as well. Bose led the CAA in total tackles with 125, assisted tackles with 76 and tackles per game with 10.4. He added one interception, two forced fumbles and was first on the team with 4.5 sacks. Bose finished his URI career with 295 tackles, seventh-best in program history, and garnered first-team all-conference CAA honors this year. He is the first URI linebacker to do so since Miguel Vieira in 1998. His performance was nothing short of spectacular for a team that was less than mediocre to say the least.
Runner-up: Â Tim Wienclaw (DB)
Honorable Mentions: Â Adam Parker (LB), Donovan Walker (DB), Harold Cooper (RB), Myles Holmes (DB)
Men’s Cross Country – James Bloom
Graduate student James Bloom finished out his collegiate career in style. He took the top spot for Rhode Island in each of the four competitions in which he participated, including the New England Cross Country Championships, Rothenberg Invitational, Atlantic 10 Championship and NCAA Regional Championships. Despite the Rams finishing 13th out of 14 teams at A-10s, Bloom placed 43rd with a time of 25 minutes and 48.9 seconds. At NCAAs, Bloom posted a personal best (along with the other four Rhode Island runners) of 32:58.63, which was good for a 32nd-place finish and a 5:19-per-mile pace. When Bloom got out on the track, he could race by his teammates and most of the competition.
Runner-up: Â Jacob Mageira
Honorable Mention: Â Alec Font
Women’s Soccer – Katie Nickles (GK)
There were a few solid candidates for the women’s soccer MVP, including points leader sophomore Nicole Brennan, who registered six goals and six assists, and seniors Chelsea Gates and Samantha Leyh, who each had three game-winning scores this season. However, Nickles presented some of the strongest numbers and was a standout within the Atlantic 10. She went 8-2-2 in 12 appearances, allowing the fewest scores (10) among goalkeepers who played 10 or more games, and recorded four shutouts, which was tied for ninth in the conference. Nickles also led the A-10 with a 0.78 goals against average and a .857 save percentage. She made a tremendous jump from last season after allowing 11 goals in only five appearances with a 1-3 record while splitting time with three other goalkeepers. Nickles started a majority of the time during the 2014 campaign, entering the net in 13 of 20 matchups include the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and her success showed in the team’s 12-5-2 record.
Runner-up: Â Nicole Brennan (M/F)
Honorable Mentions: Â Samantha Leyh (M), Chelsea Gates (F), Ari Stanton (F)
Women’s Cross Country – Alexa Pelletier
Redshirt sophomore Alexa Pelletier has some prosperous years ahead of her after this season’s stellar performance, and her 4.0 GPA as a pharmacy major, garnered her one of the six spots on the Atlantic 10 Academic All-Conference Team. Her fourth-place finish at 17 minutes and 42.18 seconds at the New England Cross Country Championship set a program record at the Franklin Park setting, and she never slowed down from there. Â She placed sixth at the Princeton Invitational the next week on Oct. 18, and was named to the A-10 All-Conference team after a second-place overall finish at the Atlantic 10 Championship. Her feat helped propel the Rams three spots higher than last season, coming in eighth out of 14 teams. Pelletier’s 23rd-place finish at the NCAA Regionals put Rhode Island in 24th out of 40 teams, including the highest-placing Atlantic 10 squad. She should continue to shatter records and the hopes of other runners as she keeps getting better.
Runner-up: Â Alyssa Brehler
Honorable Mention: Â Jackie Burr
Golf – Joe Leavitt
To say that junior Joe Leavitt is having a phenomenal 2014 season would be an understatement. Leavitt made history in his native New Hampshire in August when he was victorious in the state golf association’s four biggest titles after winning the Tournament of Champions, Players Invitational, N.H. Amateur and Stroke Play Championship. He was named to the All-New England teams for his efforts last season, including a first-place tie at the NEIGA Championship before a playoff loss. Leavitt’s success rolled over into the fall 2014 campaign after he took first place in the Rhody Fall Invitational and had three other top-seven finishes. His tournament-low 66 strokes at the Temple Invitational secured a fifth-place finish for Rhode Island as well. While he stumbled a bit at a couple of competitions, Leavitt remains the most valuable golfer on a strong Rams squad.
Runner-up: Â Billy Walthouse
Honorable Mention: Â Makenzie Denver
Women’s Tennis – Nithila Asokaraj
With junior Galina Chernykh overseas in her native Russia because of a visa issue, another Ram had to take over as the main source of production for the women’s tennis team. Senior Kathleen Uy made a late push for the award at the New Jersey Institute of Technology Invitational when she won each of her four matchups, including one against Asokaraj, and the individual title. Senior Asokaraj gets the MVP nod, though, simply because of consistency. She edged out Uy for the team lead with six singles victories and paired up with her to notch six doubles victories as well. Asokaraj had at least two singles wins at the Stony Brook Invitational, Brown Invitational and NJIT Invitational, a feat that no other Rhode Island player accomplished. Look for Rhode Island to be back at full strength in the spring, and for Asokaraj to close out her collegiate career in style.
Runner-up: Â Kathleen Uy
Honorable Mentions: Â Taylor Holden, Anna Peacock
Women’s Volleyball – Franki Darnold (OH)
The outcome of the women’s volleyball season may have been underwhelming, but the overall performances of many of the players were anything but. Senior captains Caroline Casey and Catie Steffen were named to the Atlantic 10 All-Academic Team, sophomore Callan Kinnan registered more than 1,000 assists again and sophomore Layne Self led the squad in block assists (111) and posted a .289 hitting percentage. Junior Franki Darnold, though, was better across the board and she became the first Rhode Island player in 10 years to earn a spot on the A-10 All-Conference First Team. Darnold led the Rams with 422 kills and 461 points and finished just behind junior Lizzy Scanlon for second on the team with 258 digs. Her consistency made her lethal as she registered at least 13 kills in 21 of 29 contests and placed second in the A-10 with 3.88 kills per set. With the numbers she is putting up, expect Darnold to make a push for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year next season.
Runner-up: Â Catie Steffen (OH)
Honorable Mentions: Â Callan Kinnan (S), Layne Self (MB)
Men’s Soccer – Nils Leifhelm (GK)
There were numerous contenders for the men’s soccer MVP and it made the ultimate decision extremely difficult. Senior Matt Sykes led the Atlantic 10 with 70 shots and recorded 20 points on seven goals (three game-winners) and six assists, all of which were good for first on the team. Redshirt freshman Dante Lamb and junior Ryan Oakley each contributed 12 points and had some impressive victory-sealing scores of their own, too. Redshirt junior Mike Casey was in the running as well after returning from a season-ending knee injury last season to score five goals in 2014. Despite their successes, the MVP goes to Rhode Island’s workhorse in the goal, freshman Nils Leifhelm. The 6-foot-4 netminder from Germany started 20 of 21 games overall and had a record season, becoming the first Ram to win Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week four times. That’s not all. Leifhelm was the only goalkeeper in the Atlantic 10 to finish the regular season in the top-5 in save percentage (first at .842), goals against average (fifth at 0.85) and shutouts (tied for second with eight) and earned Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honors. Leifhelm, an A-10 First Team and All-Rookie Team member too, is also on pace to set the program record in career shutouts. If he continues to have eight per season, it would put him at 32 over his career, which would put him well ahead of Anthony Latronica’s (1994-1997) 25 clean sheets. Those are just regular season shutouts, too. If Leifhelm’s blanking of Dayton during the Atlantic 10 Tournament is to be counted, he would surpass the record during his junior season. Weep for the rest of the conference, as they have three more years of facing Leifhelm ahead of them.
Runner-up: Â Matt Sykes (F/M)
Honorable Mentions: Â Dante Lamb (M), Ryan Oakley (F), Mike Casey (F)