UNH Insider: Stretch run for women’s hockey, women’s hoop and gymnastics

  • Alyssa Worthington competes for the University of New Hampshire gymnastics team. SHANNON DEAN / UNHWildcats.com

Published: 2/21/2020 10:03:39 PM
Modified: 2/21/2020 10:03:26 PM

DURHAM, N.H. – The University of New Hampshire women’s basketball faces the University at Albany on Saturday at noon in Lundholm Gymnasium and right about the time that contest wraps up the puck drops at 2 p.m. for a UNH women’s hockey game against Boston College across Main Street in the Whittemore Center.

The basketball and hockey Wildcats – on court and ice – will celebrate their seniors, while looking to improve their seeding for their fast-approaching league tournaments.

And on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Lundholm, the UNH gymnastics team takes its turn and competes against the University of North Carolina for the third straight meet – and the fifth time it will meet the Tar Heels this season. It’s the only time the teams will square off in Durham.

Call it the stretch run for all three Wildcat teams.

The women’s basketball team won its second straight game, 64-55, at Hartford on Wednesday night and remains in the hunt for a top four spot in the America East tournament with just three games left in the regular season.

“I think we’re playing pretty well right now,” coach Maureen Magarity said. “I think we’re starting to figure some things out. The last game here against UMBC we had three people in double figures. That’s been our toughest thing, scoring, getting more balanced scoring. I was really pleased with that.”

The Wildcats followed up Saturday’s win against UMBC by putting four players in double figures – led by senior forward Ashley Storey’s 21 – in the win at Hartford.

UNH sits fifth in America East with a 6-7 conference record heading into the weekend. Binghamton is just ahead in fourth at 7-6. Vermont is sixth at 6-8 and Albany seventh at 5-7. The top four teams earn home games in the first round of the playoffs.

After Albany on Saturday, the Wildcats play Maine at home Wednesday and close out the regular season on Feb. 29 at Binghamton.

Storey leads the team in scoring at 15.9 points per game, senior guard Caroline Soucy is at 10.9 a game and junior Amanda Torres at 10.2. Torres had 15 points against UMBC and 11 against Hartford.

“Amanda’s having a tremendous year scoring-wise, really on both ends of the floor, defensively as well,” Magarity said. “She’s done such a great job. Ashley garners so much attention and Amanda’s really reaped the benefits of that. She’s being super aggressive. She’s known as a driver. She gets to the rim. She gets out in transition so quick and she’s scoring that way. I’m really proud of her, her confidence. She’s really become a leader of this team which is exciting knowing she has another year to play.”

Saturday’s women’s hockey game is a rubber match – UNH and Boston College split their first two games of the regular season, both at BC. The Wildcats notched a 3-0 win on February 7 and dropped a 5-2 game Nov. 1.

Matchups for next week’s Hockey East best-of-three quarterfinals series have yet to be determined and there’s a chance UNH and BC could be right back at it in the playoffs.

If the Wildcats knock off the Eagles on Saturday, they will lock down the No. 6 in the tournament. BC holds down the No. 3 spot in the standings at the moment, but UConn and Providence are also gunning for that spot. And Maine is only a point behind UNH.

The Wildcats will focus on providing a nice Senior Day tribute for their veterans, said head coach Hilary Witt.

“We clearly want to send the seniors out on a high note, we want them to have a great last home game,” Witt said. “Our eyes are on what’s next as well. We have to have a good game Saturday, position ourselves pretty good and see where we get to go in the playoffs. Unfortunately, we left a couple of points on the table along the way that kept us out of home ice. But we can’t look back, we have to keep looking forward. I like the way we’ve been playing so we’ll see how it goes.”

Captains Tori Howran, a defenseman, and forwards Carlee Turner and Taylor Wenczkowski are among the Wildcats who will play their final home games Saturday.

“We have a lot of seniors, a big chunk of our team, that we’re going to be celebrating and thanking,” Witt said. “Those guys have battled through and brought us to a point where I think we can compete for championships. It’s going to be sad to see them go, it already is. But at the same time they had a big impact on the program and we hope not to say goodbye too soon here because we feel like we can make a playoff run.”

A key to a playoff run will be sophomore goaltender Ava Boutilier, who has missed some time with injuries but has put up impressive numbers.

“Ava’s been great for us,” Witt said. “All of our goalies have stepped up along the way during the season and helped us out. Ava’s got the experience and the competitiveness. There’s a certain look in her eyes and you just know she’s going to get something done. She’s very confident. She’s very good. I’m glad she’s on our team.”

Boutilier’s goals against average of 1.85 is fourth-best in Hockey East and her save percentage of .938 is third-best.

The UNH gymnastics team is getting very familiar with its counterpart from UNC.

The Tar Heels and Wildcats competed against each other at North Carolina State on Feb. 15 and followed that up with a dual meet at North Carolina on Monday night. The Wildcats won the three-team event at North Carolina State and North Carolina got a little revenge at home on Monday night.

Still, UNH collected its top road score of the season, a 195.650, on Monday.

“We had our best road score on Monday, which is pretty impressive for a double weekend,” said UNH coach Lindsey Bruck Ayotte, who is in her first season as head coach after being promoted from associate head coach upon the retirement of Gail Goodspeed. “It’s hard to compete for two days on the weekend. It’s hard on their bodies and it’s hard mentally. But the team hung in there. They were strong. They were behind each other 100 percent, which gave everybody energy to do what they needed to do on Monday night.”

Ayotte is counting on their being extra energy in Lundholm on Sunday, which is being celebrated as Faculty/Staff Appreciation Day as well as Camper Day. Trading cards of the team’s seniors will be given away.

“The louder the audience is and the more energy they have, the gymnasts feel it, the more energy we have and the better meet we have,” Ayotte said. “It’s nice to recognize the faculty and staff that give so much to our student athletes. For us to be able to give a little bit back and appreciate them a little bit, I think it’s great for them and it’s great for our program. To have the campers there, we love working them during the summer and they’re great with our program. To have them back and be recognized and bring some energy will be a lot of fun.”

A mix of newcomers and veterans – freshmen Kylie Gorgenyi and Robyn Kelley and senior Riley Freehling included – have been among the Wildcat leaders thus far.

“The season’s going extremely well,” Ayotte said. “The team keeps getting better each weekend. We’ve been very consistent this year, which is what we need. We haven’t peaked yet, but we don’t want to peak yet. We just keep talking to the team about details and keep trying to fight for each tenth. This will be a great weekend on Sunday. We’ll see who comes out on top. As long as we all have safe meets and we get a great score it will just help us to propel to NCAAs.”

The Wildcats have passed the halfway point of the season. Among the meets remaining, they hit the road to compete at Michigan on Friday and the return to campus for a Senior Celebration/Alumni Day meet at the Whittemore Center on March 8 against Auburn, Rutgers and Central Michigan.

Later in the month, the Wildcats will look to defend their EAGL championship at North Carolina in Chapel Hill on March 21.

(Allen Lessels is the UNH Insider and can be reached at Allen.Lessels@unh.edu or on Twitter @UNHInsider)

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