Category Archives: Sports

Wuilito Fernandes exemplifies leadership on & off the field

By George DeLuca
September 30, 2016

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UMass Lowell soccer star Wuilito Fernandes

In 2009, Wuilito Fernandes came to the United States from Praia, Cape Verde, a small city on an island located about 500 miles west of Senegal, Africa. He played soccer as much as he could back home, but the sport didn’t really figure into his future plans until he crossed the pond.

The Cape Verde native’s enthusiasm for soccer has risen since his arrival at UMass Lowell. “I like it here. I feel good being here and enjoying it a lot,” he said with a smile. “I have always loved soccer, but I haven’t taken it as seriously as I’m taking it now.”

Fernandes, a senior business major, joined the UMass Lowell River Hawks men’s soccer team in 2012, the year the program was accepted into the American East Conference. Next year, after Fernandes graduates, the team will be eligible for NCAA Division I tournament play.

In essence, Fernandes has helped enhance the team’s future prospects on its way to the promise land of college soccer.

Currently, the River Hawks are undefeated with a record of 7-0-1, and Fernandes is the team’s top goal scorer with six. “We’re aware of the record, but we’re not done yet,” he said. “We’re going to keep working hard. There’s room for improvement and we’re going to keep doing whatever it is that we have to do to win games.”

River Hawk goaltender Austin Kroll touted the forward/midfielder’s ability to inspire the team when the chips are down. “Every time it looks like we’re in a bad stretch, or maybe when we need some motivation, Wuilito’s always the one clapping, being vocal,” said Kroll. “He always provides that spark. He finds that time when we need to score. He’s a spark plug for us.”

Standout freshman Ivan Abramovic agrees that the team becomes energized when Fernandes enters the game. “Definitely—I feel that every single guy on the team feels that, like, ‘Ok, we’re good, he’s coming in.’ He’s just a great support out there, because when he steps in, other teams know Wuilito’s in it. Every other team knows Wuilito and they just have to think about him. He opens space for everybody else and for himself too.”

Fernandes has skills and abilities that are readily apparent to the coaches. “He has this creativity side that makes him a special player and more dangerous,” said head coach Christian Figueroa. “He can be unpredictable in a way that helps create opportunities for the team. We’ve seen him do some spectacular things on the field in the past few years.”

But there’s more to Fernandes than his skills on the turf. He also exhibits drive, discipline, and a desire to win games. And according to the coach, these qualities are contagious.

Figueroa is impressed by Fernandes’s work ethic and the way it rubs off on his teammates. “He’s been an outstanding role model for the team since he’s been here,” Figueroa said. “He’s a mature young man who’s willing to bring anybody in, new faces, guys that have been here, anyone who’s struggling, whatever the case might be.”

Abramovic, who leads UMass Lowell in points, agreed with the coach. “Wuilito is definitely a role model on the field and off. He acts the way you should be acting on the field,” he said. “He’s telling the freshmen what to do and how to act. Even with the seniors and captains, he arranges meetings to help with team bonding. He is, I think, the biggest role model we have on the team.”

In order to be an effective role model, a player must first earn the respect and trust of his teammates. It helps to have the confidence of the coach. “Wuilito doesn’t treat anybody differently,” said Figueroa. “The guys see that. They feed off it. That makes you feel good about his development, not just as a player but as a person.”

No one on the soccer field appreciates team unity and preparation more than the goalie. Kroll values his teammate’s presence because it boosts morale on the field. “Wuilito has a calming presence,” said Kroll. “Everything he says, you’re just down with it. You know that he’s there to help you both on and off the field.”

Fernandes understands his role and values the team’s unity and chemistry. “The guys are like facilitators,” he said. “They make my job really easy. I don’t have to put that much effort to lead the team, because we have such good followers. Good followers turn out to be good leaders. I try my best to be an example for my teammates both on and off the field.”

Abramovic had to adjust to his first year as a River Hawk this year and Fernandes was there for him. “He’s just a great guy overall,” said Abramovic, “He stepped up to help me when I came, which was especially helpful for me as I came from a different continent (Croatia in Europe). He was the first guy to show me around.”

Fernandes sums up his motivation: “Whatever it is I have to do to help the team win, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

And that’s the way the coach likes it. “When he gets out there, he has a great attitude,” Figueroa said. “He believes he can have a positive impact on the game. He’s competitive and he’s always trying to give you the best of himself—whether in training or in the games.”

Lowell Spinners open the 2016 season with a 1-0 win

George DeLuca
June 18, 2016

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Spinners left fielder Tyler Hill is tagged out at the plate by Vermont catcher Carson Blair.    photo/George DeLuca

Spinners baseball is back in Lowell and the fans loved every minute of opening day “Spinnertainment,” as the local favorites for the 2016 New York – Penn League crown got underway last night at LeLacheur Park. It was a party-like atmosphere for the sellout crowd of 5,014. A 1-0 win over the Vermont Lake Monsters turned out to be the icing on the cake.

Lowell politicians and other dignitaries were in abundance for the opening ceremonies. UMass Lowell was well represented by Athletic Director Dana Skinner and Political Science guru Frank Talty. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas gave one of several keynote addresses. But the poignant moment of the evening involved a changing of the guard, as an emotional Drew Weber ceremoniously turned the team over to new owner Dave Heller.

Once the game got underway, pitcher Michael Kopech lived up to his reputation for throwing the heat as the radar gun consistently registered 96-97 and up to 101 mph. Kopech pitched 4 1/3 innings of shutout ball in front of an appreciative crowd, garnering 4 strikeouts, while allowing 4 walks and 4 hits. Judging by his performance, he won’t be wearing a Spinners uniform for long.

Another star of the game was left fielder Tyler Hill, who was outstanding both in the field and at the plate. Hill went 2 for 2 with a double and a single. Infielder Roldani Baldwin added another 2 hits for the Spinners including a double. And right fielder Chris Madera drove in the winning run in the fifth inning on a single that scored catcher Isaias Lucena.

Middle reliever Pat Goetze got the win, and Dioscar Romero earned the save.

The Spinners will finish a two game series with Vermont today. Williamsport comes to Lowell tomorrow for three games extending the home stand to Tuesday. The Spinners then head out for their first road trip of the season against Hudson Valley, before returning home on Saturday for a three game series against Tri-State.

Kopech starts comeback with Lowell Spinners

George DeLuca
June 16, 2016

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Michael Kopeck hopes to get a new lease on life with the Lowell Spinners. photo/George DeLuca

Righthander Michael Kopech was drafted 33rd in the first round of the 2014 MLB amateur draft, signing with the Red Sox for $1.68 million. The twenty-year old pitcher from Mount Pleasant, Texas has been assigned to the Lowell Spinners in the hope he can quickly work his way back to peak form after two recent setbacks to his fledgling career.

The troubled pitcher finished serving a 50 game suspension for using a banned stimulant, and hasn’t pitched in an official game since July 12, 2015. So it was a major disappointment when a fighting incident in early March resulted in an additional delay to the young pitcher’s promising career.

According to retired Sun reporter Chaz Scoggins the Red Sox have high hopes for their young prospect, “Kopech broke his hand in March during a fight with a teammate in spring training, and he’s just coming back. He obviously won’t be here (with the Spinners) for very long. As soon as they feel he’s built up his innings, he’ll probably be going back to a higher A league.”

On May 30, the righty threw for two innings in extended spring training to test his pitching regimen in a game-like setting. His pitches were clocked at up to 99 mph and he struck out 3. “I’m feeling really good. I don’t really feel like I’ve had that much of a setback,” Kopech said.

Spinners Manager Iggy Suarez has announced that Kopech will be the starter on Friday in the home opener against Vermont. “We have Michael Kopech going in game one.” When asked about the injured hand, Suarez said, “He’s fine. He’s been throwing progression and he’s ready to go 100%. He’s throwing mid to high nineties and the ball’s coming out of his hand pretty well.”

Obviously enthused about being given an opportunity to start, Kopech said, “It’s been awhile, but it means a lot to me to be able to help this team. I’m going to have to build back up, so that’s what I need to be doing right now.”

Suarez added, “He’s been out for awhile and I know he’s excited to get on the mound again. Because when you’re down on the disabled list you start to go stir crazy, especially when you start to get close to coming back. But he looked good on the mound at extended spring training. He’s excited. The adrenaline’s rushing a little bit.”

When queried about the incident that led to his stint on the disabled list and his general progress since, Kopech said, “Stuff happens. It’s in the past, but I feel like I’m back where I need to be. I have better off speed stuff and better command of my pitches right now. I’m able to stay in control of my body instead of flailing around on the mound.”

When asked about his brief outing at extended spring training, he said, “It felt like it was long overdue. It was exciting. I really want to go out there and face hitters again.”

Reflecting about his difficulties off the field, Kopech said, “I’ve had a lot of growing up to do and I feel that I’m making progress. I don’t want to be portrayed as a bad person, so it’s time to put the past behind me so I can focus on being a better person and pitcher. I think I’ve matured a lot in the past few months. I worked hard in Florida and I’ve had a lot of time to think. In the long run, I think it’s helped me.”

Kopech feels he’s close to being back to 100% and throwing full speed now. Asked what pitches he’ll be relying on during the game opener, he said, “The fast ball has always been a big one for me. The slider is still there, and I was able to work on the change up a bit more at extended spring training so I think that’s something I can use on Friday.”

Kopech looks forward to getting back on track under the lights in the close intimate setting of LeLacheur Park. “My goal is to be better than I ever have been. That’s always the goal.” As for pitching in front of a crowd on Friday, he mused, “I haven’t given much thought to people wanting to come and see me pitch. But, it’ll be good to interact with the fans, and I look forward to them interacting with me.”

From UML Hockey to Baseball (and other subjects)!

George DeLuca
April 2, 2016

This is a wrap up of my 2016 UMass Lowell River Hawks hockey series. It’s time to look ahead to future projects.

After my first photo was published in the Lowell Sun on March 13, twenty more pics appeared over a two week period. A couple were published in the Lawrence Eagle Tribune and many in the UML Connector. Eight of the Sun photos were from the Hockey East Finals at TD Banknorth Garden. Nine were from the River Hawks participation in the NCAA East Finals in Albany, NY at the Times Union Center. Here are a few from March 27 on:

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My favorite experience in Albany was capturing Gambardella’s game winning goal against Yale. It was up against deadline, and the Sun gave me twenty minutes from the time of the goal to get it to them “print ready.”

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Photo/George DeLuca

Click on any photo for the enlarged version.

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Photo/George DeLuca

After Joe Gambardella’s game ending goal, it was on to the East Final game!
But alas, a trip to the “Frozen Four” wasn’t to be.

004_600_End_of_RoadUnfortunately, this game against powerhouse Quinnipiac was the end of the line
for the UMass Lowell River Hawks. But it was a tremendous season!

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Photo/George DeLuca

And now it’s on to baseball and other things!

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Photo/George DeLuca

April 1, 2016: UML River Hawk pitcher Andrew Ryan pitched well, going 7 innings
and allowing five hits and no runs while striking out five Hartford batters.