March 16, 2012

WOMEN'S COLLEGE LACROSSE: Colby's Pistel always active

All-American also stars in squash, soccer for Colby

By Matt DiFilippo mdifilippo@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

You've probably heard this kind of story before. Kate Pistel grew up in Amherst, Mass., where she spent a lot of time at Amherst College sporting events. Her father is an Amherst alum and worked at Amherst until he retired.

Colby College spring capsules


* Coach: Kristina Katori

* Last season: 10-19 overall, 1-11 NESCAC

* Key players: SS Katie Graichen, 3B Brianne Wheeler, P/DH Lauren Becker, CF Lindsay Peterson, P Aimee Polimeno

* Outlook: The Mules were over .500 outside the NESCAC last spring, but were shut out six times in 12 conference games. Overall, Colby hit .243 as a team last year with a .294 on-base percentage and committed nearly twice as many errors as its opponents. This year's roster has five freshmen and only two seniors, but the Mules return most of their top hitters, led by Graichen (.326, 21 runs) and Wheeler (.303). The top two pitchers return in Becker (6-10, 5.18 ERA) and Polimeno (3-6, 4.89). Both pitched better than those records would suggest. For example, Polimeno's three wins were by scores of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2.


* Coach: Dale Plummer

* Last season: 14-20 overall, 1-11 NESCAC

* Key players: CF Nikolas Atsalis, C John Schroeder, 1B Robb Arndt, OF Nathan Ellis, P Abhi Chandel, P Dakota Rabbitt, P Mark Nelson, P Connor Sullivan

* Outlook: The Mules didn't have a true power hitter last year (Atsalis was the only player with more than one home run, and he had two) but strung together runs with singles and doubles. Chandel (2-3, 2.03) and Rabbitt (2-2, 2.52) are two of the top returning pitchers; neither piles up big strikeout numbers but both get the ball over the plate. Sullivan (3-2, 7.13), Colby's No. 2 starter last year, is the same type of pitcher. Atsalis hit .330 last year with a team-high 19 RBIs, while Schroeder, Arndt and Ellis also hit better than .300 last spring.

Women's lacrosse

* Coach: Karen MacCrate Henning

* Last season: 15-5 overall, 6-3 NESCAC, made NCAA quarterfinals

* Key players: A Kate Pistel, A Lindsey McKenna, M Katharine Eddy, A Tess Petesch, A Sarah Lux, M Claire Donegan, M Lane McVey, D Meg Mooney, D Lisa Hoopes, G Claire Dickson

* Outlook: The Mules are already off to a 3-0 start this season, and they were ranked seventh in the nation in the latest national coaches' poll. McKenna led Colby in goals as a freshman last season with 43, and nine more players had at least 10 goals. Colby has incredible depth, but the star is probably Pistel, who was second-team All-American last season as a sophomore, when she scored 27 goals and led Colby in ground balls with 33. Colby has made the NCAA tournament four consecutive years and is poised to make it five in a row, but this is a rugged league: Nine of the 11 NESCAC teams were ranked in the top 20 nationally in one preseason poll.

Men's lacrosse

* Coach: Justin Domingos

* Last season: 9-7 overall, 4-5 NESCAC

* Key players: A John Jennings, M Ian Deveau, M Bjorn Knutson, A Greg McKillop, A Scott Margolis, M Trevor Shorb, Christian Kelso, GK Peter Reiley

* Outlook: Jennings is back after setting a single-season Colby record with 43 goals as a sophomore last spring. In his college career, he has 55 goals in 24 games. Deveau added 24 goals and 25 assists last season. But the key will be how Colby replaces Craig Bunker, a first-team All-American last season when he won 71 percent of his draw controls and helped give the Mules a huge advantage in ground balls. Knutson is handling draw controls this year and won 11 of 21 in a 9-8 loss to Amherst in the season opener. Reiley is only a sophomore, but started every game as a freshman and was third in the league in goals-against-average.

Women's tennis

* Coach: Doanh Wang

* Last season: 5-12

* Key players: Sarah Wiener, Tess Perese, Sally Holmes, Kathryn Vergeyle, Victoria Abel, Mckenzie Love

* Outlook: Colby has played one match this spring (a loss to MIT) and is 2-3 overall, including the fall season. Wiener, a junior, plays No. 1 singles and doubles for the Mules, after playing No. 4 singles last season. Vergeyle, who was 6-5 in singles play last season, is Colby's only senior. Former Waterville standout Alex McAuliff is also on the roster, and local tennis guru Jim Begin is an assistant coach.

Women's track and field

* Coach: Deb Aitken

* Last season: 4th at NESCAC meet

* Key athletes: Annabelle Hicks, Frances Onyilagha, Brittney Bell, Brittany Reardon, Leigh Fryxell

* Outlook: Hicks was third in the NESCAC in the 100-meter dash as a freshman last season. Onyilagha, who is also a sophomore, was fourth in the conference in the 200, while Bell placed fourth in the 400. Reardon was second in the 100 hurdles and won the pole vault. All four were on the 4 x100 relay team that finished first in the NESCAC. Fryxell, a sophomore, was second in the javelin.

Men's track and field

* Coach: Jared Beers

* Last season: 8th at NESCAC meet

* Key athletes: Dom Kone, Trent Wiseman, John Gilboy

* Outlook: Kone, a junior, won the 100-meter dash at the NESCAC meet last year. He also anchored the 4x100-relay team that took first place at the meet. Wiseman won the pole vault with a leap of 15 feet, 1 inch, and Gilboy was fourth in the conference in the shot put.

So when it came time for Kate to choose a college, she knew that she wanted to go to a school in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.

And she chose Colby.

From the time she came to Waterville, Pistel has been one of the best all-around athletes in school history. She's the No. 1 squash player and went 22-7 this winter as Colby finished the season ranked in the top 25 nationally. As a sophomore attacker on the lacrosse team last spring, she was named second-team All-American.

Soccer is clearly Pistel's third -best sport -- she decided to play it in college less than a month before she moved in at Colby -- and still she tied for the team lead in scoring as a freshman and has been a starter the last two seasons.

"I think being a three-sport athlete at any level is impressive these days," Colby women's lacrosse coach Karen MacCrate Henning said. "But at the college level, there's only a few people out there who are capable of playing three sports at the level she's playing. She's an impact player in three seasons."

On top of all that, Pistel (pronounced like "pistol") made the all-sportsmanship team for squash, and has a great name for an athlete.

"People actually don't know that it's my last name," Pistel said. "People think that it's a nickname given to me. So we get a lot of comments. I'm lucky I have that name. I love it."

Pistel said doing all this at Colby, instead of Amherst, didn't bother her father.

"He was actually excited," she said. "He wanted me to go to a NESCAC (school) as well. As long as I loved it, he didn't care where I went."

By playing three sports, Pistel misses the opportunity to focus on one. While her lacrosse teammates are staying sharp in the fall and winter, for example, she's playing soccer and squash.

"It's actually kind of nice," Pistel said, "because I have a set schedule: I wake up, go to class all day, and then I go to practice, and then do homework at night. I have free time, but I have to be productive with it. I don't think I'd get burned out, necessarily, if I played just one, but I like the variety."

Pistel, a left-hander, was second on the lacrosse team with 27 goals and 41 points last season. Colby finished 15-5 and reached the NCAA quarterfinals.

"She's just a leader on the field now," Henning said. "She's going to make good decisions. I would say in the past, she was a little bit more emotional -- which is also helpful, because she's passionate. But now she knows how to put it to good use."

Lacrosse Magazine had Colby ranked 11 and Amherst 13th in its preseason poll, and the teams opened their seasons March 10 in Waterville. With less than 30 seconds to play, Amherst had the ball with the score tied at 6.

Pistel suddenly stole the ball and got it ahead to Lindsey McKenna, who scored with 5.7 seconds to play, giving Colby the win.

"They were playing a very slow-paced game," Henning said. "They were trying to control the tempo. They were saving it for the last shot. Kate just saw an opportunity, and she got a nice backcheck off."

Added Pistel: "At the end of the game, I don't know what it was. I knew that we needed the ball, and I knew there was something I had to do about it. I took a huge risk -- which right now I'm happy I took, but at the time, should have questioned a little more -- and luckily it worked out for us in the end."

It was a snapshot of everything that Pistel can do on the field: Great defense. A constant scoring threat. A leader who makes big plays at crucial times. She and the Mules have since improved to 3-0, and they will be vying for their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

"I think any single person could go on the field and make an impact," Pistel said. "From freshman to senior, anyone can play, and if someone gets injured, there will be someone who can fill their spot, and it won't make a difference. I think in past years, (that's) helped us as well. But this year, especially, we have a lot of depth."

Matt DiFilippo -- 861-9243


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