UML River Hawks

UML athletics hall of fame inducts 10 members.

Eight Former Athletes, Two Administrators Make Up Hall’s Largest-Ever Class

LOWELL – To celebrate the University’s Soaring With Pride campaign and the Hall of Fame Sports Gallery at the Tsongas Center, the UMass Lowell Athletic Hall of Fame will induct 10 new members – eight former student-athletes and two administrators – Saturday, Oct. 23 and Saturday, Nov. 6.

The 2010 class is the Hall’s largest since its inception in 1977 when nine members were inducted.

Among the list of inductees are Claire Chamberlain (Chelmsford, Mass.), a former physical education professor from 1971-08 and coach; and Denise Legault (Atkinson, N.H.), also a former administrator and coach, both of whom pioneered the development of women’s athletics at Lowell State College and the University of Lowell.

Also earning induction were Billy Rizos (Lowell, Mass.), a standout quarterback from 1989-92; hockey standout Christian Sbrocca (Montreal, Quebec), who played from 1992-96; Donna Mills (Lynnfield, Mass.), who starred in softball from 1993-96; and Diane DiRoma (Belmont, N.H.), a women’s basketball standout from 1993-97.

Katie Toomey (New Bedford, Mass.), a volleyball standout from 1995-98, will also be inducted alongside former pitcher Nate Linstad (Chelmsford, Mass.) (1998-02), field hockey goalkeeper Patrice Mendoza (Wilmington, Mass.) (2000-03) and men’s soccer defender Jonathan Curran (Tyngsboro, Mass.) (2001-04).

Curran’s induction marks the first brother tandem in the Hall’s history. His brother, Brandon, also a men’s soccer standout, was inducted in 2008.

Members of the Class of 2010 will be inducted in ceremonies on Saturday, Oct. 23 and Saturday, Nov. 6 at the Tsongas Center prior to hockey games against Northeastern (7 p.m.) and New Hampshire (7 p.m.).

After a reception at 3:30 in the Tsongas Sports Pavilion, the induction ceremony will be held from 4:15-5:30, followed by photos and unveiling of the Hall of Fame Sports Gallery.

The Oct. 23 ceremony will honor Katie Toomey, Donna Mills, Billy Rizos and Nate Linstad while Christian Sbrocca, Denise Legault, Claire Chamberlain, Patrice Mendoza, Diane DiRoma and Jonathan Curran will be recognized on Nov. 6.

Tickets cost $30 per person and can be purchased at the Athletic Business Office in the Costello Athletic Center; or by calling 978-934-2345. More information on the Athletic Hall of Fame is available at www.goriverhawks.com.

Claire Chamberlain (Contributions, Professor 1971-2008)

A faculty member at the University in four decades, Claire Chamberlain was named an instructor of Physical Education at Lowell State College in 1971 and was a driving force for women’s athletics both at the college and the Northeast Region.

Alongside fellow inductee Denise Legault, Professor Chamberlain co-founded five sports at Lowell State – softball, volleyball, basketball, tennis and field hockey – as well as club co-ed archery from 1971 until the merger with Lowell Technological Institute in 1975.

Professor Chamberlain not only served as coach of women’s tennis and basketball teams in the programs first years, but, with Ms. Legault, also helped found the Massachusetts Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (MAIAW), the state branch of the regional and national outfits EAIAW and AIAW.

Affiliation with the AIAW enabled women’s programs in the region to compete for national championships, which the NCAA had yet to recognize.

Professor Chamberlain served as President of the MAIAW and helped coordinate and run the first-ever MAIAW Division II and III tennis tournament in 1976 and inaugural basketball tournament at Mahoney Gymnasium in 1977. She also served as the MAIAW’s first-ever commissioner of ethics and eligibility and helped to write the MAIAW constitution, bylaws and championship handbooks.

All the while, Professor Chamberlain was the head coach of the women’s tennis team for 11 years (1973-83), women’s basketball team (1972-75) and co-ed archery program.

She received the MAIAW’s highest award, the Honor Award, in 1984.

Even with a full slate, Professor Chamberlain’s commitment to the University never wavered as she taught physical education from 1971-91, and chaired the department from 1984-91.

When the Physical Education department was closed in 1991, she transferred as an associate professor and became the Academic Coordinator of Clinical Education for the Department of Exercise Physiology within the Department of Physical Therapy until her retirement in 2008.

She also chaired and served 27 years on UMass Lowell’s Athletic Hall of Fame committee.

Professor Chamberlain’s induction into the UMass Lowell Athletic Hall of Fame is the latest of several honors in recent years. She is also a member of the Northeast Women’s Hall of Fame and received the University’s Francis Cabot Lowell Award in 2009.

She resides in North Chelmsford, Mass.

Jonathan Curran (Soccer, 2001-04)

Perhaps the greatest defender in UMass Lowell history, Jonathan Curran was pivotal part of the most successful four-year period of the men’s soccer program and backstopped it to a 56-18-6 record from 2001-04.

The period also saw the River Hawks win Northeast-10 Conference Tournament titles in 2003 and 2004 and the NCAA Tournament New England Region crown (2003) in its first-ever appearance.

Curran was the program’s first two-time All-American (2003 and 2004) who, not surprisingly, led a backline that set school records in goals conceded (14), shutouts (10), victories (15) and fewest loses (3) in a season.

“Jonathan was the embodiment of the spirit and commitment of UMass Lowell Soccer on the soccer field, in the classroom and in the community,” said former head coachTed Priestly (1997-2008), currently in his second year head coach at Holy Cross. “He focused on daily improvement of fundamental pieces of the game. He fought every day to defy the odds, and he never hesitated when his team needed him.”

At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Curran was a formidable presence to opposing forwards who thrived in physical play and rarely lost an aerial battle. For his career, he compiled 12 goals and 17 assists – tops among all defensive players in Priestly’s tenure – the majority of which were headers off set pieces.

In addition to All-American honors, Curran was also a two-time All-Northeast/New England First Team recipient, NE-10 First Team pick as well as the NE-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 and 2004.

As a senior, Curran was the recipient of the Lester H. Cushing Award for Outstanding Male Student-Athlete of the 2004-05 season. He won the honor two years after his brother Brandon was cited in 2003.

“Jonathan exemplified the qualities of teamwork, sacrifice, loyalty and honesty in his daily approach to life,” Priestly noted. “He was not simply an outstanding soccer player; he is a remarkable person. It was an honor and a pleasure to have coached Jonathan and Brandon, and to have had the support of the Curran and Pierce families at every game, home and away.”

Curran graduated in 2005 with a degree in criminal justice. He is currently a firefighter for the city of Nashua, N.H., where he lives with his wife Krystle and twin daughters Averee and Emersynn.

Diane DiRoma (Basketball, 1993-97)

One of the greatest players to don the UMass Lowell uniform, Diane DiRoma was instrumental in leading the women’s basketball team to its most successful four-year period in the program’s history.

A 5-foot-8 guard, DiRoma led the River Hawks to a 91-29 mark from 1993-97 – an average of 22.7 wins per year – while guiding them to three NCAA Tournament appearances and two New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) tournament and regular season championships.

“I am thrilled that Diane was selected to the UMass Lowell Hall of Fame,” said Kathy O’Neil, head women’s basketball coach about to open her 26th season. “Simply put, Diane DiRoma is a winner. Diane was a team player and she understood what this program needed to be successful.”

A key player in reserve her first two seasons, DiRoma emerged a starter as a junior, averaging 15.8 points and 3.7 assists per game as the River Hawks went 20-8 overall and 16-4 in the NECC (second).

She helped lead UMass Lowell to a school-record 25-6 mark (16-2 NECC) as a senior. The River Hawks captured both the NECC tournament and regular season crowns and advanced to the NCAA Tournament second round.

DiRoma was named the NECC Player of the Year and a First Team standout in 1996 and 1997 and graduated with her name well-etched in the record book. Perhaps most impressive, she continues to hold the school record for games played in a career (124) – playing all but two games from 1993-97 – despite battling back from two major knee surgeries.

DiRoma also currently ranks seventh in free throws made in a career (222), eighth among career scorers (1,107), eighth in career field goals (412) and 10th in free throws attempted (315).

She also holds the best single game free throw percentage (1.000, 12-12) and shares the milestone for games played in a season (31).

DiRoma is the Northeast Region sales manager for the Republic of Tea. She resides in Nashua, N.H.

Denise Legault (Contributions, Women’s Athletics 1969-2002)

One of the pioneers of women’s athletics at Lowell State College and the University of Lowell, Denise Legault served the University for 33 years as a professor, administrator, coach and regional athletics representative.

An associate professor from 1969-91, Ms. Legault was named the coordinator of women’s athletics by LSC Director of Athletics Dr. James Ciszek in 1972. She and Professor Claire Chamberlain developed the first athletic programs for women: tennis, softball, volleyball, basketball and field hockey, all of which went on to become regionally and nationally renowned programs.

Ms. Legault not only served as a coach and professor, she also helped found the Massachusetts Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (MAIAW), the state branch of the regional and national organizations EAIAW and AIAW.

At a time when the NCAA had yet to establish and recognize women’s athletics, Ms. Legault was instrumental in organizing postseason championships on the state and regional levels. Along with Professor Chamberlain, she helped organize the inaugural Division II-III state women’s basketball championship in 1977 at Mahoney Gymnasium.

As a head coach, Ms. Legault made her mark with the softball team for 15 years and the volleyball team for five years. During the Lowell State and ULowell years, she guided the softball team to a 141-74-1 record (.653) and led the team to the MAIAW Tournament five straight years.

In only her fifth season at Lowell State, Ms. Legault guided the Indians to a 16-0 record in the regular season and to the MAIAW Tournament final. The 1983 season was special in particular as Ms. Legault led ULowell to the EAIAW Division II Region Championship with a 22-7 record.

Ms. Legault also had success with the volleyball team, which she founded as a club program and coached as a varsity sport for its first four years. The team struggled initially but posted an 11-6 record in 1977.

Ms. Legault retired from coaching in 1985 and served as assistant director of athletics and later associate director of athletics until her retirement in 2002. She oversaw the sports of softball, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, swimming, men and women’s tennis and wrestling.

Additionally, Ms. Legault was UMass Lowell’s Primary Women’s Administrator for the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC), the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) as well as the NCAA for more than 10 years. She oversaw softball scheduling for the NECC and served on several committees.

Ms. Legault was a member of the NCAA Northeast Region rankings and tournament selection committees for more than 15 years.

Ms. Legault resides in Atkinson, N.H. She volunteers for the American Cancer Society, serving as a driver for cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. She also volunteered at the Exeter (N.H.) Senior Center for five years with the Meals-On-Wheels program.

Nate Linstad (Baseball 1998-01)

Certainly one of the greatest starting pitchers in UMass Lowell’s revered baseball history, Nate Linstad’s career is all the more impressive considering he hadn’t originally planned to play baseball in college.

Linstad originally attended the University of Kentucky to play football in 1996-97, but transferred to UMass Lowell after one year to pursue baseball, which he did with rapid success.

During his tenure, Linstad helped lead the baseball team to a four-year clip of 134-51 – an average of 33.5 victories per season – over which it twice eclipsed the school record for wins in a season, won four conference titles and reached the NCAA Tournament each year.

“Nate was a tremendous athlete,” said Jim Stone, who was the head baseball coach from 1966-2003. “He had a strong arm, he threw real hard. I remember his first year he was a closer for us, then we needed him to start. I think he could’ve played a number of other positions. He was just a terrific athlete. He ran very well and could’ve played the outfield if we needed him.

“He was a terrific competitor,” he added. “This is a well deserved honor for him.”

As a senior, Linstad was an instrumental player in leading the River Hawks to their first NCAA Northeast Region Championship and appearance in the Division II World Series in Montgomery, Ala. That year, Linstad went 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA and earned a plethora of honors – ABCA All-American, Northeast-10 Conference and ABCA Northeast Region Pitcher of the Year – as UMass Lowell went 39-19.

After making 13 appearances in relief as a freshman, Linstad went 5-3 with a 4.33 ERA as a sophomore to earn All-New England Collegiate Conference Second Team status. The River Hawks posted then a school-record 36-9 clip, captured the NECC and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Northeast Region championship game.

Linstad continued to thrive as a junior, going 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA, good enough for NECC and NCAA Northeast Region First Team honors. The River Hawks won their third straight NECC title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year.

Linstad graduated with school records in innings pitched (298.2) and strikeouts (265), both of which currently rank second all-time. He also ranks tied for second in wins (23) and winning percentage (.742, 11th). His 102.1 innings pitched in 2000 remains the single season standard.

Linstad graduated in 2001 with a degree in criminal justice. He is a police officer in the city of Manchester, N.H. in the Community Policing Division as well as a member of the SWAT team. He lives in Raymond, N.H. with his wife, Melinda, and son Nolan (2).

Patrice Mendoza (Field Hockey 2000-03)

In Patrice Mendoza’s first two years, the UMass Lowell field hockey team posted consecutive records of 7-12. By her senior year, it was contending for the NCAA Championship.

Perhaps the best goalkeeper in UMass Lowell field hockey history, Mendoza was one of handful of athletes who were instrumental in elevating the program to national prominence, a standing which it has maintained to date.

“Patrice was one of the most focused athletes I have ever coached, whether she was in a repetitive drill or playing for a national championship,” said UML Head CoachShannon Hlebichuk. “She had one focus: keeping the ball out of the net. She played an integral part in the transformation of the field hockey program nine years ago.”

After a 9-9 record and its first postseason bid in years, UMass Lowell peaked over the second half of the 2003 season and captured the first of five straight Northeast-10 Conference Tournament championships and advanced to the NCAA Championship match against 11-time titlist Bloomsburg University, despite falling 4-1.

Mendoza put forth her best numbers her junior and senior years. As a junior, she maintained a 1.21 goals against average with an .866 save rate and seven shutouts – very telling figures considering the River Hawks finish 9-9.

As a senior, she nursed a 1.12 GAA and an .832 save percentage with a school-record nine shutouts as UMass Lowell went 15-7. She remains prominent in the record books, holding benchmarks for matches in a career (77) and shutouts in a career (26) and a season (nine).

“Patrice was extremely athletic and unconventional, especially when it came to her size (5 feet),” Hlebichuk noted. “But that is what made her outstanding. What she lacked in size, she made up with her passion and intensity. She was an inspirational leader while she was here as well.”

Mendoza was also the recipient of many plaudits during her career. She was named a two-time All-American by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA), earning first team honors as a senior and second team as a junior. She was also named the NE-10 Goalkeeper of the Year and first team member both years.

At UMass Lowell’s 2003 Excellence Awards Banquet, she was named the recipient of the Lester H. Cushing Award for Female Athlete of the Year.

Mendoza graduated in 2003 with a degree in health education. A native of Wilmington, Mass., she is currently the operations and merchandise manager of Bed, Bath & Beyond in Phoenix, AZ, where she resides.

Donna Mills (Softball 1993-96)

Undoubtedly one of the greatest softball players in school history, Donna Mills compiled astronomical numbers during her career, many of which continue to rank as school records and among the program’s career leaders.

Over the course of her career, Mills set 21 school records, 16 of which still stand today, including batting average in a career (.438) and a season (.471); slugging percentage in a career (.721) and a season (.829); runs in a career (148) and season (62) as well as his in a season (75) and double in a career (57) and season (23).

She also set career marks such as hits (221), triples (17), singles (130), home runs (17) and RBI (126) that have since been eclipsed.

Mills collected her share of honors, including New England Collegiate Conference all-star status – Second Team in 1994 and 1995; First Team in 1996 – as well as ECAC Division II North honors in 1996.

She enjoyed her best years as a junior and senior, in which she ranked among NCAA Division II leaders. In 1995, she sat among national leaders in doubles (18, 13th), runs scored (62, 13th) and triples (eight, 17th). As a senior she was third among Division II doubles leaders (23) and 23rd in batting (.469).

“Certainly, Donna’s abilities speak for themselves,” said former softball coach Harry Sauter (1995-2009), who coached Mills her final two years. “Donna was a great, great ball player who went on to play baseball at the highest possible level. She was a great hitter who certainly understands the fundamentals of hitting.

“In those days, she was the team,” Sauter added. “She was probably one of the best athletes that was had ever recruited.”

For all that Mills achieved as a softball player, her real passion was always baseball. In 2006, she was named the Most Valuable Player of the Women’s World Cup of Baseball in Taipei City, Taiwan, leading the U.S. to the gold medal.

Along the way, she led all players with 13 RBI and was also named to All-Tournament Team as the top third baseman.

Mills was also a member of the 2004 U.S. squad which captured the gold and the 2008 team which won the bronze.

Mills is a court officer in the Lynn District Court. She resides in Lynn, Mass., with her daughter Gianna Marie, born Aug. 9, 2010.

Billy Rizos (Football 1989-92)

A quarterback from 1989-92, Billy Rizos was the offensive catalyst for the football team in its most successful seasons in the modern era.

During his tenure, he helped guide the team to a four-year record of 31-7-1 – which was the 10th-best showing among Division I-A, I-AA, II and III colleges and universities in that period – including a 27-3 clip his first three years.

In 1991, Rizos led the Chiefs to a benchmark 10-0 record through the regular season which saw them capture the New England Football Conference championship and move on to the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

“At that time we had a number of local kids from the Merrimack Valley and about a 20-mile radius. Billy was the leader of all the local kids,” said Dennis Scannell, who served as head coach from 1986-92. “Billy was a great quarterback. Not only was he a great player, but he is one of a bunch of those kids who went on to have great careers and remained involved with their communities.”

The Chiefs led the nation in scoring defense (5.2 points per game) and its record was tops among all New England-area Division II and III colleges. As a sophomore, Rizos was the nucleus of an offense which averaged 36.0 points per game and 26.36 points from 1990-92.

Individually, Rizos was consistently among NEFC and Freedom Football Conference (FFC) leaders his final three years. As a junior, he led the NEFC with 142 completions and was second in completion rate at .540 (142-263). As a senior, he led the FFC in passing touchdowns and ranked second in completions (124).

Rizos was named to the Associated Press (AP) All-New England Honorable Mention Team as well as the NEFC Second Team following his junior season. As a senior he was a FFC honorable mention all-star.

“In my 18 years at UMass Lowell we had some great quarterbacks,” Scannell added. “Billy was among the top of all of them.”

Rizos set 16 records during his career and his name remains etched in several places in the record book.

He holds the career marks for total offense yards (3,563, shared with Gary Errico); touchdowns responsible for (38); completion percentage (.535), passing yards (3,904), touchdown passes (37) and completions (331). He also owns the single game marks for touchdown passes (three, done three times) and longest pass completion (83 yards).

Rizos graduated in 2002 with a degree in business management. He is the president of Apex Information Security and lives in Lowell with his wife, Margaret, and their three children: Annie (9), Caroline (8) and Will (6).

Christian Sbrocca (Hockey 1992-96)

It is not a stretch to say Christian Sbrocca, a standout hockey player from 1992-96, was among the most talented student-athletes in UMass Lowell history. On any given game-night, he could light the lamp as well as anyone. A singer/guitarist, he could later be found performing anywhere in Lowell.

Sbrocca capped his career as one of UMass Lowell’s greatest Division I players in the team’s best Division I era. He helped guide the Chiefs to a four-year clip of 88-56-15 – including 10-8-1 in the postseason – which included four straight trips to the Hockey East semifinal round at the Boston Garden; as well as two appearances in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinal round.

Sbrocca holds the school record for games player in a career with 158. He only missed one game in four years. He also owns UMass Lowell’s Division I record for assists in a season with 42.

For his career, Sbrocca compiled 56 goals, and 115 assists for 158 points. He left his name in several places among career leaders in the record book, ranking fifth in assists (second among Division I players), seventh in points (second) and 20th in goals (eighth).

He also compiled 315 penalty minutes, which ranks second all-time.

“Christian was a talented, skilled, passionate, explosive and graceful, but feisty hockey player,” said Bob Ellis, who has served as UMass Lowell’s hockey radio commentator for 27 years. “He was a creative offensive force who did everything with a flare.”

In one of UMass Lowell’s biggest regular season wins – an 8-6 triumph over No. 1 Boston University – Sbrocca scored two goals and assisted on two others. He ended his career on a 19-game scoring streak.

Sbrocca played professionally for 11 years with stints in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) with Pensacola as well as several years in his native Quebec and a year each in Italy and Austria.

Known through the mid 1990s as a feared hockey player, nowadays Sbrocca is a sought after singer/songwriter in Canada and Europe. He has released three albums, My Script (1999), Le balafre (2004) and L’opinion des autres (2008), and performs in both English and French.

A year after he cut his first album, Sbrocca earned his degree in business administration.

When not touring, Sbrocca lives in Montreal with his companion Dominique Deslauriers and their son Lexandre.

Katie Toomey (Volleyball)

At a time when colleges like the University of New Haven and Stony Brook ruled the volleyball ranks of the New England Collegiate Conference, it speaks volumes that Katie Toomey was twice voted the NECC Player of the Year.

“I think that’s a rarity,” said UML Head Coach Karen McNulty. “It was just a case in that Katie was so dominant, that she couldn’t not be recognized. She was my first big recruit. We’re lucky that she stayed local. She would’ve been a fine small college Division I player.”

UMass Lowell’s most decorated player, Toomey was voted to the NECC All-Conference First Team all four years. She was named the NECC Rookie of the Year in 1995 and the Player of the Year in 1997 and 1998.

Toomey is the third-ever volleyball player to be inducted into the UMass Lowell Athletic Hall of Fame. She joins Susan MacDonald (’89), inducted in 1996, and Michelle Roy (’91), inducted in 2003.

During Toomey’s era, UMass Lowell posted a four-year clip of 84-67, which included a 25-7 showing in 1996 which saw the River Hawks place second in the NECC and advance to the ECAC Tournament semifinal round. UMass Lowell was also the NECC runner-up in 1997.

Toomey left the program with a plethora of career records, including games played (480), kills (1,897) and career hitting percentage (.337). She also held the career mark for digs (1,260), which has since been surpassed.

“Katie was a finesse player who was flashy and exciting and her attacking made you take notice,” McNulty noted. “She was extremely fit – that was one of the things that made her a great player. She served well, she played the back row.

“I remember she had some back issues when she was here and she played right through them,” she added.

Toomey graduated in 1999 with a degree in business administration. She currently works as a production assistant at Comcast SportsNet in Burlington, Mass.

She lives in Waltham, Mass.