Trifecta! Three NECC Teams Recognized in National Polls
By NECC Athletics Director Dan Blair
Haverhill, MA (October 24, 2023) – Hard work is paying off for Northern Essex Community College student-athletes and coaches. This week, three teams are ranked in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) nationwide polls.
Additionally, the women’s volleyball and men’s soccer teams have both earned the number one seed in their respective NJCAA Region 21 Tournaments set to kick off this week. For soccer, with a 10-2-1 overall record and 7-0-1 record in region play, it is their first-ever number-one seed. Volleyball, undefeated on the season at 21-0 was most recently the top seed in 2021.
The volleyball team will be looking for its first region title since 2018, while soccer is in search of its first-ever Region 21 title. Both teams are also seeking their first-ever national championship tournament berths. Region 21 titles would send volleyball to the 16-team tournament in Cedar Rapids, IA, while soccer is looking to punch its ticket to Gastonia, NC, for the eight-team championship tournament.
The Knights, ranked 13th in this week’s final poll of the season, will square off with 4th-seeded Massasoit on Sunday at 11:00 am at Holyoke Community College in the first semi-final contest. With a win, the Knights would move on to the 3:00 pm championship match.
On the attack for the Knights all season has been the Lawrence trio of Abigail Heredia, Telaviv Nunez and Vielka Sanchez, along with Liz Exume (Chelmsford). The quartet is combining for more than nine kills per set, while Sanchez also has served up 105 aces for a 1.84 aces per set average.
Chantel Melgen (Lawrence) has led the Knights on the defensive side of the net with 168 digs. Running a 4-2 throughout the season under first-year head coach Franchesca Nival, Sanchez and Nunez have combined for over 500 assists.
Ranked 9th in the final poll released this week, NECC has received a quarterfinal bye and will host the winner of the midweek contest between Springfield Tech and Community College of Rhode Island on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at Whittier Tech High School. With a win, the Knights would host the championship game on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at Whittier Tech.
The Knights trio of freshman Jadiel Bonfim (Nashua, NH), freshman Kaleb Gianini (Lowell) and Jonathan Diaz (Methuen) have carried the Knights’ offense, scoring at a clip of 4.31 goals per game as the Knights have found the back of the net 56 times in 13 matches to date.
Bonfim currently ranks third in the nation with 22 goals, to go along with six assists for a total of 50 points which ranks fourth nationally. Gianini has added 15 goals. Diaz has a region-high 13 assists, which is good to rank fourth nationally while also recording ten goals of his own.
Ronan Harrington (Newburyport) and Nikos Kakavitsas (Athens, GR) have anchored a strong defensive unit in front of goalkeeper Will Paganini (Derry, NH), who has allowed just 1.13 goals against in Region 21 contests.
The reigning Region 21 and East District Champion Northern Essex Community College men’s basketball team, who finished fifth at last year’s NJCAA National Championship Tournament, will open the season ranked fifth in the preseason poll as announced Monday by the NJCAA Men’s Basketball Committee.
The Knights will kick off their season next week with a Midnight Madness tip-off against Bunker Hill at midnight on November 1st. In total, the Knights will play a 29-game regular season schedule under the direction of head coach Darren Stratton, entering his 21st season as head coach.
Leading the way in the 2023-24 season for NECC will be returning first-team All-American Luis Reynoso (Lawrence), who was among the national leaders last season in multiple categories. He finished second nationally in rebounds per game with 13.2 and free throws made (172) and third in total points scored with 630.
Northern Essex Community College competes as a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and sponsors 13 varsity intercollegiate sports. For more information, please visit the official website of Northern Essex Athletics or email Athletics Director Dan Blair.