By NoontimeSports.com (@NoontimeSports)
We continue our preseason New England D3 Football coverage with a preview of the Western New England Golden Bears’ football team.
Team Name: Western New England Golden Bears
Noontime Sports Preseason Ranking: The Golden Bears checked-in as our top team in New England – the poll was posted on Monday, July 31st.
2016 Season Recap: The Golden Bears’ exciting postseason run concluded last fall in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament with a disappointing 30-24 setback to Alfred. Yet, before the season concluded against Alfred, WNE scored 11-straight wins, including a pair of victories over Endicott College and Salve Regina University. Halfback Nick Connell highlighted his team’s important win over the Seahawks by rushing for four scores and 170 yards on 30 carries. Connell was one of many student-athletes that made the 2016 campaign one to remember.
Key Losses: Nick Connell (Running Back), Mohamed Camara (Wing), Trent Vasey (Tight End), Terrence N’Dabian (Wing), Blair Cook (Linebacker) and Obi Etuka (Defensive Back)
Players to Watch: Anthony Service (Quarterback), Dante Aiken (Running Back), Mark Dietrich (Wide Receiver), Josh Henry (Tight End), Justin Townsend (Wing), Dillon Martin (Guard), Kurtis Jolicoeur (Bear), Sam Olsson (Defensive Back), Sam Edouard (D-Line), Tim Huffam (Linebacker), Kevin McLaughlin (Bear) and Sean Stergas (D-Line).
2017 Schedule: For the fifth-straight season, the Golden Bears will begin its campaign against Springfield College – kickoff for this game is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 2 (at WNE). WNE has won the last three meetings against the Pride, while Springfield captured the 2013 contest by a score of 49-40. WNE will then host Westfield State (one week later) before embarking on an important three week stretch, which includes contests against Husson, RPI, and St. Lawrence. Those three games should tell us a great deal about a squad that should once again be in position to capture its conference’s crown (Commonwealth Coast Football (CCC)). Of course, games against Endicott (Oct. 14th) and Salve Regina (Oct. 28th) will be important tests as well – one should also not overlook the team’s final two regular season foes: Curry College and Nichols College. Both teams will be ready to challenge the Golden Bears.
Season Outlook: Last season’s setback to Alfred in the NCAA Tournament should provide this squad with some motivation as they attempt to return to the postseason for the second-straight season. WNE returns 15 of 24 starters from last season’s squad, but there are some question marks surrounding its running game and secondary. Halfback Dante Aiken, who rushed for 617 yards and seven touchdowns last fall, will most likely be the lead-back – he will be asked to fill the void left by Nick Connell, who rushed for 13 touchdowns last fall, along with 1,231 yards. Connell is back, however, but as an assistant coach – he could certainly help Aiken become one of the best backs in the league. The other question mark: the team’s secondary. Defensive back Obi Etuka graduated last spring, but luckily the team does return a good chunk of secondary players that should be able to step-up when needed. Coach Keith Emery and his staff seem optimistic about their team’s secondary. Excluding the two question marks, WNE does return a great deal of talent that will make them ‘the team to watch’ this fall.