Norwell native O’Toole steps up to Clark post
Matt O’Toole, in his own estimation, took a step back, but he was willing to take the risk.
Last summer, the Norwell native left his position as men’s soccer coach at Bridgewater College in Virginia to become an assistant at Amherst.
The perceived step back to a lesser role lasted only briefly; this past week, he was rewarded when he was hired as the head coach at Clark University in Worcester.
“I always knew I wanted to return to New England,’’ said O’Toole, who starred on the pitch at Thayer Academy and then Providence College.
“When the opportunity came up to come back at Amherst I jumped at it. Going back to being an assistant was a means to an end.’’
The move to Clark is another step closer to his roots and has both him and his new boss excited about the future of the program.
“Hiring him was an absolute slam dunk,’’ said Sean Sullivan, director of athletics at Clark.
The nature of college coaching breeds an almost transient lifestyle of constant job change and leaving home. So when O’Toole had the chance to come back to New England after seven years of coaching in Virginia, he knew he had to make a move, even if it meant going from running a program to being an assistant again.
“My wife is from Connecticut, and we just had a baby, so we wanted to come back, everything just kind of fell into place,’’ he said. “All of my friends and family are still around New England.’’
O’Toole was born in Hanover but moved to Norwell in middle school.
At Providence, he started all but one game at left back for four years, earning All-New England honors as a senior.
He put the business world on hold to continue his playing career professionally in the A Division of the United Soccer League, which, while a separate entity from Major League Soccer, is about the equivalent of Triple A baseball.
That summer, he was approached by Wheaton soccer coach Matt Cushing about doing some coaching, and with the April-August schedule of pro soccer, he found a fit on the sideline in the offseason, and a career was born.
After two solid years at Wheaton, during which he helped direct the Lyons to the national semifinals, O’Toole moved on to Division 1 Richmond University, where he spent five years. Ultimately, O’Toole determined that the Division 3 level was where he wanted to ply his trade most, and he found a fit at Bridgewater in 2009.
At Bridgewater, he inherited a team that had been neglected, in a conference that was extremely unforgiving, with such powers as 2010 national finalist Lynchburg College.
“That was such a great experience, it’s a great conference, and we really developed a positive atmosphere,’’ he said.
He took the team to Barcelona for spring break the first year, and made progress that wasn’t always visible on the scoreboard. But the groundwork was laid as Bridgewater made the postseason this past year.
“It was a good opportunity,’’ he said, “and I like to think I left it better than I found it.’’
At Amherst, head coach Justin Serpone was in a quandary last summer: his wife was expecting a child, around the time of the NCAA tournament, so it was essential to find an assistant with head coaching experience.
The Lord Jeffs had another terrific season, sweeping the NESCAC regular season and tournament titles and reaching the third round of the NCAA Division 3 tournament.
“That a team with final-four aspirations would believe in him really struck a chord with me and helped me take another look at his candidacy,’’ said Sullivan. “Working at Amherst also resonated with me. I deeply respect what they have done in terms of academic and athletic excellence.’’
Those qualifications helped him rise to the top of almost 300 applications, according to Sullivan; from there O’Toole won the job on his own merits.
“He’s so incredibly well prepared,’’ said Sullivan. “He has an affinity for the scholar-athlete and a vision to help Clark reach the upper echelon of NEWMAC play.’’
Battista is league player of the year
It was quite a week for former Oliver Ames basketball star Lauren Battista.
One day after earning Capital One NCAA Division 2 Academic All-America honors, the 6-foot Bentley University sophomore was named the Northeast-10 Player of the Year on Thursday morning.
Battista, the first Falcon to be deemed the conference’s top player since Rockland’s Keri Flynn shared the 2003 award, fills the stat sheet with game averages of 16.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.2 steals for the 24-3 Falcons (20-2 NE-10), ranked sixth nationally in Division 2. She is the only NE-10 player who is shooting at least 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the foul line.
“This is a tremendous honor for Lauren, a sophomore, to be named the Player of the Year in a conference with so many outstanding players,’’ said Bentley coach Barbara Stevens. “I know Lauren will be tremendously humbled by this award. She has played a key role in our success this season and truly exemplifies the term student-athlete.’’
Bentley will host a NE-10 quarterfinal this afternoon at 1 against the Stonehill-American International winner.
White wins honor
Noble & Greenough senior Oliver White (inset) is the state’s 2011-12 Gatorade Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year. The 5-11, 165-pound senior forward collected 15 goals and six assists this season, leading the Bulldogs (13-3-1) to the New England Prep School Athletic Council Class A tournament quarterfinals. The Belmont resident will play at Harvard.