Sunset Social Raises $10,000
The 15- to 20-minute sunset cruise boat rides up and down the Merrimack must have felt like gentle victory laps on July 7, as the first Sunset Social celebrated the University’s national champion field hockey team.
Delayed two weeks thanks to lousy weather, this Thursday evening was a mix of clear, balmy skies under a crescent moon and succulent lobster and steamers. About 120 players, family members, alumni and donors – avid supporters of River Hawks athletics – got a chance to mingle with the athletes they support at a festively decked-out Bellegarde Boathouse.
The Sunset Social will be an annual event, with a different River Hawks team benefiting each year. It made sense that this year’s most celebrated and decorated squad was feted at the debut.
The evening raised $10,000, a total to be matched by an anonymous donor.
It was a long way from the 36-degree day in Louisville, Ky., last Dec. 4, when coach Shannon Hlebichuk watched her 2010 team nail down the national Division II field hockey title, topping Shippensburg 1-0 before 400 fans, including a dozen or so River Hawks field hockey alumni.
Hlebichuk was this year named DII National Coach of the Year for the fourth time in nine years at UMass Lowell. In her own career at UMass Lowell from 1994-1998, she was a two-year captain, the school’s fourth all-time scorer and the 1997-98 NCAA Bay State Woman of the Year. She was a classroom standout, too.
The win nailed the lid on a 24-0 season for the River Hawks, who made the Final Four every year from 2003 to 2008, including their first national championship in 2005. But this was different. The 2010 team that has consistently brought distinction to the University did it in a big way this time, outscoring opponents 119-8, becoming the first undefeated national championship team in school history.
One of the benefits of such success is galvanizing, as it creates “a powerful, unifying force,” says the University’s Athletic Director Dana Skinner. “The entire UMass Lowell community has rallied around the remarkable achievements of the team, and is showing their support in very tangible ways.”
Among the supporters is the anonymous donor who is matching the $10,000 raised at the Sunset Social. After he met Hlebichuk in late April, he offered a generous $25,000 scholarship fund spread over five years, plus the $10,000 matching donation.
Aside from that which is dedicated to scholarships, the money will support the program with new equipment and defray costs and expenses such as travel that previously fell upon the players and their families, says Hlebichuk.
Such are the possibilities when you are No. 1.