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Belchertown’s Ben LaClair, Amherst’s Anna Casagrande sign letters of intent

  • Left to right: Williston Northampton students Shana Hecht (Sacred Heart, lacrosse), Mason Balch (Bryant, lacrosse), Tori Palumbo (New Hampshire, field hockey and ice hockey), Gabby Jones (Merrimack, ice hockey), Duncan LeXander (Charleston Southern, basketball), Julia MacLean, (Merrimack, ice hockey) and Rob Champigny (Rollins, lacrosse) pose after signing their respective National Letters of Intent, Friday. COURTESY WILLISTON NORTHAMPTON

  • Amherst Regional senior Anna Casagrande signs her National Letter of Intent to play golf at Division II Southern New Hampshire. COURTESY AMHERST REGIONAL

  • BEN LACLAIR

  • Belchertown junior Benjamin LaClair wins the 200-yard freestyle at the 2017 Western Massachusetts Swimming and Diving Championships. LaClair signed a National Letter of Intent on Tuesday to swim at Seton Hall. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING



For the Gazette
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

BELCHERTOWN — Sitting behind a table that read “We Are Orioles,” Ben LaClair decided to become a Pirate when he signed his National Letter of Intent to swim for Seton Hall next year.

With his parents in attendance, the defending state Division 2 500-yard freestyle champion penned his name to be a Division I collegiate swimmer. LaClair thanked his parents, coaches and teammates, all of whom have pushed him to this point.

The recruiting process began in April, when LaClair took an unofficial visit to the university in South Orange, New Jersey. LaClair was in contact with new Seton Hall coach Derek Sapp to arrange the visit.

“I went for a day trip but I got everything I needed out of it,” said LaClair, who will major in computer science. “Getting a personal tour, getting to be able to spend a couple hours with the guys on the team, and watching them meet, it was a great experience.”

LaClair’s parents, Chris and Mary, are proud of what he has accomplished.

Last season, Seton Hall won its first Big East championship.

“We’re excited for him because he’s excited to go there. We’re pleased with the decision,” Chris LaClair said. “Academically, it’s going to be a good fit for him, and they’re part of the Big East.”

LaClair was a captain and leading goal scorer for the Belchertown soccer team this fall. He may have been able to play soccer, but he was pulled toward swimming.

“It’s where I’ve got to be,” he said.

Neither Mary nor Chris swam competitively. Ben first started at 5 years old as something to do after school. He naturally took to the water and by 10 he was ranked in New England.

For Bruce Hastings, Belchertown’s dean of students and athletic director, LaClair is his first student to sign a national letter of intent.

“Take away the academics, take away the athletic skills that he has, he’s just a good kid,” Hastings said. “He’s definitely what Belchertown is all about.”

CASAGRANDE HEADS NORTH — Amherst Regional senior Anna Casagrande signed her letter of intent to play golf at Division II Southern New Hampshire in Manchester.

Casagrande averaged a 43 for the Hurricanes. She shot a 96 at the Western Massachusetts Girls Golf Championship on Oct. 5, and a 93 at the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Championships, Oct. 23.

The Penmen compete in the Northeast 10.

7 WILDCATS SIGN — Williston Northampton held a ceremony on Friday for seven athletes who signed letters of intent.

Shana Hecht will play Division I women’s lacrosse at Sacred Heart, while Mason Balch will play men’s lacrosse at Division I Bryant.

Tori Palumbo will double up in college, playing field hockey and ice hockey at Division 1 New Hampshire.

Ice hockey teammates Gabby Jones and Julia MacLean will both attend and play the sport at Division I Merrimack.

Duncan LeXander is headed to Division I Charleston Southern for men’s basketball.

Rob Champigny signed to Division II Rollins College for men’s lacrosse.

Staff writer Mike Moran contributed to this report.