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The first of May was a day of firsts for St. Mary's basketball standout Brianna Rudolph.
Rudolph, a junior guard, gave a verbal commitment to UMass Lowell Coach Sarah Behn, becoming the first St. Mary's basketball player ever to accept a Div. 1 full scholarship and the River Hawks' first recruit to commit since they became a Div. 1 program earlier this year. (UMass Lowell reportedly picked up another verbal commitment two days later.)
"Playing at the top level of women's basketball has always been a goal of mine, but I was never really sure if that would happen," said Rudolph. "I am extremely grateful that Coach Behn and UMass Lowell have given me this opportunity."
UMass Lowell is joining America East next year, effectively replacing BU, which is moving to the Patriot League.
Rudolph is coming off a spectacular year in which she set the school record for points in a season with 402, averaging 16.8 and scoring more than 20 eight times. She ranks fifth on the all-time scoring list (738 points), despite missing 18 games with an injury her sophomore year.
"Brianna is obviously one of the most talented players we have ever had. To have her get this scholarship is great for her, the school and our program," said St. Mary's Coach Jeff Newhall. "She has overcome a lot of obstacles along the way, including losing a year with a broken ankle. She deserves a lot of credit for making the dream of being a Div. 1 basketball player become a reality."
Rudolph came to St. Mary's as a freshman and made an immediate impact, starting on a state championship team in 2011. After the injury-marred sophomore year, she had a breakout junior season, earning Boston Herald All-Scholastic and Daily Item Player of the Year honors. St. Mary's is 51-8 in games in games in which Rudolph has played the last three years.
She was being recruited by a number of Div. 1 and Div. 2 schools. Playing for the Mass Thundercats AAU program run by Marvin Avery and Jim Ridley of Lynn, Rudolph had a very good showing at an AAU tournament in Connecticut the weekend of April 19-21. UMass Lowell was on the phone first thing on April 22 and, after a week of communication back and forth, Rudolph made an unofficial visit to the school on May 1 and made the verbal commitment.
"This is something that kind of transpired really quickly and I can't tell you how good it feels to have this process over so soon," said Rudolph, a good student with a 90 average who was attracted by UMass Lowell's criminal justice program. "St. Mary's has been a perfect fit for me. Without the people at the school this would not have been possible."
Rudolph will continue a tradition of St. Mary's players advancing to the next level. This past season, there were seven former Spartans playing collegiate basketball -- four in Div. 3 and three in Div. 2, including Tori Faieta, who is at Stonehill on a full scholarship, Ann Marie Idusuyi, who is at Assumption on a three-quarter scholarship and Cassi Amenta, who is at Merrimack on a full academic scholarship.
"We pride ourselves on our players going to college, so first and foremost we are excited about that," said Newhall, who in eight years as coach has had 27 of 27 seniors go to 4-year colleges. "To be able to place a player into Div. 1 makes it even more special."
Newhall credited Ridley and Avery -- the former and current Lynn Tech boys basketball coaches, respectively -- with playing a significant role in Rudolph's development as a player and bringing her to national tournaments so colleges could see her play.