PAWTUCKET, R.I.-Throughout its 30-year history, the Little East Conference has expanded from a basketball only conference into one that includes 19 sporting championships. One of these expansions occurred in 2002 with the addition of men’s and women’s lacrosse. The Plymouth State Panthers women’s lacrosse program quickly became the dominant force in the Little East Conference.
Women’s lacrosse at Plymouth State has long exceeded the formation of the Little East Conference. Beginning in 1971, the Panthers have prided themselves on having competitive teams in the sport. This was clear when they began play with the Little East Conference in 2002, in which they captured the first 5 regular season titles, including 4 tournament championships.
During this stretch, the Panthers posted an astounding 78-18 record, and did not lose a single regular season game in the Little East Conference, including finishing the 2004 season with a 17-1 record and an appearance in the regional finals of the NCAA tournament.
The teams were led by midfielder Katie Sheridan, who captured three straight LEC Offensive Player of the Year awards during her sophomore through senior seasons in 2002-04. Sheridan was inducted into the Little East Conference Hall of Fame in October 2016. Midfielders Kelsey MacDonald and Nicole Evans were also honored with the LEC Offensive Player of the Year award after Sheridan graduated. On the defensive end, midfielder Sacha Jackson was honored with the LEC Defensive Player of the Year award in 2002, while goaltender Carmen Villanueva was earned the LEC’s highest defensive honor following the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
Plymouth State accomplished these milestones under the tutelage of two different coaches. The 2002-2004 teams were guided by head coach Wynne Lobel, who now coaches at Pacific University. She spent four years with the Panthers, all of which included regular season conference championships. Her successor, Paula Habel, continued the success that the program had been accustomed to, finishing 26-11 during her two seasons at the helm. Both coaches were given the LEC Coach of the Year award for their efforts, Coach Lobel in 2002, 2003, and 2004, and Coach Habel earned the honor in 2006.
After their dominating run, the Panthers had a string of tough seasons in the wake of more competitive programs sprouting up in the Little East Conference, particularly the programs at Eastern Connecticut and Keene State. The Panthers have rallied back in recent years, finishing as runner up in the conference championship in 2007, 2015, and 2016. The Panthers won the 2014 Little East Conference Championship game. The program was picked as the 2017 LEC women’s lacrosse preseason favorites, as voted on by the conference coaches.
The historic competitive success the LEC has achieved throughout the 30 years, beginning as a basketball only conference in 1986 and expanding into today’s 19-Championship Sport Conference, will continue to make academic and athletic strides as the LEC continues to be the premier Division III conference of the New England region.
The Little East Conference was formed in 1986 when six public institutions gathered to create a single sport athletic conference and has expanded into what is now New England’s premier athletic conference for public institutions in NCAA Division III. The LEC features 19 Championship Sports and sponsors quality competition in every season for our student athletes while following the Division III mission of passion, responsibility, sportsmanship and citizenship.