PAWTUCKET, R.I. – For the fourth time in the last five seasons, the Plymouth State Panthers' women's lacrosse program have been tabbed as the Little East Conference preseason favorites as voted on by the league's head coaches. The Panthers earned 44 points with two first-place votes to narrowly edge out the defending champions, Keene State College by one point.
Led by first-year head coach, Sandy Bridgeman, the Panthers return its entire 2016 squad that finished as the Little East Conference runner-up after falling to the Owls in the championship match 11-8. The Panthers have a strong core of upperclassmen leading the charge this season with the return of three LEC All-Conference First Team selections in seniors Caroline Vonachen (Framingham, Mass.), Megan Brault (South Windsor, Conn.) and junior Megan Tingsley (Natick, Mass.). Senior captain Megan Lunetta (Plymouth, Mass.) returns as the team's top defender to solidify the Panthers defense. The Panthers will lean on their strong senior leadership this season as they look to improve on last season's 11-7 overall record (3-3 LEC).
The defending champions, Keene State College placed second in the 2017 women's lacrosse preseason poll with 43 points and three first-place votes. Head coach Katie Arsenault enters her ninth year for an Owls team that is returning 12 players led by a group of experienced student-athletes. Senior attacker Taylor Graf (Hanover, Mass.) is back to lead the Owls once again after a 2016 campaign where Graf recorded an NCAA Division III best 66 assists and led the Little East Conference with 82 points. The Owls will need to lean on midfielder's Taylor Farland (Fiskdale, Mass.) and Tori Weinstock (Brookfield, Conn.) offensively in 2017 after losing leading goal-scorer Kaitlin Nolan to graduation. Farland and Weinstock combined for a total of 53 goals, the same number of goals Nolan had by herself last season.
Eastern Connecticut State earned two first-place votes to place third overall in the women's lacrosse preseason poll with 41 points. The Warriors are returning 10 starters and 17 student-athletes overall from a 2016 squad that finished 11-6 overall and 5-1 in the LEC for a share of the regular season title with the Owls. The Warriors have established high expectations this season with three Little East Conference major award winners returning. Senior midfielder Paige Schneider (East Lyme, Conn.) was named the 2016 LEC Midfielder of the Year after she finished last season with 57 total goals and placed inside the top-10 with 64 points. Schneider is joined by the 2016 LEC Defensive Player of the Year, Devyne Doran (South Kingstown, R.I.). Doran had 48 ground balls (4th in LEC), 50 draw controls (5th in LEC) and tallied 31 caused turnovers for third best in the Little East. The Warriors also have the 2016 LEC Rookie of the Year in Michelina Pinto (Groton, Conn.). Pinto placed ninth in the Little East with 36 goals and found the net consistently, shooting 63.2%, which placed her inside the top-5 among the conference stars. Coach Christine Hutchison also returns junior defender Taylor Behn (Amherst, N.H.) and Taylor Emmerson (Colchester, Conn.), both All-LEC performers a year ago.
Western Connecticut State placed fourth in the 2017 preseason poll with 30 points. Second year head coach Jenn Thomas has several All-LEC performers coming back for the new campaign. Senior Carley Altemose (Stratford, Conn.), a First-Team All-LEC selection last season returns for the Colonials to solidify the defense in 2017. Altemose collected 23 ground balls and had 36 defensive controls while causing 15 turnovers last season. Senior attacker and last season's top scorer for Western Connecticut, Destinee Carey (New Milford, Conn.) is also back this season after scoring 52 goals a year ago. Meaghan Gustafson (Newington, Conn.), the two-time LEC women's soccer tournament Most Outstanding Player will bring her championship pedigree to the lacrosse season. Gustafson was fifth on the team with 20 goals scored. Junior Olivia Kosilla (Ellington, Conn.) brings back her 24 goals for the Colonials this year as well.
The UMass Dartmouth Corsairs are returning 16 players from a year ago for third year head coach Keith Cory. The Corsairs placed fifth in the 2017 LEC women's lacrosse preseason poll with 27 points. Despite losing Colleen Kane, the 2016 LEC Offensive Player of the Year, the Corsairs will lean on their 11 returning starters, led by a pair of All-Little East performers in Leah Douty (Framingham, Mass.) and Kathryn Gibb (Georgetown, Mass.). Douty recorded 50 points from 35 goals and 15 assists and Gibb had 10 points along with 27 ground balls and 18 caused turnovers. The Corsairs are looking to build upon and improve from last season's 8-8 (3-3 LEC) record in 2017.
The University of Southern Maine placed sixth in this season's preseason poll with 25 points. Head coach Ashley Dyer is returning a core senior class after going 6-10 (2-4 LEC) last season. The Huskies will be led by a pair of senior attackers in Lauren Lessard (Lewiston, Maine) and Sam Campobasso (Buxton, Maine). Lessard recorded 30 points on 20 goals and 10 assists in 2016 and Campobasso was second on the Huskies in scoring with 35 goals and 52 points. The Huskies graduated its leading scorer in Sarah Pelligrinelli (52 goals).
Rounding out the 2017 Little East Conference preseason poll is Rhode Island College with 16 points. The Anchorwomen finished 2016 with a 4-10 (0-6 LEC) record, but have nine starters returning to provide the needed experience. Sophomore Tess Bradley (Tiverton, R.I.), a two-time LEC Rookie of the Week selection a year ago is back to lead the RIC offense once again after scoring 35 goals last season. Joining Bradley is senior Betsy Heidel (Warwick, R.I.) and junior Allison Smedberg (Cranston, R.I.). Heidel found the back of the net 23 times last season and Smedberg added 13 points a year ago, starting all 14 games.
The 2017 women's lacrosse season kicks off next weekend with two of the league's eight programs seeing action. The 2017 Little East Conference Championship qualifies the top six institutions in the LEC regular season standings with the top two seeds receiving a first round bye and host the semifinal round. The LEC Quarterfinals begins on Tuesday, May 2, 2017, the semifinal round will be Thursday, May 4, 2017 and the Championship game will be Saturday, May 6th at the home of the highest-seeded team remaining.
The Little East Conference was formed in 1986 when six public institutions gathered to create a single sport (basketball) 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.
2017 LEC Women's Lacrosse Preseason Poll
|Institution||First Place Votes||Total Points|
|1. Plymouth State University||2||44|
|2. Keene State College||3||43|
|3. Eastern Connecticut State||2||41|
|4. Western Connecticut State||30|
|5. UMass Dartmouth||27|
|6. University of Southern Maine||25|
|7. Rhode Island College||16|