PAWTUCKET, R.I. – For the fourth consecutive season, Keene State sits atop the field hockey preseason coaches’ poll, earning 110 points and five first-place votes. The Owls will look to win their fifth-straight LEC title but the coaches predict competition for the crown in 2017.
The Owls enter 2017 coming off of an 11-0 conference season one year ago. Head coach Amy Watson sees the return of Erica Stauffer (18 goals) and Julia Babbit (13 goals) who finished second and third on the team respectively. The Owls will have to make up for the loss of five key players, including LEC Offensive Player of the Year Sami Smith who led the conference in goals (36), assists (13) and points (85) in 2016, as well as 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Marita Brothers.
The Worcester State Lancers took home second place in the poll with 108 points but received more first-place votes than Keene State, earning six top nods from the coaches. The Lancers finished 2016 with a 13-6 (9-2 LEC) record, to finish second in the standings. 2016 Coach of the Year Alexa Carlson has a strong group of veterans returning including forward Michaila Parent and goalkeeper Kathryn Salemme who were both named Second-Team All-Conference last year. The 2016 Rookie of the Year Olivia Antonelli also returns for the Lancers after leading the team in goals last season with 13.
Plymouth State picked up the final first-place vote from the coaches and finished third in the poll with 101 points and earned the most second-place votes (5) in the poll. The Panthers bring back eight starters from a team that finished 11-6 (7-4 LEC) a season ago. Head coach Bonnie Lord will look for production from Second Team All-LEC player Katie Martin who finished second on the team in 2016 with 10 goals. Top goal-scorer Nicole Burgess leaves a void at the forward position after graduating.
The Bridgewater State Bears will also be looking to make some noise in the regular season after finishing fourth in the coaches’ poll with 81 points. The Bears return six starters to a team that finished 11-7 (6-5 LEC) in 2016. Head coach Tia Pydnyskowski lost First-Team All Conference player and leading scorer Brittany Cullinane to graduation but returns Samantha Hayes and Katherine McKenna who both earned Third-Team All Conference distinction last season. Hayes enters as the leading remaining scorer from the team last year, netting eight goals in 2016.
A tight race is predicted for spots 5-8 in the standings with Fitchburg State earning 68 points, Southern Maine getting 65 points and Eastern Connecticut and Westfield State tying with 62 points. Rounding out the poll is UMass Dartmouth (56), Western Connecticut (45), Salem State (18) and Framingham State (16).
2017 Little East Conference Field Hockey Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Keene State – 110 (5)
2. Worcester State – 108 (6)
3. Plymouth State – 101 (1)
4. Bridgewater State - 81
5. Fitchburg State - 68
6. Southern Maine - 65
7. Eastern Connecticut State - 62
Westfield State – 62
9. UMass Dartmouth – 56
10. Western Connecticut – 45
11. Salem State - 18
12. Framingham State - 16
Conference play will consist of each team meeting each other once during the regular season, with interleague play scheduled to begin on September 6. The top-eight teams in the final regular season conference standings will participate in the 2016 LEC Field Hockey Championship. The tournament is scheduled to begin on October 28, with the championship match scheduled for November 4.
Formed in 1986, the Little East serves as New England's premier athletic conference for public institutions in NCAA Division III. Featuring 19 championship sports, the Little East sponsors quality competition in every season for our student athletes. Our eight state colleges and universities dedicate themselves to an ongoing fulfillment of the Division III mission of passion, responsibility, sportsmanship, and citizenship.