New challenges await CU in Little East

At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year Castleton University athletics will be leaving the North Atlantic Conference and joining the Little East Conference as its ninth member.

Sports joining the Little East include baseball, softball, basketball, cross country, field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field and volleyball.

Teams currently in the Little East include Eastern Connecticut State University, Keene State College, Plymouth State University, Rhode Island College, University of Massachusetts Boston, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, University of Southern Maine and Western Connecticut University.

“I’m excited to see new competition and am proud to say that I was given the opportunity to compete in both conferences. I am also proud to say that I am a NAC champion that will be facing the Little East,” said junior softball player Victoria Swaine.

Many other Castleton athletes say they too are excited for this new change including Julian Santos, a junior point guard for the men’s basketball team.

“I have been playing in the NAC for three years now, so it is exciting to be able to experience new challenges and see new places for my final senior season. We have a lot of young guys on the team this year so I think the leap in competition will make them even tougher and will be a big step for their development as players,” he said.

Junior forward Ajla Medic of the women’s basketball team said there are plenty of reasons to support the change.

“I feel as though it will be a big step in the right direction for our sports teams. We are going to join one of the best conferences in the country and I think it will be a great challenge for us. Castleton is constantly improving, and this is definitely a big step in the right direction,” she said.

For some, however, the Little East will offer a familiar feel.

“I am from Connecticut, so anytime we go play at Connecticut State or Western Connecticut it’s going to feel like a homecoming for me. It’s going to be a special feeling playing in front of familiar people and familiar places,” says Casey Belade, a sophomore guard on the men’s basketball team.

The end of this academic year will be Castleton’s last season in the North Atlantic Conference, a conference it has been a member of since 2001. Castleton University boasts nine conference titles over the past two years and 30 conference titles in 10 different sports over the past five seasons. The university is also now home to more than 600 student athletes.

The Little East Conference began on April 28, 1986. Baseball has become the conference’s biggest sport. Eastern Connecticut State University and the University of Southern Maine have combined for a total of six Division III National Titles in baseball alone. The Little East also has a number of conference teams recognized in national top 25 polls each year.

Castleton University is the first member to join the Little East Conference since Keene State in 1997 and school leaders decided to leave the NAC for several reasons.

“The LEC is made up of all state institutions, unlike the NAC that is a mix of state and private schools. The LEC is a better fit for Castleton being a state institution. The footprint of the NAC has expanded outside New England making travel to longer distances costing more money,” says Deanna Tyson, associate dean for Athletics and Recreation at Castleton.

Tyson said she too is excited for the new competition Castleton will be facing, “As far as our student-athletes in the LEC, I look forward to seeing our athletes compete at a higher level. I think our students will rise to the level of competition that is needed to win conference championships. I am not saying it will be easy, but it will be a challenge that at the end of the season will be well deserved if a team makes it to the NCAA tournament,” she said.

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