WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Diane “Dee” Stephan has been named the sixth permanent head coach in the 25-year history of the Eastern Connecticut State University women’s lacrosse program, it was announced Friday by director of athletics Lori Runksmeier.
A native of Clinton and current resident of Avon, Stephan brings an abundance of coaching and administrative experience, and business acumen to Eastern, which competes in the Division 3 Little East Conference.
She is the founder and owner of the Avon-based Dodgers, Inc., an elite travel lacrosse program for girls that trains and teaches grade-school student-athletes and which has grown to encompass 11 states since its creation 10 years ago.
Stephan’s appointment – which begins immediately — follows the department’s recent decision to split the field hockey and women’s lacrosse head coaching positions, both of which were previously held by Christine Hutchison since 2007. Hutchison will remain as the full-time head field hockey coach.
“What intrigued me about the job,” said Stephan, “is that there is a lot of potential here. I’ve learned over the years that I’m really good at taking what is there – what I’ve been given – and maximizing it. I think that one of my strengths is taking the type of student-athlete that I inherit, and helping them maximize their potential.”
Stephan’s previous collegiate coaching experience came as head women’s lacrosse coach at the University of Saint Joseph for one year in 2011 and as a graduate assistant field hockey coach at Syracuse University in 1988.
While Stephan prides herself on an ability to maximize the available talent, she points to the university’s academic reputation as a selling point in her effort to attract potential recruits.
“I really feel that the academics are a lot stronger than I think some people in Connecticut realize,” she said. “I think that Eastern is positioned very well to really make a dent, recruiting-wise, in the Northeast.”
For 17 years beginning in 2000, Stephan has coached women’s varsity lacrosse at Avon, Canton and Lewis Mills high schools, and field hockey at Windsor High School; she also coached women’s lacrosse for five years at The Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, where her teams won league titles every season and went on to reach the finals of the Western New England Prep School Class C championship three times, winning twice.
Her teams at Avon qualified for the state tournament each year after her first season, reaching the Division 1 second round twice and the quarterfinals once.
Administratively, Stephan served as director of athletics and as assistant to the head of school at Ethel Walker, and director of athletics at Canton High School.
Stephan has also been a driving force in the administration and advancement of girls’ and women’s lacrosse in Connecticut for 25 years at both the public school level and as a member of US Lacrosse.
Stephan was inducted in the second class of the Connecticut Lacrosse Foundation Hall of Fame (a seven-person class that included Eastern’s men’s lacrosse founder, Rick McCarthy) in 2010 for her numerous contributions to lacrosse in Connecticut.
She played field hockey as a freshman at the University of Connecticut, where she was part of a program that won the national title during the first contested NCAA Division 1 tournament in 1981.
After injuring her knee during a tryout with US Field Hockey during the summer of 1982, she transferred to Southern Connecticut State University, where she played the 1982 and ‘83 seasons.
In 25 years, the Eastern women’s lacrosse program has gone 221-189 for a 53.9 winning percentage, including a 2-2 record during the abbreviated 2020 season.
This past spring’s 20-person roster featured 11 freshmen and sophomores. Top returnees in 2021 figure to be midfielder Tristan Kijak (Windsor, Conn.), an All-Little East Conference selection in both of her full seasons at Eastern after transferring from Union College; and attack Sydney Hogan (North Branford, Conn.), who shared the team scoring lead in 2019 in her first season as a Division 2 transfer from Post University.