OSWEGO — While an assistant coach at Cornell last season, Diane Dillon believed the women’s hockey program was on the verge of returning to prominence. The Big Red beat both Harvard and Brown in the same season for the first time in several years, and the team had greater expectations in store. Why then, did she leave Ithaca to take the reigns of the new Division III Oswego State program?
“Oswego presents a tremendous opportunity for me that was too good to pass up,” said Dillon. “I have the chance to start from scratch and not inherit another coach’s players.”
Dillon had been the assistant coach at Division I Cornell University for five seasons. As a player, she was one the school’s most prolific scorers — 7th in goals (65), 5th in assists (79), and 6th in total points (144).
“It was a tough decision for me to leave Cornell,” said Dillon.
SUNY Oswego is known for fielding a strong men’s hockey team year in and year out. The women’s program faces a tough task for a first-year team trying to emerge from the shadow of a powerhouse men’s team as well as playing in the ECAC West Conference. The ECAC West is among the toughest conferences in the country with national powerhouses Elmira and Plattsburgh, plus ambitious programs like Utica and Neumann.
“I’m excited to say the least,” Dillon said of the opportunity to compete in the ECAC West. “We will get a quick measurement on how good of a team we are. It’s a daunting task, but the only way for our program to get better is by playing the best Division III has to offer.”
Due to the late naming of Dillon as the head coach at Oswego in March, recruiting has been tough.
“We’ve had to start really fast,” said Dillon. “There is a lot of interest right now in our program. However, we only have eight commitments right now and seven more going through the application process.”
Dillon’s strongest recruiting tool has been the brand new campus center rink opening on the Oswego State campus. Oswego’s new rink has drawn comparisons to Middlebury’s Chip Kenyon ’85 Arena, widely considered the premier Division III hockey facility in the country.
“The new rink has helped recruiting not only because it is brand new, but also the fact that is shows the commitment of this university to its hockey program and the community,” Dillon said.
The schedule for Oswego’s inaugural women’s hockey season includes 22 games, with 12 at home and 10 on the road. In addition to the 14-game ECAC West Conference schedule, the team plays extra games against Chatham and Utica. Castleton State, Plymouth State, and St. Olaf are the nonconference opponents.
“I thought that it was best for us to stay away from the Middlebury’s of the world in our first season,” said Dillon. “We already will have a strong schedule for a first year team just from playing in the ECAC West.”
Oswego seems to be off on the right foot with an extremely dedicated coach in Dillon. The community will find out how much her hard work paid off Saturday afternoon, when the Lakers take the ice for the first time.
“I want a team that will work hard everyday and one that has character and talent,” Dillon said of her expectations for this season. “These players will lay the foundation for Oswego women’s hockey. I’m optimistic that we will compete in every game regardless of the score.”