Top Moments in Western New England’s Athletic History!

The history of Western New England athletics dates back to 1966, when the Department was established with three original teams—baseball, men’s basketball, and men’s soccer. Legendary coach Arthur William “Red” Downes G’83, who is honored by The Downes Athletic Hall of Fame, came on board two years later, beginning his 50-year association with the University.

Western New England’s success in the early years was highlighted by the men’s basketball and men’s soccer teams, which routinely competed for NAIA District titles. Basketball became the school’s first women’s sport in 1976, and softball followed in 1979.

The Department continued to expand its women’s sports program with the additions of field hockey and women’s soccer in 1981 and 1984, respectively. At the end of the decade, the men’s basketball squad became the first Western New England team to reach the NCAA Tournament in 1989-90.

With the transition to a full-time coaching staff and the expansion of athletic facilities in the 1990s and early 2000s, Western New England entered an era that saw the Golden Bears leave their mark at the conference, regional, and national levels.

Men's Basketball Appears in Consecutive NAIA National Tournaments in 1969-70, 1970-71


Just four years into the men’s basketball program’s existence, the Golden Bears found themselves on the national stage at the NAIA playoffs in St. Louis at the conclusion of the 1969-70 campaign. The following season, Western New England went 19-7 and again reached the NAIA National Tournament.

1975 Men's Soccer Team Finishes Fourth Nationally


With Downes as head coach and offensive maestro Mark Staropoli ’76 (52 career goals) serving as team captain, the 1975 men’s soccer team set a program record for wins, going 15-4-2, and won the NAIA New England Championship. The Golden Bears went on to compete in the NAIA National Tournament, finishing fourth.

Rodney Smith ’89/G’03 Captures Olympic Bronze Medal at 1992 Summer Olympics


Smith, a 1989 Western New England graduate and two-time All-American during his time as a Golden Bear wrestler, achieved Olympic glory in 1992 when he captured the bronze medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain. Smith went on to captain the United States squad at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Women's Soccer Wins 1998 ECAC Metro Tournament


Led by Hall of Fame coach Ron Dias, the 1998 women’s soccer team went 20-2 and claimed the ECAC Metro Tournament title with wins over Western Connecticut and Drew University. The next year, Dias guided the Golden Bears to the NCAA Tournament, marking the first time a Western New England women’s program reached the national stage.

Men's Basketball Goes Back-to-Back in 2000 and 2001


The late Doug Pearson took charge of the men’s basketball program ahead of the 1998-99 campaign, a year after the Golden Bears posted a 2-23 record. Coach Pearson’s first squad went 14-11, before the 1999-00 team turned in a 22-6 mark, won the GNAC title, and reached the NCAA Tournament. The following year, Western New England appeared on the national stage again and repeated as GNAC champion. 

Softball Reaches NCAA Final Eight in 2003


After earning its first conference title in 2002, the 2003 softball team made program history as the Golden Bears won the New England Regional title and reached the NCAA Final Eight in Salem, VA. Lori Mayhew-Wood’s squad, which was anchored by future Downes Athletic Hall of Fame pitcher Marcie Bruder ’03, went 32-7 and finished the season ranked 10th in the final national poll.

Men's Soccer Makes Consecutive Sweet 16 Appearances in 2005 and 2006


The men’s soccer program’s run of success under head coach Erin Sullivan was highlighted by back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Round of 16 in 2005 and 2006. The 2005 squad set a program record for wins, going 21-3 overall.

Men's Lacrosse Breaks Through with Historic 2007 Campaign


Coming off four consecutive runner-up finishes in the Pilgrim League Tournament, the 2007 men’s lacrosse team posted a 17-1 record, won the Pilgrim League title, and made the first of three consecutive appearances in the NCAA quarterfinals. John Klepacki was named the national Coach of the Year, and five players earned All-America honors for a squad that was ranked as high as No. 3 nationally.

Baseball Advances to NCAA DIII College World Series in 2011


Led by former Head Coach (and current Director of Athletics) Matt LaBranche, the baseball program won five consecutive conference championships from 2006-10. The Golden Bears reached new heights in 2011, as WNE racked up a school-record 42 victories, captured the New England Regional title, and advanced to the Division III College World Series for the first time in program history. 

Football Wins First NCAA Tournament Contest in 2016


The football program won its first conference title in 2011, before posting a historic 10-0 regular season record in 2015 en route to another NCAA Tournament appearance. The 2016 Golden Bears made program history when they defeated Husson 44-27 in the first round of the NCAA playoffs.

Visit for news on all our teams and to learn about and read about our 20th varsity sport: Women’s Ice Hockey coming in 2020.