When she arrived at Canton High as a freshman, Sam Sullivan had never played lacrosse. She loved soccer and that was the sport she was focused on (and would play all four years in high school), but in the spring Sullivan was convinced by several friends to tryout for the lacrosse team. Although she had never picked up a lacrosse stick in a competitive game before, Sullivan made the team and was even called up to varsity that season.
“I was like, ‘sure, I’ll try out too,’ and I picked it up very fast and I started to fall in love with the game,” Sullivan said in a phone call hours before the now senior at Plymouth State got on a bus for a trip to Western Connecticut looking to keep the Panthers atop the Little East Conference (LEC) lacrosse standings.
“I definitely did not think this was going to happen,” she added, “because my first love was soccer and I was very into it and lacrosse was just like, ‘yeah, I’ll try it out for fun,’ and then it turned more into my passion.”
It is not just love for the game that keep Sullivan on the field, but also her talent. With six goals and three assists against Western Connecticut on Saturday afternoon, Sullivan increased her season totals to 34 and 17. The 51 points she has accumulated this season have moved her into a tie for 12th on the program’s all-time scoring list with 172, just four points away from the top 10.
In last year’s LEC Tournament final, Sullivan scored five times and recorded an assist in a one-goal victory over Eastern Conn. that secured the program’s sixth title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Sullivan was named Most Outstanding Player in the tournament and earned all-LEC First Team honors after becoming just the second player in program history to score 50-plus goals in back-to-back seasons.
“It’s definitely the love for the game and you know if you really want something and you really want to play then you’re going to do whatever you can to get better and to help your team out,” said Sullivan of her growth as a player since arriving at the New Hampshire campus. “Whenever I had an opportunity to be on the field to shoot or to play in pick-up, I was out there.”
Making the transition from high school to college athletics is always difficult, but Sullivan credited the coaching staff and the upperclassmen for helping her adjust to the demanding schedule that included practices, film study, lifting, and game prep. After just one season with the Panthers, Sullivan was ready to break out, scoring 51 goals as a sophomore and 53 as a junior.
“After freshman year, I just knew how our program worked and how it ran, so going into my sophomore year my preparation and confidence really upped my game,” she explained. “I knew that I could play with some of these girls, so I just worked hard in shooting and conditioning and it turned out good.”
It has definitely been good for the Panthers, who used Sullivan’s goals to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. It was a quick trip, as Plymouth State was matched up with Middlebury (Conn.) in the first round and the defending national champions won 13-1. Still, it was a learning experience for the team and one that Sullivan says the Panthers have built on this spring.
“We took those games and learnt from them to know that our defense can play against such a high-caliber team,” Sullivan said. “We know that we can play that way, so when we get into the season we know that we’ve seen harder and we can do it. We just try to keep in mind that we are a very good team and not to play down to other teams.”
Plymouth State got off to an inconsistent start, going 3-3 over the opening six games, but has found its groove with seven straight wins and is currently leading the LEC with two conference games remaining in the regular season. Two more wins and the Panthers will host the conference tournament with the goal of winning a second straight title.
Sullivan has been a big part of the Panthers’ run to the top of the conference standings. She has recorded at least three points in all but one of the LEC games and in early April was recognized as the LEC Defensive Player of the Week, which is an impressive honor for an attacker.
In a pair of wins that week, Sullivan led the team with 10 ground balls and eight caused turnovers. Against Castleton University, she had seven ground balls and four caused turnovers, while also scoring three times and assisting on another goal.
“I was really honored to get that award because, for an attacker, that’s not likely, but it stems from a great team ride,” she said. “It’s a really good feeling, but it’s just whatever my team needs me to do, whether it’s score goals or assist or play defense. I’m just trying to work all aspects of the field to try to get us to our goals.”
Sullivan is leading from the front, pushing the Panthers towards their goals.
“Coming off that great year, we know what it takes to get there so we’re just working really hard and trying to do what we can to get back there,” Sullivan said. “For me, as a senior, it’s my last year, so I don’t want to hold anything back.
“There’s so many ups and downs in lacrosse and it’s all about momentum, so we’re just trying to keep our momentum throughout the rest of the season.”
While Sullivan is looking forward to another playoff run, she is hopeful that her involvement in the sport will continue beyond her days as a player.
“I would love to coach,” she said. “I had great coaches all eight years and I really learned a lot from them and I would love to coach or even still play pick-up when I can. Last season, Canton was looking for a coach and I was like, ‘oh maybe next year,’ so maybe I could try to coach there.”
There are plenty of programs that would be interested in a coach with Sam Sullivan’s playing resume, but that is a concern for next year. Right now, all that she has on her mind is Plymouth State and its quest for another LEC crown.