Former WNE mentor relishes challenge as Warriors' new head coach
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - Matt LaBranche, the most successful coach in the history of the Western New England University baseball program, has been appointed head coach of the most successful program in the history of New England college baseball. LaBranche, 43, the former 14-year head coach at WNE, has been appointed the sixth coach in the 66-year history of the Eastern Connecticut State University program.
He officially begins his duties July 31.
At WNE in his first collegiate head coaching assignment, LaBranche compiled an overall record of 429-187 (.696) and leaves as that program's all-time coaching leader in wins, winning percentage, seasons, and games (616).
A native of Windham, N.H. and a former catcher at Springfield College, LaBranche inherits one of the top three most successful baseball programs in Division III. In 65 seasons, Eastern has qualified for 39 post-season tournaments, competed in 14 national tournaments, and won four NCAA Division III national titles (most recently in 2002). Last spring, Eastern posted its 12th season of at least 30 wins in the last 13 years and its 29th since 1973, finishing 30-13-1.
"I am honored to become part of a program that is synonymous with excellence in Division III baseball", noted LaBranche. "And I plan on working hard to add to an extraordinary history. I always saw myself as a person who would want a new challenge and a new opportunity," he added. "It's been an emotional couple of weeks, but I'm really excited making the transition and getting started. I met the people (at Eastern) and it's a great community. There are a lot of things to be excited about."
At WNE, LaBranche's teams competed in post-season tournament play every season. He led the Golden Bears to ten NCAA Division III Tournament berths, eight coming in succession through 2013. In each of the last two seasons after reaching its first national tournament in 2011, WNE has lost both of its regional tournament games to the eventual regional champion (Wheaton College in 2012 and University of Southern Maine in 2013), both of whom went on to reach the national championship round.
In addition to his coaching duties, LaBranche served as coordinator of physical education at WNE for the last six years.
Photo courtesy of Western New England Sports Information.
"Coach LaBranche brings a demonstrated commitment to academic excellence and community engagement which is in line with the University's mission and core values," noted Kenneth M. Bedini, Vice President of Student Affairs at Eastern.
This past season, WNE recorded its sixth straight 30-win season (ninth in the last ten years), sharing The Commonwealth Coast Conference regular-season championship and finishing fourth in the final New England Coaches' Poll with a record of 34-13. During its record 42-11 season in 2011, the Golden Bears never lost two in a row after a 4-4 start until reaching the national tournament. That team concluded with a final No. 8 national ranking.
"With the hiring of Matt, we feel that Eastern's tradition as a perennial national competitor in Division III baseball will continue," said Dr. Jeff G. Konin, Eastern's Director of Athletics. "Coach LaBranche brings to our program a track record of tremendous success on the field, and is well-known for his recruiting capabilities throughout the greater New England region and beyond."
In 14 years of Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) and TCCC play at WNE, LaBranche's team won 195 and lost 48 (.803), with17 regular-season and playoff championships.
LaBranche, who claimed his 400th career victory with the fifth win of 2013, entered this past season ranked third all-time among New England Division III coaches in winning percentage, 23rd overall. Among active coaches, he was also third in New England and was 18th in Division III.
LaBranche was the NEIBA Division III Coach-of-the-Year in 2011 and ECAC Coach-of-the-Year in both 2011 and 2012. Four times he was named the premier coach in the conference. He has also served as chair of the NEIBA Division III All-New England Region Committee since 2007.
LaBranche and wife Judi reside in Wilbraham, MA with their two children, Matthew (15) and Dominique (10).