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Somerset, NJ -- Central Connecticut State has been voted the preseason favorite to win the 2006 Northeast Conference women's soccer championship, according to a poll of the league's head coaches. The Blue Devils are the four-time defending conference champions and have claimed six league titles since the NEC began sponsoring women's soccer in 1995. CCSU was awarded seven first place votes in the poll, while 2005 NEC runner-up Long Island was chosen second and picked up the remaining three first place votes. Sacred Heart was tabbed third, with Monmouth and Saint Francis (PA) tied for fourth. Rounding out the field were Fairleigh Dickinson in sixth, followed by Quinnipiac, Robert Morris, Mount St. Mary's and Wagner.
2006 Northeast Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Central Connecticut State (7)
2. Long Island (3)
3. Sacred Heart
Saint Francis (PA)
6. Fairleigh Dickinson
8. Robert Morris
9. Mount St. Mary's
First place votes in parentheses
Now in his seventh year at the helm of the program, three-time NEC Coach of the Year Mick D'Arcy has the Central Connecticut State (17-4, 9-0 NEC) program running on all cylinders. The Blue Devils were a perfect 9-0 in NEC play a year ago and have compiled a 32-4-1 record against conference opponents over the last four years. With CCSU looking to make its fifth consecutive NCAA College Cup appearance, D'Arcy's challenge will be to replace a pair of stalwarts in NEC Player of the Year Sophie Hopper and NEC Defensive Player of the Year Ashley Ferra. The Blue Devils do bring back two all-stars, including high scoring senior forward Jessica McCavanagh (Massapequa, NY/Massapequa). McCavanagh, a former NEC Rookie of the Year and two-time all-conference performer, led the league with 10 goals and finished second with 22 points. She was also named the Most Valuable Player of the 2005 NEC Tournament after scoring the lone goal in CCSU's 1-0 title game triumph over Long Island. Two freshman who played vital roles for CCSU last year are back in the fold in 2006. First team all-NEC honoree Allison Livsey (Avon, CT/Avon), a defender, led a defense that recorded ten shutouts on the year, while attacking midfielder Siobhan McCaffrey (Coventry, RI/Coventry) contributed two goals and four assists. In preparation for conference play, D'Arcy has assembled a challenging non-league slate that includes matches with 2005 NCAA College Cup participants Boston College, Hofstra, Dartmouth, UConn and Yale.
Long Island (13-6-1, 7-1-1 NEC) made a decisive move up the NEC standings last year and reached its first conference title match since winning the championship in 1999. Similarly, the Blackbirds' second place regular season finish and 13 overall wins were the best marks in program history. Seventh year head coach Tracey Bartholomew returns seven starters in 2006, including a pair of second team all-stars in seniors Allison Andreano (Denville, NJ/Morris Knolls) and Stephanie Kansky (Bellevue, WA/Bellevue Christian). Andreano, a midfielder, scored twice and ranked second on the Blackbirds with five assists a year ago. Kansky is a two-time all-NEC goalkeeper who anchored the league's most suffocating defense (league-low 15 allowed) with a conference-best 0.72 goals against average. Her 14 career shutouts are a school record.
Perennial contender Sacred Heart (8-10-1, 5-3-1 NEC) should be right back in the mix in 2006, vying for its first NEC championship since 2001. The Pioneers have qualified for five straight NEC Tournaments, the longest current streak in the conference. With an eye toward carrying on the school's rich tradition in the sport, second year head coach Kim Banner will rely on a top-notch recruiting class to complement veteran midfielder Lisa Burbige (Babylon, NY/Babylon) and 2005 NEC Rookie of the Year Janice Rodriguez (Clinton, CT/Morgan School). Burbige, a first team all-NEC pick last season, ranked ninth on the circuit with 16 points and tenth with six goals. Rodriguez was also voted to the all-conference second team as a defender and was the catalyst for a Sacred Heart defense that yielded just nine goals over the course of the conference season.
Monmouth (5-9-3, 3-5-1) lost Kate Sands - a four time all-star and the league's leading scorer in 2005 - to graduation and its top three point producers, but do return 21 players and a highly touted recruiting class under ninth year head coach Krissy Turner. Returning to the pitch for the Hawks are senior forward Tobi Wrice (Riverside, NJ/Riverside), who ranked fourth on the team with three goals, along with sophomore Katie Buffa (East Meadow, NY/East Meadow), who comes off a strong season between the pipes when she ranked fifth in the conference with a 1.33 goals against average.
Saint Francis (PA) (11-7-3, 5-2-2 NEC) was last year's biggest surprise in the conference, finishing third in the regular season after being picked seventh in the preseason poll. The Red Flash went on to make their first NEC Tournament appearance since 2000 and compile a school record 11 victories. Saint Francis succeeded with third year head coach Brenda van Stralen's defense-first approach, recording a league-high 11 shutouts. Senior goalkeeper Melanie Stockman (East Islip, NY/East Islip) paced the conference in save percentage (.825), and ranked second in shutouts (nine) and third in goals against average (0.83). Senior forward Ashlie Knowles (Lancaster, PA/Hempfield) will provide the offensive punch after finishing fifth in the NEC with seven goals and ninth with 16 points.
Fairleigh Dickinson (8-9-1, 4-4-1 NEC) will be under new leadership this season following the resignation of head coach Pete Gaglioti in July. Junior defender Amanda Wheeler (Marlton, NJ/Cherokee) has earned all-conference accolades each of the last two years and effectively patrolled an FDU backfield that permitted just five goals over the last seven games of the 2005 season.
Quinnipiac (6-10-3, 2-6-1 NEC) returns leading scorer Leisl Lissfelt (Pomfret, CT/Woodstock Academy), an attacking defender who registered five goals and 14 points as a sophomore in 2005.
Robert Morris (3-13-2, 1-7-1 NEC) senior forward Hilary Nellis (Pittsburgh, PA/Shaler) should provide veteran leadership and create scoring opportunities after finishing second on the Colonials with four goals and three assists a year ago.
Mount St. Mary's (4-10-4, 0-6-3) was racked by injuries last season and after a quick start, struggled in conference play. The return of junior forward Karyn Farrar (Winfield, MD/South Carroll), who injured her knee in the Mount's conference opener and missed the remainder of the season, will help. Farrar scored seven goals in ten matches, included four in a 6:36 span of a win over St. Peter's in September.
Wagner (3-12-2, 3-5-1) named Mike Minielli as its new head coach in July. Minielli, who ranks 23rd among active Division I coaches with 190 career wins, welcome a host of newcomers, along with senior midfielder Heather Daubert (Middletown, NY/Minisink Valley) who is the Seahawks' leading returning scorer after accumulating eight points in 2005.
The 2006 NEC Women's Soccer Tournament will take place at the home of the high seed on November 3 & 5. The top four teams in the regular season standings will advance to the postseason event. The winner of the NEC Tournament will receive the league's automatic bid to the 2006 NCAA Women's Soccer College Cup.