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Somerset, NJ -- Monmouth has been voted as the preseason favorite to win the 2008 Northeast Conference women's soccer championship, according to a poll of the league's head coaches. Receiving six first-place votes, the Hawks will look to capture their second straight title. Perennial contender CCSU finished second with one first-place vote, followed by last season's runner-up Long Island, which also claimed one first-place nod. Quinnipiac earned the fourth spot with two first-place votes, followed by Sacred Heart. Robert Morris edged out Saint Francis (PA) for sixth. Rounding out the field were Fairleigh Dickinson in eighth, followed by Mount St. Mary's and Wagner.
Despite the loss of several key players, defending champion Monmouth (12-5-4, 6-2-1 NEC) will strive for another regular season and conference tournament title after ending a decade-long drought. Last year's crown was the Hawks' third overall. Upon entering her eleventh season, 2007 NEC Coach of the Year Krissy Turner will have holes to fill with the departures of 2007 NEC Player of the Year Amy Hoyer and first team all-NEC defender Brittani Heller. However, Turner will lead a talented returning squad seeking to fill those voids, including first team all-league junior forward Andrea Lopez (Oakhurst, NJ/Ocean Township). Lopez finished her sophomore campaign tied for the team lead and ranked fifth in the NEC with 14 points. She racked up five goals, including the lone goal and game-winner against Sacred Heart in the NEC championship match, and four assists. Joining Lopez on the goal-scoring front is senior midfielder Joanna DeMoor (Wayne NJ/Wayne Valley), who finished third on the team in assists (three) a year ago. Also adding fuel to an already fiery offense is second team all-NEC junior defender Shannon Rogers (Massapequa, NY/Massapequa). In 2007, Rogers ranked third on the team with a career-best nine points. Also helping the Hawks succeed in their quest for another banner year will be senior defender Jaclyn Pember (Northport, NY/ Northport), while sophomore Lia Fierro (Short Hills, NJ/Millburn), the 2007 NEC Tournament MVP, registered a 0.94 goals against average and will anchor the team between the pipes. As a rookie, Fierro ranked second in the conference with eight shutouts.
2008 Northeast Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Monmouth (6)
2. Central Connecticut State (1)
3. Long Island (1)
4. Quinnipiac (2)
5. Sacred Heart
6. Robert Morris
7. Saint Francis (PA)
8. Fairleigh Dickinson
9. Mount St. Mary's
First place votes in parentheses
Perennial power Central Connecticut State (9-9-1, 6-3 NEC) fell short of their seventh crown in 2007, losing a 2-1 decision to Sacred Heart in the NEC tournament semifinals. Head coach Mick D'Arcy will begin his ninth season with the Blue Devils, taking the reigns of an experienced squad after losing only two seniors to graduation. First team all-NEC junior forward Rachel Caneen (Stafford Springs, CT/Stafford) will spark a potent offense, which ended last year tied for third in the league in goals (27). Caneen ended her sophomore campaign third in the conference and first on the Blue Devils in points (20) after tallying nine goals and two assists. Junior midfielder Leah Blayney (Katoomba, New South Wales/Auburn), a first team all-NEC pick, will return to the pitch after ending 2007 fourth on the team in scoring with eight points. Blayney registered three goals and two assists; including two consecutive game winners in the regular season. The midfield will also be controlled by all-NEC second teamer Clio Tregear (West Sussex, England/Oaklands), who returns for her sophomore season in a leadership position as one of the team's captains. After the departure of first team all-star and NEC Defensive Player of the Year Megan McClements, the Blue Devil defense will look to junior Karise Hilt (Leominster, MA/Uxbridge) and junior keeper Caity Casey (Guilford, CT/Branford) to solidify the backfield.
Missing out on a chance to repeat after suffering a heart-wrenching 1-0 loss to Monmouth in the semifinal round of the 2007 NEC Tournament, Long Island (8-9-1, 5-4 NEC) will be back with a vengeance in 2008. Under the tutelage of ninth-year head coach Tracey Bartholomew, the Blackbirds will aim to continue their winning tradition and contend for the league crown. Samantha Post (Littleton, CO/Heritage) will return for her second season after finishing her rookie campaign second on the team in points (eight) with three goals and two assists. Post recorded a hat trick in her fourth career game, helping the Blackbirds earn a 3-2 victory over Utah Valley State last September. Sophomore Caitlin Meadows (Brookdale, CA/San Lorenzo Valley) will return at the midfield as an integral part of the offense. With the departure of second team all-league keeper Felicia Amaral, senior defenders Nicole Allen (Spencer, MA/Spencer Prouty) and Kelly O'Connell (Rochester, NY/Greece Arcadia) will anchor an experienced defensive unit that posted nine shutouts last season, five of which were against league rivals.
Finishing above .500 for the second consecutive year, Quinnipiac (9-7-2, 2-5-2 NEC) will look to maintain its momentum in 2008. Dave Clarke will enter his tenth year as the head coach with a talented core of returnees. The offense will look to second team all-NEC junior forward Sara Lawlor (Dublin, Ireland) for another stellar performance up front. Lawlor completed her sophomore season first on the team and second in the league in points (21) after scoring seven goals and dishing out an NEC-best seven assists. Joining Lawlor on the front line will be junior forward Susan Donovan (Cork, Irelan/Colaiste Choilm), who finished third on the team in points (13) with four goals and five assists. The Bobcats also welcome freshman scoring threat Furtuna Velaj (Stamford, CT/CFC W-League), the 2008 W-League National U-19 Player of the Year. The Bobcat defense will strive for another sturdy year after leading the league with a 0.81 goals against average in 2007.
After qualifying for its seventh straight NEC Tournament and advancing to the championship game, Sacred Heart (5-12-4, 4-2-3 NEC)will look to capture the title that was so close last year. Third-year head coach Kim Banner will embark on a 2008 season with a young team after bringing in twelve freshman recruits to replace a talented graduated senior class. Returning midfielder, Lindsay Elliott (Orange, CT/Amity) finished her freshman season third on the team in points (five) with one goal and three assists. Ashley Testani (Monroe, CT/Masuk) will also return in the midfield. Testani completed her sophomore season with a lone goal, which happened to be the game-winner in a 2-1 decision over CCSU in the NEC Tournament semifinals, advancing the Pioneers to the championship for the first time since 2004. Senior defender Janice Rodriguez (Clinton, CT/Morgan School) will anchor the Pioneer backline along with sophomore keeper Meghan Reichelt (Selden, NY/Centereach), who posted a .761 save percentage as a rookie.
Now in his eighth year as head coach, John Kowalski and the Colonials of Robert Morris (7-10-2, 4-4-1 NEC) will seek to utilize first team all-NEC sophomore forward Kathleen Caggiano (Moon Township, PA/Moon) on the front line. Coming off an outstanding rookie performance, Caggiano will look to top her league-best 26-point season. As the 2007 NEC Rookie of the Year and four-time Brine/NEC Rookie of the Week recipient, Caggiano also led the league with ten goals - three of which were game winners - and six assists, the second-best mark in the conference. Senior midfielder Brenda Sasu (Gaithersburg, MD/Quince Orchard) will also add to the Colonials' scoring power. Sasu ended her junior campaign second on the team in points (ten) and goals (four). RMU's defense will turn to senior Heather Niznik (Fonthill, Ontario/E.L. Crossley), who has battled through two injury-plagued seasons, to solidify a backline that recorded seven shutouts in 2007.
Saint Francis (PA) (7-9-3, 4-3-2 NEC) finished 2007 with a winning conference record for the fourth straight season. Brenda van Stralen, now entering her fifth year as head coach, will feature juniors Haleigh Dunyon (Long Beach, CA/Woodrow Wilson) and Chelsea Traurig (McMurray, PA/Peters Township), who ended their sophomore seasons tied for second on the team in scoring (seven) by each tallying three goals and one assist. Also returning is second team all-NEC senior defender Denise Eckert (Rochester, NY/Greece Arcadia), who will lead the defense.
Now in her third year as head coach at Fairleigh Dickinson (7-11, 5-4 NEC), Renee Montana hopes to build on last year's promising campaign. Providing experience on a young squad will be first team all-league senior defender Amanda Wheeler (Marlton, NJ/Cherokee). Wheeler led the team in assists, dishing out five last year. With the loss of all-NEC second team forward and team leading scorer Tonya Hipsman, the Knights' offense will be sparked by senior forward Emma Yamada (Saunderstown, RI/LaSalle Academy), who tallied nine points on four goals and one assist. Senior keeper Rachel Derrico (Canonsburg, PA/Canon McMillian) will return after finishing last season with a .741 save percentage.
Mount St. Mary's (5-13, 3-6 NEC) and second-year head coach Tom Gosselin enter 2008 with the continuing hopes of revitalizing the program. Junior Emily Menotti (Dover, PA/ Dover Area) will strive to top her sophomore season in which she finished second on the team in points (seven) and first on the team in goals (three).
Wagner (3-13-2, 1-7-1 NEC) third-year head coach Mike Minielli will seek to improve on last year's mark with the help of team scoring leader, sophomore Jessica Balling (Seaford, NY/MacArthur), who had four goals a year ago. Sophomore keeper Samantha Schueschner (Brookfield, CT/Brookfield) will return between the pipes after recording a .752 save percentage and four shutouts.
The 2008 NEC Women's Soccer Tournament will take place at the home of the high seed on November 7 & 9. 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 NCAA Women's Soccer College Cup.