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Somerset, NJ — The 2009 Northeast Conference Women's Soccer Championship begins on Friday, November 4 on the CCSU Soccer Field at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT. The top-seeded defending NEC champion Blue Devils face the reigning NEC regular season champs, fourth-seeded Long Island at 11:00 a.m. in the first semifinal contest, while #2 seed Monmouth squares off with third-seeded Quinnipiac at 1:30 p.m. The winning teams compete on Sunday, Nov. 8 in the title game slated for 1:00 p.m. The winner of the NEC Tournament receives the league's automatic berth to the NCAA College Cup. First-round action begins on Nov. 13 on campus sites to be determined.
Clinching a spot in the postseason and securing home-field advantage for the fifth time in program history, Central Connecticut State (11-6-1, 9-0-1 NEC) is well-equipped to defend its NEC tourney title. This will be the Blue Devils eighth straight NEC Tournament appearance under the tutelage of three-time NEC Coach of the Year Mick D'Arcy, now in his tenth season. Hungry for its unprecedented eighth NEC crown, CCSU looks to a strong midfield force that features two-time all-NEC first team selection senior Leah Blayney (Katoomba, New South Wales/Auburn University) and junior Beth Lloyd (Reading, England/Oaklands College). The duo has tallied a combined 21 goals - one shy of doubling their mark from 2008 - seven of which were game-winners. As a team, the Blue Devils outscored NEC foes 33-8. Blayney, reigning adidas/NEC Player of the Week, leads the squad with 13 assists and ranks tied for 16th nationally in points per game (1.83). Lloyd, a two-time adidas/NEC Player of the Week selection, added five helpers of her own and ranks 50th in the NCAA. The playmaking ability in the center of the field, which, as a team, ranks 16th nationally (4.24 goals per game), has been matched by defensive efforts from senior Caity Casey (Guilford, CT/Branford) between the pipes. She is the reigning adidas/NEC Defensive Player of the Week and has played an integral part in the team's four shutouts, including a critical 11-save performance against Monmouth on Oct. 23. CCSU is now 96-21-6 in league play dating back to the program's inaugural season in 1996.
Monmouth (13-4-1, 8-1-1 NEC), the 2007 NEC champion, prepares for its thirteenth tournament appearance after outscoring its opposition 34-10 this season and surrendering just three goals against conference opponents. Now in her twelfth year at the helm of the Hawks, three-time NEC Coach of the Year Krissy Turner has two main offensive weapons spearheading the front line in the form of adidas/NEC Player of the Week selections junior Mary Wilks (Bridgeton, NJ/Bridgeton) and senior counterpart Andrea Lopez (Oakhurst, NJ/Ocean Township). Wilks, who leads the squad with 11 goals (tied for first in NEC) and 27 points, good for third in the league, has scored six in the team's last three games of the regular season. The Garden State native is also tied for the NEC's top spot with five game-winning tallies. Lopez, the 2006 NEC Rookie and Player of the Year, has shown consistent leadership throughout her four years as a Hawk combining for 30 career goals to lead active players, which also helps her place seventh on MU's all-time scoring list with 84 points. Complementing the offensive efforts of Wilks and Lopez is a back line that has allowed a stingy 10 goals in their 18 total games this season and recorded 12 shutouts. Anchoring the defensive effort is junior captain Ali Kliment (Florence, NJ/The Pennington School), who has also contributed offensively with a career-best 10 assists, and the 2007 NEC Tournament MVP and two-time adidas/NEC Defensive Player of the Week in 2009, Lia Fierro (Short Hills, NJ/Millburn). The junior netminder owns two top statistics in the league for shutouts (12) and goals against average (0.54) and ranks second in save percentage with .841. Fierro also ranks 16th in the nation for goals against average (.542), which ranks 12th in Division I in team goals against average. The Hawks are also in a share of 8th place in the country with a .667 shutout percentage.
Quinnipiac (8-6-2, 7-2-1 NEC) won five of their last six games to end the regular season and went on a six-game unbeaten streak before its 4-1 loss to Monmouth on Oct. 25. Friday will be a rematch between the Bobcats and the Hawks with QU's nationally-ranked offensive threats aiming to breakdown MU's nationally-ranked defensive walls. Tenth-year head coach Dave Clarke returned his main scoring threat from last season in all-NEC first team member Furtuna Velaj (Stamford, CT/Westhill), who produced league-leading numbers again in 2009. Most notably, the sophomore leads the league in goals per game (0.73), which ranks 20th in the NCAA, points per game (2.00) - a mark that ties her for 8th nationally - and holds a three-way tie for the most goals (11). Velaj also leads the team in assists with eight, good for second-best in the conference. The Stamford, CT native also ranks 15th nationally in assists per game (0.53). Behind Velaj, freshman Jillian Strassner (Avon, CT/Avon) has contributed in the middle of the park for the Bobcats as she is second on the team behind her sophomore counterpart in goals (four), assists (three) and points (11). On the defensive side, freshman Biz Cook (Appleton, WI/Appleton North) and junior Kendra Margulies (Weston, MA/Weston) have split time between the posts to total 90 saves, a .783 combined save percentage and five shutouts on the season. In her rookie campaign, Cook has notched top marks in the NEC as she places third in goals against average (0.98) and save percentage (.836).
After completing an undefeated regular-season NEC slate in 2008, Long Island (9-7-1, 5-4-1 NEC) lost four this season, edging out Saint Francis (PA) and Robert Morris for the fourth spot in the postseason. The Blackbirds won their final three games and went unbeaten in their final four to qualify for the NEC Tournament for the fifth consecutive year. LIU posted shutouts in each of its final three contests to push its season total to eight, which ranks second in the NEC. The Blackbirds will be on the hunt for their third league title, winning their first one in 1999 when CCSU was the top-ranked contender. Now in her tenth year at the helm of the program, reigning NEC Coach of the Year Tracey Bartholomew has a well-rounded Blackbird squad that saw a total of eight different players score 15 total goals and 10 different players tally assists. While multiple players have contributed offensively, one has undoubtedly stepped up big on the back line. Rookie Jennifer Bannon (East Greenwich, RI/East Greenwich) has been a commanding and menacing presence between the pipes. Playing every minute of every game for the Blackbirds, Bannon garnered two adidas/NEC Rookie of the Week and adidas/NEC Defensive Player of the Week honors, one time earning both in the same week. She leads the league in save percentage (.871), which also ranks 18th in the NCAA standings. A native of East Greenwich, RI, Bannon ranks second in the conference in goals against average (0.63), good for 29th nationally, and shutouts (8).
2009 Head-to-Head Matchups
Central Connecticut State (2-0-1) • Monmouth (2-1) • Quinnipiac (1-2) • Long Island (0-3)
Central Conn. St. 3, Quinnipiac 2 • New Britain, CT • September 27
Monmouth 1, Long Island 0 • West Long Branch, NJ • October 4
Quinnipiac 3, Long Island 0 • Hamden, CT • October 16
Central Connecticut State 1, Long Island 1 (2OT) • New Britain, CT • October 18
Central Conn. St. 1, Monmouth 0 • West Long Branch, NJ • October 23
Monmouth 4, Quinnipiac 1 • West Long Branch, NJ • October 25
• Central Connecticut State narrowly missed out on matching its perfect record from 2005 with a double overtime tie against Long Island Oct. 18. The last time the two teams met in the conference tournament was in last year's championship tilt where CCSU topped LIU 1-0.
• Long Island began conference play 2-0 before dropping four straight. After their fourth loss, the Blackbirds went on a four game unbeaten streak to secure the fourth spot in the conference tournament.
• Monmouth posted shutouts in every win this season except for two where they conceded one goal - first in a 4-1 win at Saint Francis (PA) on Oct. 18 and then on Oct. 25 in a 4-1 victory over Quinnipiac. MU lost every game where it allowed more than one goal.
• Quinnipiac has defeated Monmouth in NEC tournament play both times the two have met, both of which came by way of shutout. First was in 1999 when the Bobcats blanked the Hawks, 1-0, in a semifinal match, and then the following year when QU bested MU, 4-0, in the title match.
• Quinnipiac battled in six overtime matches this year, playing through two overtime periods all but one time. That number is the second-most by a team during the 2009 regular season. QU lost only once in overtime and endured the full 110 minutes twice for a deadlock.