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Somerset, NJ — Central Connecticut State has been voted the 2009 Northeast Conference (NEC) women's soccer favorite, according to a preseason poll of the league's head coaches. Receiving eight of the 11 possible first-place votes, the Blue Devils will look to capture their second straight title and sixth in eight years. Long Island, the 2008 NEC regular season champion, landed the runner-up spot and received two first-place nods. Monmouth was picked third and claimed the final first-place vote. Saint Francis (PA) was tabbed fourth, followed by Quinnipiac, Fairleigh Dickinson and Robert Morris at fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. Tied for eighth place was Bryant, a newcomer in the standings this season, and Sacred Heart. Wagner followed in the tenth position and Mount St. Mary's rounded out the list at No. 11.
After falling short in 2007, Central Connecticut State (12-7-4, 7-2 NEC) bounced back last season to capture its seventh championship crown. Head coach Mick D'Arcy will enter his tenth
season at the helm of a Blue Devil squad that loses only four letterwinners and adds seven new contributors. CCSU may be hardest hit by the graduation of NEC Tournament MVP and first team All-NEC selection Erin Herd. Herd anchored a defense that tallied a league-best 12 shutouts and ranked second in the conference with a 0.72 goals against average. Her replacement, rising senior Caity Casey (Guilford, CT/Branford), started eight games for CCSU in 2008 and recorded a 1.29 gaa and a pair of shutouts. Heading the midfield in 2009 will be senior Leah Blayney (Katoomba, New South Wales/Auburn), a 2007 All-NEC and All-New England first team pick. She recorded the second most shots (90) in the league, tallied seven goals and dished for five assists, the fifth best mark in the league. Clio Tregear (West Sussex, England/Oaklands) joins Blayney as a leader in the midfield and one of the Blue Devil captains. The 5-foot-10 junior earned herself a spot on the All-NEC first team in 2008, an improvement from her second team selection in '07. Senior defender Karise Hilt (Leominster, MA/Uxbridge) will provide support for Casey. She was one of four first team NEC all-stars for CCSU a year ago.
2009 Northeast Conference
Preseason Coaches' Poll
1. Central Connecticut State (8)
2. Long Island (2)
3. Monmouth (1)
4. Saint Francis (PA)
6. Fairleigh Dickinson
7. Robert Morris
11. Mount St. Mary's
First place votes in parentheses
Long Island (16-4-1, 9-0 NEC) became the first team since 2005 to post an unbeaten NEC slate, finishing with a 9-0 league mark and a school record 16 wins a year ago. After falling one-goal short in the conference title game, the Blackbirds and ninth-year head coach Tracey Bartholomew turn their attention to 2009 when LIU will take aim at its third NEC championship. Fresh off a superb rookie season, Ariana Calderon (Sacramento, CA) will again spark the offense in 2009. After finishing first on her team and fourth in the league in points (22), goals (10) and game winners (four), the 5-foot-6 forward became the fourth player in league history to simultaneously earn both NEC Player and NEC Rookie of the Year. Following Calderon's lead in last year's campaign was Kayleigh Morgan (Harlow, England / St. Mark's), who recorded 21 points and nine goals as a sophomore, both good for fifth in the NEC, as well as four game winners to tie Calderon for fourth on the circuit. A staple in the midfield, junior Caitlin Meadows (Brookdale, CA/San Lorenzo Valley) will bring experience and leadership to the Blackbird lineup. The second team All-NEC selection scored three times in 2008. With the departure of defensive anchors Kelly O'Connell and first team all-leaguer Nicole Allen, others must step in to fill the gaps of what was an experienced defensive unit that posted 10 shutouts - second best in the league - and an NEC-low 0.80 gaa last season. The LIU back line also allowed just 17 goals all year, second fewest in the NEC.
Monmouth (14-4-1, 7-2 NEC) has now posted three straight outstanding campaigns, including a 20-5-2 record versus NEC opposition from 2006-08. Under Three time NEC Coach of the Year Krissy Turner, the Hawks had high hopes of defending its league crown last season following a second place finish, but saw its season come to an end with a semifinal loss to CCSU. In hopes of regaining the crown, Turner must replace Joanna DeMoor, an all-league first team honoree who placed second in the NEC with 30 points, 13 goals and five game winners. Monmouth does, however, return a number of scoring threats, including the 2006 Rookie and Player of the Year in Andrea Lopez (Oakhurst, NJ/Ocean Township) who returns for her final season. A 2006 and 2007 first team All-NEC pick and 2008 second team choice, she ranked fifth in league action last season with five assists and ended the year with 17 points to rank second on the club. Midfielder Alessandra DeTata (Brick, NJ/Brick Township) will be one of six seniors to lead the group. She was tabbed in '08 to the All-NEC first team after recording a career high five goals, five assists (fifth in NEC) and 15 points. Lia Fierro (Short Hills, NJ/Millburn) will anchor the Monmouth defense between the pipes once again. In 2008, she recorded seven shutouts (second in NEC) and a .806 save percentage (fifth in NEC).
With a fifth straight winning conference record as well as a winning overall record in 2008, Saint Francis (PA) (7-6-6, 4-3-2 NEC) enters its sixth year under head coach Brenda van Stralen. The Red Flash say goodbye to their captain, Jennilee Morrison, who spearheaded a defense that recorded six shutouts. Also departing was second team NEC all-star Alanna Vespa, the league's second-leading distributor (0.42 apg) and fourth-leading point-producer (1.05 ppg). Despite those losses, van Stralen will field a number of key returnees. Senior forward Rachael Seibert (Murrysville, PA/ Franklin Regional) was one of six Red Flash players to claim All-NEC second team honors a year ago by ranking sixth in the conference in goals (eight) and seventh in points (19). Sophomore midfielder/forward Traci Flick's (Montoursville, PA/Montoursville) impressive rookie season garnered her a Rookie of the Week selection - after recording a hat trick vs. Holy Cross - and a place on the All-NEC second team. Senior leadership will also come from the backfield in the form of goalkeeper Jessica Boyer (Pittsburgh, PA/Mount Lebanon), yet another second team pick in 2008. Boyer, 5-foot-10, started 13-of-14 games played, recorded the second best save percentage in the NEC (.831) and tied for third in the conference with four shutouts. After being selected as a second team NEC all-star last season defensive-minded junior midfielder Brittany Valentine (Hudson, OH/Walsh Jesuit) is also expected to lead the way in 2009.
Quinnipiac (7-7-2, 3-4-2 NEC) managed to hold opponents to a league low 15 goals in 2008 as the Bobcats finished with a .500 or better mark for the third consecutive year. Entering his eleventh year, head coach Dave Clarke welcomes back to the squad a solid core of talent including Jillian Kelley (Simsbury, CT/Simsbury) who was part of the team's stellar defensive effort. The sophomore netminder started 15-of-16 games played and ended the year tied for third in the NEC in goals against average (0.93) and shutouts (four). The Bobcats also return Furtuna Velaj (Stamford, CT/CFC W-League), one of the league's most exciting freshman players a year ago. She ended the year as the NEC leader in goals (15), points (31) and game-winners (seven) to earn All-NEC first team honors, NSCAA All-Northeast second team accolades and a spot on the NEWISA All-New England second team.
Fairleigh Dickinson (7-11, 5-4 NEC) qualified for its first NEC Tournament since 2004 last season and posted its second straight winning record in league play. Head coach Renee Montana enters her fourth season at the controls with hopes of continuing to build on the program's recent spate of success. Helping her do that will be a slew of veterans, including seniors Jennifer Arceneaux (Arvada, CO/Ralston Valley) and Christine Niven (Middleboro, MA/Middleboro), both versatile players who can alternate between midfield and forward. Niven started all 19 games in 2008 and finished with three assists and five points, while Arceneaux started 17 and ranked fourth in the league with six assists. Top scorer Rashida Sherman (Pelham Manor, NY/Pelham Memorial) returns following an outstanding freshman campaign. Sherman scored eight times (tied for sixth in NEC) in '08 and amassed 17 points (tied for ninth best in the league). She also was recognized as Player and Rookie of the Week back on September 8th when she became the first student-athlete in program history to record a hat trick. Montana must replace a pair of defensive stoppers in Amanda Wheeler and keeper Rachel Derrico. Wheeler was the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year and Derrico finished third best in the league with four shutouts.
With 17 letter winners returning to his lineup, ninth year head coach John Kowalski of Robert Morris (7-10-2, 4-4-1 NEC) brings back one of the more experienced conference units. Sophomore Jess Sharik (North Huntington, PA/Norwin) will be counted on to create in the midfield after finishing third in the conference in assists (seven) and tallying one Rookie of the Week nod in 2008. Junior Kathleen Caggiano (Moon Township, PA/Moon) played a vital role in the midfield and at forward last season, leading the team with six goals (tied for tenth best in NEC). The defense will take a hit after losing captain Emily Schock and goalkeeper Caitlin Dilal. Dilal will return, however, as an assistant coach and a much needed mentor for the two freshman netminders who join the Colonials in 2009.
Bryant (5-9-3) completed its first Division I season a year ago, and 2009 marks the Bulldogs' first year of competition in the NEC with Chris Flint at the helm. Though Flint is new to the league, he is no stranger to the Bryant squad as he enters his tenth season. He will have to replace nine performers who spearheaded their first Division I efforts, including Danielle Malta, who graduated as the school recordholder for most minutes played (6,317) and was Defensive Player of the Year in the Northeast-10 in 2007. She now hopes to carry that success on the sidelines after joining the Bulldog coaching staff. Senior Alex DiPippo (Shelton, CT/Shelton) will aim to fill Malta's void on the backline as a captain and staple in the starting lineup. She finished '08 with two goals and four points. Sophomore Kaitlyn Hinck (Bow, NH/Bow) also returns up front after leading the team in goals (six) and points (13) as a rookie.
After qualifying for seven straight NEC Tournaments, the 2008 season marked Sacred Heart's (2-14-4, 1-6-2 NEC) first time since 2000 that they did not receive a bid for postseason action. Kim Banner, now in her fourth year, will embark on a 2009 season with a group of 20 returnees and a large freshman class of eleven. Junior captain Leigh Dogmantis (Walnutport, PA/Catasauqua) led the team with 14 points and tied for eighth in the league with seven goals last season. Classmate Meghan Reichelt (Selden, NY/Centereach) placed third in the league last season with 5.45 saves per game and will anchor the defensive side. Reichelt will be without the help of Janice Rodriguez who graduated after being a consistent starter and anchor in the backfield.
Wagner (4-11-4, 2-6-1 NEC) lost a captain in the midfield with the graduation of Diane Gantenhammer, who started 16-of-19 games while recording three goals and seven points, good for second on the team. Fourth-year head coach Mike Minielli helped the team improve on its '07 record and will seek similar gains this season. To help the cause, junior forward Brianna Vassallo (Saddle Brook, NJ / Paramus Catholic) returns after leading the Seahawks in goals (five) points (12) and shots (55). The Seahawks bring eleven rookies to the lineup with hopes that these fresh faces will be the foundation for the program's future.
Third-year head coach Tom Gosselin and his Mount St. Mary's (2-16-1, 1-7-1 NEC) squad begin 2009 with continued expectations of rebuilding the program. The loss of solid and consistent four-year contributor Meghan Haspert in the midfield (five points, two goals) will be offset by the return of three key players to lead the way. Senior forward Emily Menotti (Dover, PA/ Dover Area) was first on the team in shots (31), points (nine) and assists (three), while starting all 19 games. In the backfield, Gosselin sports senior Kim Karpinski (Freehold, NJ/Red Bank Catholic) who tallied seven points and three assists as a junior in 2008. Also looking to anchor the defense between the posts is Alicia Miller (Lititz, PA/Warwick). Miller led the NEC with 7.1 saves per game, including a single-game school record 17 saves against Quinnipiac last season.
The 2009 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 Tournament.