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Somerset, NJ – The Northeast Conference (NEC) women's soccer coaches have tabbed Monmouth to defend its league championship. The Hawks received seven first-place votes to claim the top spot, while 2009 NEC Tournament runner-up Central Connecticut State placed second and claimed the remaining four first place nods. Also picked near the top were 2009 playoff qualifiers Long Island and Quinnipiac in third and fourth, respectively, followed in order by Saint Francis (PA), Sacred Heart and Robert Morris. Bryant and Mount St. Mary's were selected for the eighth and ninth spots, while Farleigh Dickinson and Wagner rounded out the 11-team field.
No team in the NEC has posted a better record than Monmouth (15-5-1, 8-1-1 NEC) over the last four years. In that span, the Hawks are 55-18-8 overall and 28-6-3 in league play. Last fall, under longtime head coach Krissy Turner, the Hawks won their fourth conference title and second in three years by toppling rival CCSU in overtime. The game winning goal came off the foot of NEC Tournament MVP Mary Wilks (Bridgeton, NJ/Bridgeton), one of four All-Conference returnees for the Hawks. Wilks' knack for finding the net placed the senior first on the circuit with 13 goals, which included a league-best seven game-winning tallies. The All-NEC first team forward also ranked second in the conference with 31 points. Often setting up Wilks was first team All-Conference midfielder Courtney Snyder (Ordell, NJ/River Dell), who dished seven assists to finish third in the NEC as a sophomore. One of the league's strongest defensive units is led by reigning NEC Defensive Player of the Year Ali Kliment (Florence, NJ/The Pennington School) and keeper Lia Fierro (Short Hills, NJ/Millburn). The Hawks yielded just three goals in ten conference games last season, due in large part to Kliment's harassing on-the-ball defense. The senior also delivered some offensive punch with four goals and two assists. Fierro, an NSCAA All-Northeast Region selection and first team All-NEC pick, registered a league-high 14 shutouts and led the conference with a 0.65 goals against average.
2010 Northeast Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Monmouth (7)
2. Central Connecticut State (4)
3. Long Island
5. Saint Francis (PA)
6. Sacred Heart
7. Robert Morris
9. Mount St. Mary's
10. Fairleigh Dickinson
First place votes in parentheses
Defending NEC regular season champion Central Connecticut State (12-7-2, 9-0-1 NEC) came within a whisker of winning its conference-best eighth league crown last season. Mick D'Arcy, who was tabbed NEC Coach of the Year for the fourth time in his career in 2009, will look to rally his troops for another run at the title and a ninth straight trip to the NEC Tournament. This time he must do it without 2009 NEC Player of the Year Leah Blayney and All-Conference second teamer Caity Casey in net. First team All-NEC midfielder Beth Lloyd (Reading, England/Oaklands College) will step in to direct the offense. In 2009, the senior ranked in the top-five in the conference in each of the three major offensive categories. She tacked on 11 goals (second in the NEC) and added five assists (fifth) for 27 points (fourth). Lloyd will be flanked in the midfield by classmate Clio Tregear (West Sussex, England/Oakland College), who was named to the NEC All-Tournament team a year ago. Brittany Jackson (Madison, CT/Daniel Hand), a junior forward, earned second team All-NEC accolades in 2009. Treger (six goals, five assists) and Jackson (five goals, seven assists) each finished the year with 17 points on a high-scoring Blue Devil unit that led the NEC in goals with 2.24 per game.
Long Island (9-8-1, 5-4-1 NEC) hopes to replicate the success from 2008 when head coach Tracey Bartholomew led the Blackbirds to an undefeated regular season. The Blackbirds have a host of talented returnees, including senior Kayleigh Morgan (Harlow, England/St. Mark's) and junior Ariana Calderon (Sacramento, CA/St. Francis), a pair of forwards who tied for first on the team last season with mirroring figures in points (seven), goals (three) and assists (one). Calderon, the 2008 NEC Player and Rookie of the Year, hopes to be back at full strength following an injury-plagued year that saw her miss six games. Sophomore goalkeeper Jennifer Bannon (East Greenwich, RI/East Greenwich) and All-Conference second-team defender Kelly Carter (Exton, PA/Downington East) anchor a strong defense that yielded a league-low 12 goals on the season in 2009. Bannon finished her freshman campaign second in the NEC in goals against average (0.65), first in save percentage (.868) and second in shutouts (eight).
Quinnipiac (8-7-2, 7-2-1 NEC) comes off its best NEC performance since 2001, the year the Bobcats won their lone conference championship. To improve on last season's third place finish and earn the opportunity to punch its ticket to the NEC Tournament, the Bobcats and head coach Dave Clark will need continued strong performances from the duo of Furtuna Velaj (Stamford, CT/Westhill) and NEC Rookie of the Year Jillian Strassner (Avon, CT/Avon). Velaj, a junior who has earned back-to-back first team All-NEC plaudits, led the NEC in points per game for a second straight season with 1.88. That mark, which included 11 goals and eight assists, was good enough to rank her 13th in the nation in scoring. Strassner ranked second on the Bobcats in goals (four), assists (three) and points (11) en-route to first team honors in her freshman campaign.
A loss on the final day of the regular season left Saint Francis (PA) (8-8-2, 5-5 NEC) one win shy of an NEC playoff bid last season. This year, head coach Brenda van Stralen must regroup after losing five starters, including leading scorer and second-team All-NEC selection Rachel Siebert, along with netminder Jessica Boyer. The Red Flash welcomes 12 freshmen to the pitch, but do bring back a pair of key performers in redshirt freshman Tesa McKibben (Cogan Station, PA/Montoursville) and junior Traci Flick (Montoursville, PA/Montoursville). In an explosive three-game stint, McKibben recorded two goals and three assists before succumbing to a season-ending injury. Flick will move into the forward position after netting one goal and distributing three assists a year ago.
Now in her sixth season as head coach at Sacred Heart (8-9-1, 4-5-1 NEC), Kim Banner will look to capitalize on the momentum from last season's six-game improvement. Banner can count on first team All-Conference defender Jasmine Rodriguez (Clinton, CT/The Morgan School) to protect the backfield. The senior started in all 18 games and helped the Pioneers finish third in the league in goals allowed. Adding offensive support is team scoring leader Samantha Kee (Haskell, NJ/Lakeland Regional). The senior paced the club with five goals, five assists and 15 points in 2009.
Robert Morris (8-9-1, 4-5-1 NEC) and longtime coach John Kowalski will rely on veteran talent after the Colonials posted their best NEC finish since 2002. Junior forward Ayana Davis (Mt. Laurel, NJ/Holy Cross), a second team All-NEC award winner, scored nine goals and finished with 18 points to rank sixth in the conference in both categories. Davis will be flanked up front by classmate Rachel Sebbens (Irwin, PA/Greensburg Central Catholic), who finished second on the Colonials with five goals and 11 points. Sophomore keeper Jessica Olin (Port Richie, FL/River Edge) posted a 1.43 goals against average and ranked third on the circuit with seven shutouts, five of which came against league opponents.
Bryant (4-13-2, 2-6-2 NEC) enters its third season as a Division I team with Chris Flint at the helm. Flint added nine freshmen to a 30-player roster that includes only six upperclassmen. Providing experience and direction for the youthful squad is junior forward Kaitlyn Hinck (Bow, NH/Bow). She piloted the offense last season by racking up four goals for eight points, one of which was a game-winner against Hartford. Also pitching in on offense senior will be senior midfielder Sarah Donovan (Storrs, CT/E.O Smith), who finished with four points in 2009.
Mount St. Mary's (6-11-2, 4-5-1 NEC) and head coach Tom Gosselin, now in his fourth year with the club, look to continue their rise up the NEC standings. The Mountaineers improved their conference victory total by three last season to finish with their best league record since 2000. Senior goalkeeper Alicia Miller (Lititz, PA/Warwick) played a large role in the improvement. She led the NEC with 6.88 saves per game and posted a 1.77 goals against average. Her 117 saves also landed her in fourth place on the Mount's all-time single-season list. Junior forward Sadie Winship (York, PA/Eastern York) is the team's top returning scorer after she produced five goals and one assist for the Mount in 2009.
After a rare down year in 2009, Fairleigh Dickinson (2-15-1, 0-9-1 NEC) will look to reverse its fortunes this fall. While head coach Renee Montana will feel the absence of All-Conference second-team midfielder Jennifer Arceneaux, she does return junior forward Rashidah Sherman (Pelham, NY/Pelham Memorial). Sherman tied for the team lead last fall with three goals and eight points. Look for junior Amy Flanagan (Freehold, NJ/Freehold), who started all 18 games on the backline, to control defensive play along with junior keeper Stephanie Tanzi (Smithtown, NY/Smithtown West).
Head coach Mike Minielli and Wagner (3-13-3, 1-7-2) hope to turn things around behind All-Conference second-team midfielder Julie Vigliotti (Staten Island, NY/Notre Dame Academy). As a freshman, she ranked second on the Seahawks in goals (four) and points (10). Her senior counterpart, Briana Vassallo (Saddlebrook, NJ/Paramus), paced the offense with five goals and 11 points.
The 2010 NEC Women's Soccer Tournament will take place at the home of the high seed on November 5 & 7. 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 2010 NCAA Soccer Championship.