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Somerset, NJ – The Long Island women's softball team begins a new decade in a familiar position – the Northeast Conference preseason favorite. The Blackbirds' seven championship titles over the last decade convinced the league's head coaches to vote overwhelmingly in favor of the 2010 defending champions. Receiving nine first-place tallies, the Blackbirds seek to reclaim a second-straight tournament crown.
Tournament runner-up Monmouth collected the remaining two first-place nods, followed by Robert Morris in third. Quinnipiac was pegged fourth with the 2009 champions from Sacred Heart occupying the fifth slot. Central Connecticut State made sixth on the ballot and Wagner landed in the seventh position. Mount St. Mary's was tabbed eighth, followed by a tie for ninth by Bryant and Saint Francis (PA). Rounding out the list was Fairleigh Dickinson in 11th.
1. Long Island (9)
2. Monmouth (2)
3. Robert Morris
5. Sacred Heart
6. Central Conn. St.
8. Mount St. Mary's
Saint Francis (PA)
11. Fairleigh Dickinson
First place votes in parentheses ().
The impressive lineage of Long Island (39-18, 17-3) women's softball not only includes 12 total championship titles, but also last year's NCAA Regional victory over UMASS and a corresponding NCAA Tournament berth. In his 17th year as head coach, Roy Kortman will be reliant on roster of both veterans and newcomers to make another run at postseason success. Despite losing four of six All-Conference players to graduation, reigning NEC Player of the Year Bianca Mejia (Sylmar, CA/Michigan State) is among the returning two honorees. A sure bet at the plate, the junior shortstop helped LIU lead the circuit in batting average (.292), slugging percentage (.492), on-base percentage (.368) and runs scored (270). Individually, Mejia owned the league's highest batting average (.392), slugging percentage (.731), home run tally (12), doubles (20) and total bases (125). Her on-base percentage (.485) topped the conference, while her 49 scored runs, tied for first on the team and in the league. However, Mejia won't have to light up the scoreboard alone this season as long as sophomore teammate Karina Cervantes (Tustin, CA/Mater Dei) provides some support at the plate. As a rookie Cervantes generated her fair share base movement with 16 RBIs, while lone NEC Second Team returner Sterling Hoham (Norco, CA/Riverside Christian) was able to make a strong case both offensively and defensively. The junior logged 33 hits, 21 RBIs and five steals. She performed well at third base, making 114 total assists defensively. The traditionally high-performing Blackbird pitching contingent will miss three-time NEC Pitcher of the Year Blaire Porter, who took LIU to the top of the league's ERA and wins column. However, junior pitcher Sarah Reynolds (Reading, Pa/Temple) and sophomore pitcher Megan Sheaf (Susquehannock, PA/Susquehannock) will be eager to carry on her legacy of excellence at the mound. Last season, Reynolds played in 16 games, amassing 31 strikeouts over 65 innings and recording a 1.51 ERA. Sheaf also made 16 appearances in 2010, earning Akadema/Northeast Conference Rookie of the Week honors and finishing the season with 43 strikeouts over 73 innings.
The Monmouth (30-18, 15-4 NEC) women's softball team begins the season in the hunt for the program's first NEC tournament title. The Hawks have inched closer as of late, finishing third two years ago and second to the champions from Long Island in 2010. Led by coach Louie Berndt in her second season at the helm, the squad welcomes back two key returners in the form of NEC All-Conference pitcher, catcher duo Emily deLong (Rothschild, WI/DC Everest) and Melissa Mehrer (Florence, NJ/Florence). Their collective skills provide a talented blend of offensive spark and defensive power for the Hawks. Last season deLong, a First Team selection, started in the catcher position in all 48 games for Monmouth. The senior's heavy bat led the team and ranked in the NEC's top five in batting average (.336), slugging percentage (.628), total bases (98), stolen bases (13) and runs scored (42). Mehrer, who was named to the All-NEC Second Team, ranked fourth in the league with 16 wins. She spearheaded the Hawk pitching effort appearing in 30 games and 172 innings, while slinging 96 strikeouts, four shutouts and one save. Standout rookies Kate Kuzma (Freehold, NJ/Colts Neck) and Christine Scherr (Nazareth, Pa/Nazareth Area) could also post breakout seasons, as both sophomores earned NEC Rookie of the Week accolades in 2010. Kuzma, a catcher, amassed 19 RBIs, five doubles a triple and a home run, while Scherr booked 14 RBIs, six doubles, two triples and a homerun. The infielder also stood second on the club with 38 runs scored.
Like conference foe Long Island, Robert Morris (28-20, 13-6 NEC) also enjoys ample representation in the NEC Championship record books. The Colonials own six titles, but have not brought one back to Moon Township since 2005. Head coach Craig Coleman and his squad finished fourth in the regular season, but lost at the hands of Long Island in the preliminary games of last year's tournament. Helping to reclaim the squad's spot on top will be First-Team All-NEC senior Annie Dubovec (Chagrin Falls, OH/Kenston). A force at the plate, the designated player ranked fourth in the circuit for RBIs (39) and first among her teammates for batting average (.359), slugging percentage (.538) and on-base percentage (.410). The strong-armed Ohio native will also be able to contribute in the circle as she showcased her versatility by collecting eight wins last season. Junior Jaci Timko (Houston, PA/Chartiers-Houston) took home Second Team distinction in 2010 for her all-round success on the diamond. The outfielder followed suit behind Dubovec, ranking second in the club for batting average (.349), slugging percentage (.493) and on-base percentage (.404). She also produced a challenge for opposing pitchers, stealing six bases and scoring 39 runs. Robert Morris' own pitching effort is anchored by junior Alexa Bryson (Greensburg, PA/Latrobe Area). Bryson appeared in 37 games, striking out the league's second highest amount of batters with 232. The right-hander hurled 22 wins and carries a 2.62 ERA.
Quinnipiac (28-24, 15-5) prepares to stay alive again in the postseason, after finishing third in the 2010 regular season. Aiming for the program's first NEC crown is coach Germaine Fairchild and her returning leaders Heather Schwartzburg (Mission Viejo, CA/Capistrano Valley) and Alex Alba (Sylmar, CA/Sylmar), both of whom held the honor of NEC Rookie of the Year. Schwartzburg, the 2009 rookie of the year and 2010 First-Team member, was a three-time NEC Pitcher of the Week selection. The ever-consistent junior threw for 20 wins over 41 games while tying for first among conference pitchers with a 1.51 ERA. Additionally, the California native broke a school record for rejecting 255 batters while holding opposing sluggers to a .181 batting average, figures that both topped the NEC leaderboard. Alba nabbed the NEC Rookie of the Year honor last season for excelling as a utility player, debuting on the mound, at the plate and in the shortstop role. Her .315 batting average and 46 hits led the club and helped the Bobcats secure a berth in postseason play. Alba also navigated the base paths sucessfully, stealing eight bases on 11 attempts throughout the season.
Sacred Heart (23-26, 10-8 NEC) spoiled a two-year Blackbird run by claiming the tournament title in 2009. Although the Pioneers encountered a little more difficulty in 2010, finishing fifth in the regular season, the squad can capitalize in key areas to regain momentum this season. Coaches Pam London and Elizabeth Luckie can rest their pitching expectations on NEC All-Conference Second Team senior Jen Russell (Seymour, CT/St. Joseph's). Aside from a wealth of experience to pull from, the tournament MVP from 2009 inked fourth in the loop with a 1.86 ERA. Russell fired 147 strikeouts while holding frustrated batters to a .227 average. As far as home runs, the talented mound dweller only allowed four in 32 appearances. Classmate Taylor Froelich (Garden Grove, CA/Pacifica) also found herself in good company on the NEC Second Team roster. Froelich established noteworthy offensive credentials, leading her teammates with a .327 batting clip and five home runs in last season.
Central Connecticut State's (19-31, 7-13) theme going into 2011 is no doubt improvement. After boasting the league's Most Improved Player in 201, it's clear the Blue Devil program is on the rise. Although most-improved Sara Budrick graduated, head coach Jeff Franquet will appreciate repeat performance by All-Conference sluggers Becca Mussatti (Valley Center, CA/Palomar) and Katherine Knowles (Woodline, WA/Bishop Blanchet). Mussatti, a First Team standout, ranked in the NEC's top five and first on the Blue Devil unit with 44 runs scored. The speedy outfielder also finished fourth in the conference with 12 stolen bases over 16 attempts. Knowles earned a Second Team accolade from the catcher position after posting an impressive .982 fielding percentage and a perfect 1.000 in NEC play. In her sophomore campaign, the junior turned away 11 players attempting to steal a base. She also swung the best for the Blue and White with the highest batting average (.378) and slugging percentage (.650). Her 18 doubles were good for second in the league.
Wagner (13-32, 7-11 NEC) takes the diamond for the upcoming season prepared to perpetuate its upward trend which began with a seventh place finish in 2009 and a sixth place ranking last season. Head coach Glen Payne and his Seahawks will rely on versatile senior Amanda Garcia (Fresno, CA/University of California at Fresno), who had the team's highest batting average (.314), to lead the way. Garcia, a pitcher and third baseman, also topped her teammates in hits (44) home runs (3) and RBIs (23). Defensively, she captained the Seahawk effort with 168 putouts, and a fourth-ranked 43 assists. Adding to the attack will be sophomore Brittany Huss (Anthem, AZ/Boulder Creek), who made significant contributions as a rookie. Last season, Huss recorded 32 hits for a .305 average. The sophomore led the team with eight doubles.
Mount St. Mary's (25-25, 7-12 NEC) and first-year head coach Anna Nagro hope for a fresh start and a piece of the postseason action in 2011. Helping their cause will be Golden Glove recipient Liz Christiansen (Etters, PA/Red Land). The first baseman held a steady glove all last season, recording a .994 fielding percentage overall and an elusive 1.000 standard under the pressure of NEC play. Christiansen also fielded nine double plays and produced 337 putouts, figures that rank her third and fifth, respectively, on the circuit. Aside from the junior's diligent defense, she held churned out offensive statistics throughout last season. The Pennsylvania native tallied the most RBIs (50) and held the highest slugging percentage (.699) in the league. In a regular season tilt against the Blue Devils, Christiansen cracked three out of her 11 home runs while collecting 14 total bags. Flanking Christiansen is classmate Taylor Beebe (Olympia, WA/Capital), who was tabbed to Second Team All-Conference. Beebe did well at the plate for the Mountaineers, hitting .360 in 111 at bats. The shortstop also fielded a .952.
Coach Lisa-Ann Wallace and the Bryant (8-37, 4-16 NEC) Bulldogs set their sights on climbing the conference ranks after rounding out the league finishers in last season's regular season. Junior Laura Bowen (Hudson, MA/Hudson) has the power to turn things around for the team based on last year's outings. As the lead-off batter, she notched the team's highest batting average (.344), runs (20), hits (45) and doubles (17) marks. Similarly rookie Brittany Lischinsky (Mahopac, NY/Lakeland) solidified a productive collegiate debut, trailing Bowen with a .296 batting mark. The first basemen also generated 21 hits while finishing third on the team with 119 putouts. Fellow classmate Kate Murray (Fitchburg, MA/Fitchburg) didn't waste any time out of the gate either, highlighting her freshman campaign with 29 hits and a third ranked slugging percentage (.393). The outfielder held tight on defense as well, committing only two errors in the outfield.
Saint Francis (PA) (14-36, 5-14 NEC) embarks on the 2011 season eager to get back to the winning ways that defined the program's third-place regular season finish in 2008. Coach Sabrina Lane brings back a young team led by sophomore Taylor Darneille (Fircrest, WA/Wilson). Darneille made an immediate impact as a freshman, notching both the squad's highest batting average (.317) and slugging percentage (.493). She also led the Red Flash with 20 RBIs, 45 hits and 70 total bases. Junior Megan Layne (Vallejo, CA/Rodriguez) will resume her position at the mound after a sophomore season with 149 strikeouts and a 3.57 ERA.
The Fairleigh Dickinson (16-32, 6-14) women's softball team and coach Dale Martin head into the 2011 season with a young roster headlined by sophomore Mikayla Fernandez (Mission Viejo, CA/Mission Viejo). The utility player handled her first season as a collegian with ease, leading the Knights in batting average (.326), slugging percentage (.417), RBIs (23), hits (47) and total bases (60). Complimenting Fernandez's firepower will be Caitlin Bradac (Garden Grove, CA/Garden Grove). The junior led the team in RBIs (27) and trailed only Fernandez in batting average (.314) and slugging percentage (.364). Also showing promise last season was pitcher Kristen Shreve (Kentwood, WA/Kentwood), earning a NEC Pitcher of the Week award for pitching a two-hitter in 9-1 Knight victory over Morgan State. During the game Shreve held a 0.00 ERA, while striking out four, walking two and holding batters to a .091 average.
The 2011 Northeast Conference softball tournament will be held on May 13-14 at the home of the high seed. The championship will consist of a four-team, double-elimination tournament comprised of six or seven games over two days. The top four teams based on regular season conference winning percentage qualify for the NEC Tournament. The NEC champion will go on to compete at NCAA Regionals.