Somerset, NJ - The Garden State rivalry has been reignited over the past two seasons of Northeast Conference field hockey, and the league's coaches don't foresee it fading away during the 2011 campaign. New Jersey-based NEC members Rider and Monmouth were the top-two vote-getters in the annual preseason coaches' poll, which was released as a prelude to the league's 13th season of field hockey.
Defending NEC champion Rider earned four first-place votes to finish atop the predicted order-of-finish. Monmouth, which has come up one win shy of the NEC Tournament crown in each of the past two seasons, pulled in two first-place nods as the poll's runner-up.
Quinnipiac, a NEC Tournament semifinalist in each of the past four seasons, garnered the two remaining first-place votes to finish third in the poll. Third-year NEC member Bryant followed in fourth place. Saint Francis (PA) claimed fifth place in the poll ahead of Sacred Heart in sixth. Robert Morris (seventh) and Siena (eighth) round out the preseason selections.
The poll has correctly predicted the tournament champion each of the past five years, and the first-place vote-getter in each of the past six polls has gone onto capture either the regular season or tournament championship, and, at times, both. The 2004 Quinnipiac Bobcats were the last preseason favorite to walk away empty-handed.
History repeating itself would mean good news for Rider, which stands as the preseason favorite for a second consecutive year. Although the Broncs had won three NEC titles heading into the 2010 season, they had never held the moniker of preseason favorite until last summer.
The Broncs and Hawks, whose campuses are separated by about a 60-mile drive on I-195, have clashed in NEC Tournament play in both 2009 and 2010. The latter took the 2009 meeting, upending top-seeded Rider in a dramatic overtime semifinal round contest. Again holding the top seed in 2010, the Broncs returned the favor by topping Monmouth, 1-0, in the NEC Championship Game.
The 2011 Northeast Conference Tournament, the winner of which will represent the league in the NCAA Opening Round, is slated for November 4 & 5 and will once again be played at the home facility of the No. 1 seed.
Having won the regular season crown each of the past two seasons, Rider has served as NEC Tournament host in 2009 and 2010. With the tremendous amount of returning talent on the Broncs' roster, Rider will make a bid to host the 2011 installment as well.
Note: Team-by-Team Capsules will be available later today on NortheastConference.org