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SOMERSET, NJ —
After finishing atop the regular season standings in 2011, Saint Francis (PA) was picked by the league’s head coaches as the Northeast Conference women’s soccer preseason favorite for the second year in a row.
The Red Flash received six first-place votes in the preseason poll, while 2011 NEC champion LIU Brooklyn was second and picked up five first-place votes. Monmouth and Sacred Heart, both NEC semifinalists last fall, were tabbed third and fourth. Central Connecticut was picked fifth, followed by Quinnipiac in sixth, Bryant in seventh, and Robert Morris in eighth. Wagner (9th), Fairleigh Dickinson (10th) and Mount St. Mary’s (11th) rounded out the field.
2012 Northeast Conference
Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Saint Francis (PA) (6)
2. LIU Brooklyn (5)
4. Sacred Heart
5. Central Connecticut
8. Robert Morris
10. Fairleigh Dickinson
11. Mount St. Mary’s
First place votes in parentheses ( ).
Saint Francis (PA) (12-6-3, 8-1-1 NEC) and 2011 NEC Coach of the Year Brenda Van Stralen won their first ever regular season championship a year ago and advanced to the title match, before falling to LIU, 4-3, in penalty kicks.
The Red Flash return NEC Player of the Year Tesa McKibben (Cogan Station, PA/Montoursville), who earned the honor for the second straight season. McKibben, a senior, was named NEC Player of the Week four times in 2011 and led the conference in goals (14) and points (33). NEC Defensive Player of the Year Alecia McNiff (Marietta, PA/Donegal) and second team all-conference selection Stephanie Boulter (Poolesville, MD/Poolesville) are also back in the fold for Saint Francis. McNiff, a junior, aided the Red Flash’s defense in limiting opponents to 1.05 goals per game, and she scored one goal, while classmate Boulter was second on the team to McKibben, with four goals scored.
The 2012 NEC Tournament will be held on Nov. 2 and 4 at the high seed’s home field. The top four finishers in the regular season advance to the four-team championship, the winner of which receives the NEC’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
• Picked third in the 2011 preseason poll, LIU Brooklyn ended up taking home the NEC Tournament crown. The defending champion Blackbirds are in search of a fourth title, having won in 1999, 2006 and 2011.
• The top four schools in the preseason poll—Saint Francis, LIU Brooklyn, Monmouth and Sacred Heart—all return at least three players who earned postseason accolades. Monmouth leads the group, with three players named to the first-team and three to the All-Rookie team.
• Saint Francis (PA)’s Tesa McKibben will look to be named NEC Player of the Year for the third straight season, which has never been done since women’s soccer was introduced in the conference in 1995. McKibben has also led the conference in goals and points the past two years. In 2011, she ranked in the NCAA top-30 in both categories.
• No team has finished first in the regular season standings and also won the tournament title since Monmouth in 2007.
• Four NEC schools will face off against teams ranked in the top-25 of the NSCAA preseason coaches’ poll as part of their non-conference schedules. Monmouth and Central Connecticut will play Boston University (23rd), Mount St. Mary’s plays Virginia Tech (22nd) and Saint Francis (PA) heads west for a matchup with Long Beach State (18th).
TEAM BY TEAM
Bryant (8-8-3, 4-4-1 NEC)
After setting a new single-season Division I record with eight wins in 2011, the Bulldogs are eligible for postseason play this season after completing their NCAA Division I reclassification this past summer.
Player to watch: Defender Mary Green (Merrick, NY/Calhoun), was a second-team All-NEC selection who played in 17 games and led a defense that limited opponents to one goal or less on 11 occasions. She also scored two goals a year ago.
Central Connecticut (5-7-5, 2-5-3 NEC)
Seven-time NEC tournament champion Central Connecticut returns an experienced team this season. The Blue Devils bring back 18 players from last year’s roster, while welcoming nine newcomers to New Britain.
Player to Watch: Junior defender Jewel Robinson (Farmington, CT/Farmington) was a first team All-NEC and first team New England Women’s Intercollegiate Soccer Association selection, and helped Central Connecticut’s’ defense hold opponents to a 1.36 goals against average. Robinson also scored two goals during the 2011 campaign.
Fairleigh Dickinson (4-12-1, 1-9-0 NEC)
Fairleigh Dickinson brings in 14 new players, the largest recruiting class in program history. The Knights are under new leadership, with former assistant coach Marco Masucci having taken the reins on an interim basis.
Player to Watch: Junior goalkeeper Sage DoVale (Lilburn, GA/Collins Hill) was named NEC Defensive Player of the Week on one occasion last season. She allowed 1.4 goals per game and recorded three shutouts.
LIU Brooklyn (12-7-1, 8-2-0 NEC)
With their 4-3 win in penalty kicks over Saint Francis (PA), head coach Tracey Bartholomew’s Blackbirds picked up their third conference title in 2011. They’ll look to advance to the NEC Tournament for the eighth straight season for a chance to repeat as champions.
Player to Watch: Jennifer Bannon (East Greenwich, RI/East Greenwich) was a first-team All-NEC selection and the NEC Goalkeeper of the Year, recording a 1.07 goals against average and 65 saves—including a save in the fifth round of penalty kicks to clinch the NEC title, earning her the title of Tournament MVP. She was also the NEC Defensive Player of the Week three times in 2011.
Monmouth (11-8-0, 7-3-0 NEC)
The 2011 season yielded Monmouth’s 15th NEC tournament appearance 17 years. They’ll look to make 2012 their seventh straight winning season under head coach Krissy Turner.
Player to Watch: All-Conference selection Dana Costello (Jackson, NJ/Jackson Memorial), a local product, had 20 points on the season on five goals and 10 assists, and was named NEC Player of the Week one time in 2011.
Mount Saint Mary’s (6-10-2, 4-6-0 NEC)
Mount St. Mary’s was in playoff contention up through the last weekend of the 2011 regular season, and will look to end its postseason drought in 2012.
Player to Watch: Sophomore midfielder Alicia Mirando (Mechanicsburg, PA/Trinity) tied for second on the team with junior Jackie Corley (Bowie, MD/Bishop McNamara) in points (six). Mirando also scored three goals in 2011, and earned NEC All-Rookie honors.
Quinnipiac (4-10-1, 3-6-0 NEC)
After missing out on postseason play last season for the first time in two years, the Bobcats look to return to the tournament, but will have to do so without leading scorer and three time NEC all-star Furtuna Velaj, who graduated last May. In her career, Velaj totaled 39 goals and 94 points.
Player to Watch: Senior midfielder and second-team All-Conference selection Shauna Edwards (Southington, CT/Southington) scored three goals and dished out three assists, ranking second on the team in points in 2011.
Robert Morris (11-8-1, 5-5-0 NEC)
Robert Morris set a team record for wins in 2011, and became the first women’s soccer team in school history to finish above .500.
Player to Watch: Defender Haley Vincent (Barrie, Ontario/PEAC School), a member of the 2011 NEC All-Rookie Team, helped anchor a stingy RMU defense that posted five shutouts.
Sacred Heart (10-5-4, 6-3-1 NEC)
Making their first appearance in the NEC Tournament in four years in 2011, head coach Kim Banner’s Pioneers fell to No. 1 seed Saint Francis (PA), 4-3, in penalty kicks in the NEC semifinals, after playing to a scoreless draw.
Player to Watch: Sacred Heart returns senior midfielder Jen Mulvey (Manalapan, NJ/St. John Vianney), an All-Conference selection, who ranked second on the team with five goals and one assist.
Wagner (9-8-2, 3-7-0 NEC)
Head coach Mike Minielli and the Seahawks broke a team record for most wins in a season with nine during the 2011 campaign and will look to reach double digits in 2012.
Player to Watch: Senior forward Julia Vigliotti (Staten Island, NY/Notre Dame Academy) earned second team All-NEC honors while leading the team with 14 points, including six goals and four assists. She became first the Wagner player since 2005 to be named to an All-Conference team.