CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — For the fifth-consecutive year, Boston University has been chosen as the preseason favorite to win the America East Women’s Soccer Championship, as determined by a vote of the conference’s head coaches. The Terriers, the defending league champion, were a unanimous selection, receiving all eight first-place votes (coaches were not permitted to vote for their own team) for 64 points, while University of New Hampshire, co-regular season champions in 2007, finished second with 52 points.
Stony Brook University was tabbed third (46 points), while University of Maine followed closely in fourth (45). University of Hartford was chosen fifth (40), followed by Binghamton University (26), University at Albany (23), University of Vermont (19) and UMBC (9).
The 2008 season kicks off with eight teams in action this weekend, including Boston University playing host to 14th-ranked Boston College, and two teams (Albany and UMBC) taking on Big East opponents, Syracuse and Villanova, respectively. The conference slate, highlighted by a nationally televised matchup (Fox Soccer Channel) between Boston U. and Binghamton on October 9, will begin on September 28. The top six teams in the conference will advance to the America East Championship with the winner of the tournament receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship.
Boston University (11-7-3 overall, 6-1-1 America East in 2007) became the first America East women’s soccer squad to win the conference title on the road since 1996, downing New Hampshire, 2-1, in last year’s title game to earn its third straight NCAA appearance. The Terriers, who were edged by Wake Forest, 2-1, in the College Cup, return 21 players and nine starters from that squad, including the 2007 America East Defender of the Year Casey Brown and first-team all-conference selections Marisha Schumacher-Hodge and Emily Pallotta.
New Hampshire (11-7-2, 6-1-1) shared the regular-season crown with Boston U., the first time in 17 seasons UNH finished the regular-season in first place. The Wildcats, who led the league with 1.46 goals per game, return their two most potent scorers from last year’s squad. Michelle Sheehan, the 2007 Striker of the Year, scored a conference-best 11 goals and Caitlin Whelan, the 2007 Midfielder of the Year, had a league-best seven assists.
Stony Brook (8-5-5, 4-2-2) reached the postseason for the just the second time in six years as a conference member, advancing to the semifinals of the America East Championship with a win over Maine in the quarterfinal round. Two-time all-conference selection Brooke Barbuto, a first-team honoree in 2007, is the Seawolves’ top returnee. Junior goalkeeper Marisa Viola led the league with 10 shutouts a year ago and carried a 0.72 goals against average.
Maine (6-8-3, 4-3-1) looks to improve on its fifth-place finish from a year ago and return all but two players from the 2007 roster. One of those departures is Laura Harper, a two-time, first-team all-league choice who scored 25 career goals. Second-team selection Laura Martel (6 goals, 1 assist in 2007) will pace the offense, while senior goalkeeper Jasmine Phillips (0.90 GAA, .814 save percentage) will lead a defense that allowed just 0.89 goals per game last season.
Hartford (7-6-5, 5-1-2), the 2006 champion, will be in search of its 11th league title in 2008. The Hawks bring back 13 players from last year’s squad, including three all-conference selections. Laura Guigli and Kacey Busque will be asked to lead the attack. The pair combined for five goals and four assists in 2007. The Hawks will have to replace the output of Meagan Riemer, the 2006 Striker of the Year, and Elizabeth Cook, the 2006 Goalkeeper of the Year.
Binghamton (3-11-3, 2-5-1) reached the semifinals of the America East Championship for the third time in four years last season. First-year head coach Sara McClellan inherits a program that returns five starters, including all-conference honorees Mandi Casares, a second-team choice in 2007, and Stefani Knopick, an all-rookie selection.
Albany (5-10-3, 1-7-0) tied their mark for most victories as a Division I program with five in 2008. Teresa Boring, the 2007 Rookie of the Year, was second in the league with 20 points and nine goals in her first collegiate season. Senior Diana Barrera scored four goals and recorded a team-high four assists in 2007, good for sixth in the league.
Vermont (3-14-1, 2-6-0) will look to return to the America East Championship and claim its first league title since 1996 under new head coach, Kwame Lloyd. The Catamounts return 21 players, including 10 starters from last year’s squad. Seniors Kaitlin Francis and Emilie Rowe, both second-team all-conference selection in 2006, will lead the team, along with junior goalkeeper Eliza Bradley, an all-rookie choice in 2006. Jessica Becker, an all-rookie honoree in 2007, tied for the team-lead with 12 points during her freshman campaign.
UMBC (3-13-2, 2-6-0) hopes to return to the league tournament for the first time since 2005 under first-year coach Alyssa Radu, who served the same position at New Jersey Tech for four seasons. Sophomore Ashley Singer is the Retrievers’ top returning scorer after netting four goals during her rookie campaign. Morgan Warrington and Erin Johnson, all-rookie selections in 2007, join Singer to form a nucleus of talented sophomores.