CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The league’s six volleyball head coaches picked Binghamton University as the favorite to win the 2009 America East Volleyball Championship. Binghamton garnered four of a possible five first-place votes and a total of 26 points in the coaches’ preseason poll.

University at Albany, three-time defending champion, earned the remaining two first-place votes and finished with 19 points. Following closely behind the Great Danes are University of New Hampshire (17) and UMBC (16) in third and fourth place, respectively. Stony Brook University (9) and University of Hartford (5) round out the six-team poll.

The top four teams during the regular season will compete at the 2009 America East Volleyball Championship on either November 20-21 or November 21-22. The top seed will host the tournament, with the winner earning an automatic berth into the NCAA Championship.

Led by the 2008 America East Coach of the Year, Glenn Kiriyama, Binghamton (16-15 overall record, 9-3 America East record in 2008) is in search of its second-ever America East Championship title, its last coming in 2005. The Bearcats, who advanced to last year’s championship match and have qualified for each of the last five conference tournaments, boast three returning America East first-team selections. Their top threats include junior hitters Michelle McDonough (Orland Hills, Ill./Andrew), 3.56 kills per game, and Anna Lejina (Riga Latvia/Univ. of Latvia), 3.53 kills per game, in addition to junior setter Lindsey Mueller (West Bend, Wisc./West Bend West), who started all 31 matches and finished second in America East with 10.23 assists per game.

The Great Danes (23-9, 12-0) have won four of the past five America East Championships, including the past three titles, and return a plethora of experience from those championship squads. Leading the way is the 2008 Setter of the Year Brooke Stanley (Hendersonville, N.C./West Henderson), a junior who led the league in assists with 10.47 per game. Coming off a strong freshman campaign in which she earned the conference’s Defensive Specialist of the Year, sophomore libero Laurie Gonzalez (Carolina, Puerto Rico/St. Francis School) led the league with 4.34 digs per game against America East opponents. Second-team senior middle blocker Hillary White (Aberdeen, S.D./Colorado State) and all-rookie hitter Kalyn Mostert (Nepean, Ontario/Merivale) also return for the Great Danes in search of a four-peat.

New Hampshire (7-21, 4-8) will hope to rebound from a below average season a year ago. Looking for their fourth tournament title, the Wildcats return six starters and all but three letterwinners from last year’s squad. Senior Kirsten Bates (Calgary, Alberta/Bishop Carroll), who leads a deep group of outside hitters, is a two-time all-conference honoree and ranked fourth in the league in kills per game a year ago (3.32 kpg). Bates is also the top returner in digs, having accumulated 245 (2.36 dpg) in 2008. UNH also returns senior setter Kate Uitti (Pinckney, Mich./Pinckney) who assumed the starting position as a freshman and has amassed 2,653 assists over her first three years.

UMBC (18-13, 7-5) returned to the America East Championship in 2008 as the third seed after missing out on the previous year’s tournament The 2008 Rookie of the Year Alyssa Lang headlines the returners, along with three seniors. Lang (Richmond, Va./Deep Run), an outside hitter, finished the 2008 season with 2.85 kills and 2.83 digs per game, second in both categories among the returners. Senior Ashley Oscars (Bakersfield, Calif./Liberty), also a recipient of the Rookie of the Year in 2006, also provides a presence with 2.91 kills and .33 blocks per game last year. Senior setter Kira Giles (Winnipeg, Canada/Glenlawn), with 9.26 assists per game in 2008, should be looked upon again to quarterback the Retrievers’ offense.

Stony Brook (12-18, 3-9) hopes to get back on track after having its streak of three straight America East Championship appearances broken last season. Returning four starters, the Seawolves also welcome five newcomers to the mix, including transfers Harmonie Calinda (Huntington, N.Y./Hofstra), a senior hitter, and Bianca Hernandez (East Moriches, N.Y./Fordham), a sophomore defensive specialist. Junior middle blocker Ashley Headen (Alexandria Va./St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes) finished second in America East last year with 1.04 blocks per game and is the top returning hitter with 1.85 kills per game at a team-best .275 clip.

The Hawks (6-25, 1-12) return all seven starters from a year ago, including senior libero Sarah Boss (Fremon, N.H./Pinkerton) who dug out 288 balls last year and served up 18 aces. Senior middle hitter Erin Macro (Lincoln, R.I./Lincoln) is fifth among the league’s returners in kills, averaging 2.93 kills per game last season, and is one of the top servers around the conference with 44 aces last year as a junior. Junior Lindsay Ford (Carson, Nev./Carson), who put up 882 assists and 160 digs in 2008, should assume the setter’s role once again in 2009.

2009 Volleyball Preseason Poll
Rank    Team (1st-place votes)    Total

1.    Binghamton (4)    26 points
2.    Albany (2)    19
3.    New Hampshire    17
4.    UMBC    16
5.    Stony Brook    9
6.    Hartford    5