CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — University at Albany, winners of three of the last five America East softball championships and the runner-up last year, has been chosen the favorite to claim the 2010 America East title, according to the preseason coaches’ poll, which was announced Thursday. The Great Danes who claimed conference crowns in 2005, ‘06 and ‘07, received three out of a possible six first-place votes (coaches are not allowed to vote for their own team) and a total of 32 points. Defending champion Boston University, which garnered three first-place votes, trailed the Great Danes by just one point with 31. Stony Brook University, the 2008 champion, had one first-place tally and followed the Terriers by just one point, coming in with 30.
UMBC was tabbed fourth with 19 points, while University of Maine was fifth with 15 points. University of Hartford (14 points) and Binghamton University (6) rounded out the seven-team poll.
The top four teams in the conference will advance to the America East Championship, held at the top seed on May 13-15, with the winner of the tournament receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Softball Championship.
Albany (38-16 overall, 12-7 America East in 2009) loses the league’s Co-Player of the Year Meagan Butsch, but returns every other key player from a squad that reached the finals of the America East Championship in 2009. The Great Danes will be led by the reigning America East Pitcher of the Year Leah McIntosh (Whitby, Ontario/Sinclair), a senior, and a trio of second-team all-conference selections in senior catcher Kat Smith (Pasadena, Texas/Pasadena Memorial), junior first baseman Gina Mason (El Camino, Calif./Sacramento) and junior outfielder Kristine Bill (Woodland, Calif./Woodland). McIntosh, also a first-team all-region selection, went 18-4, including four perfect games, with a league-best 1.34 earned run average and 246 strikeouts while walking just 18 in 161 2/3 innings. Mason, Albany’s top returning hitter, batted .302 with eight home runs and ranked fourth among league leaders with 41 RBI. Four-time America East Coach of the Year Chris Cannata and her squad open their season Feb. 26 at Stetson’s Hatter Classic.
Boston University (43-18, 14-6) won its first league title since 2003 and became just the second America East team to reach an NCAA regional final a year ago. Senior hurler Cassidi Hardy (Jupiter, Fla./Jupiter), the Most Outstanding Player of the conference tournament, won a league-best 27 games and was third with a 1.58 ERA in earning second-team all-conference honors. Junior April Setterlund (Torrance, Calif./South Torrance), a first-team all-league outfielder, ranked second hitting .396 and was third with 110 total bases. Sophomore middle infielder Emily Roesch (Palm Beach, Fla./Palm Beach Garden), the Rookie of the Year a season ago, will look to build off a season in which she batted .278 with 20 runs scored and 23 RBI. Shawn Rychcik’s team kicks off 2010 at UNC Charlotte Green & White Tournament on Feb. 26.
Stony Brook (36-14, 15-5), last year’s regular-season champion, welcomes back 11 players and six starters from a team that led the league in both hitting (.298 team average) and pitching (2.05 team ERA). First-team all-leaguers senior right-hander Alyssa Struzenberg (Cooper City, Fla./Cooper City) and senior shortstop Vicki Kavitsky (Cherry Hill, N.J./Cherry Hill East) will try to lead the Seawolves to their second league crown in three years. Struzenberg, the 2008 Pitcher of the Year, won 22 games, posted a 1.98 ERA and fanned 224 batters in 173 2/3 frames. Kavitsky paced a lineup that led America East, scoring over five runs a game. She ranked fifth in hitting (.377), third in runs (46) and fourth in total bases (105). The Seawolves, who are led by 2009 Coach of the Year Megan Bryant, begin their campaign on Feb. 19 at the UNC Charlotte First Pitch Classic.
UMBC (34-21, 12-8), which is seeking its fifth straight America East Championship berth, returns eight starters from a team that hit .285, the second-best mark in the league. The Retrievers will again be led by senior Amanda Fefel (Baltimore, Md./Catonsville), a three-time first-team all-conference selection who batted .381 with 10 home runs and a league-best 44 RBI. Junior second baseman Lauren Brummell (Hanover, Va./Hanover) earned second-team honors last season after batting .368 with a school-record 20 doubles, while junior Stephanie Weigman (Elkridge, Md./Archbishop Spalding) won 22 games and recorded a league-best 293 strikeouts. Joe French’s Retrievers open the season on Feb. 19 at the USC Upstate Campus Suites Spartan Classic.
Maine (32-22, 12-9) looks to return to the America East Championship for the first time since 2006. The Black Bears bring back seven starters, including Co-Player of the Year Alexis Souhlaris (Derry, N.H./Pinkerton Academy). The senior outfielder won the league’s batting title with a .397 average, had a conference-best 126 total bases and was second with 48 runs scored. Deb Smith’s team is the first America East team in action, kicking off their season Feb. 11 at the Red Desert Classic.
Hartford (19-22, 9-9) hopes to return to the conference tournament after a two-year absence. Senior first baseman Ann Kyzer (Boxborough, Mass./Acton-Boxborough Reg.) is the Hawks’ top returnee at the plate after batting .294 and driving in 23 last year. Senior hurler Brittney Stratton (Staten Island, N.Y./Tottenville), will try to regain her form of two years ago when she posted a 1.95 ERA and earned second-team all-conference honors. Todd Randall’s team doesn’t open its season until March 12 at the Winthrop/adidas Invitational.
Binghamton (7-36, 2-19) welcomes first-year head coach Michelle Burrell, who led University of Rochester to three straight Division III NCAA tournaments She inherits a roster that brings back seven starters and a pair of all-rookie choices in sophomores Meghan Tucker (Kirkwood, N.Y./Windsor) and Colleen Whitaker (Salinas, Calif./Notre Dame). The Bearcats begin their season on Feb. 19 at the Georgia Southern Invite.