Updated: October 18, 2011 11:10 am (ET)
by America East Communications
HARTFORD, Conn. -- A year after finishing one of the most successful seasons in the program’s history, the UMBC women’s basketball program tops the 2011-12 America East preseason poll as determined by the league’s nine head coaches. The conference office unveiled the preseason poll today at the 2011 America East Basketball Tip-Off Luncheon at the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford, host city of the 2012 America East Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championship presented by Newman’s Own.
The Retrievers, the 2011 America East regular-season champions, picked up five first-place votes and 60 total points. Boston University followed with 56 points and defending tournament champion University of Hartford earned the final two first-place votes and 54 points. Binghamton University (43 points), University at Albany (37), University of New Hampshire (25) and University of Vermont (22) finished fourth through seventh in the poll. Stony Brook University (15) and University of Maine (12), each with first-year head coaches, round out the nine-team poll. Head coaches were not permitted to vote for their own teams.
The 2012 America East Championship first, quarter and semifinal rounds will take place March 1-4 at Hartford’s Chase Arena in the Reich Family Pavilion. The highest remaining seed will host the title game the following week with the winner earning an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament where America East teams have wins in three of the last six years.
UMBC (20-12 overall record in 2010-11, 13-3 in America East) returns the nucleus of last year’s record-setting team which entered the conference tournament as the top seed. Despite falling to eventual-champion Hartford in the semifinal round, the Retrievers earned the program’s first WNIT berth and finished with the most wins in the team’s Division I history. UMBC returns the 2011 America East Coach of the Year in Phil Stern as well as three all-conference honorees. First-team all-conference seniors guard Michelle Kurowski (Hicksville, N.Y./Hicksville) and forward Erin Brown (Bethesda, Md./Walt Whitman) finished with 14.6 and 14.3 ppg, respectively, last season and were the highest-scoring tandem in America East. In addition, third-team and all-defensive team member Topé Obajolu (Randallstown, Md./Archbishop Carroll) is back for her senior season after totaling 10.6 ppg and 56 blocks a year ago.
The 2011 America East Player of the Year Chantell Alford (West Haven, Conn./Wilbur Cross) and Boston U. (17-14, 12-4) hosted the title game, but fell just short of the postseason. With all but one starter returning in 2011-12, the Terriers appear ready to make another run in the conference tournament. Over 85-percent of Boston U.’s league-leading offense, 62.8 ppg, is back, including Alford’s league-best 15.0 ppg, and senior guard Alex Young’s (Hickory, N.C./St. Stephen’s) 12.9 ppg. Junior guard Mo Moran (Hopewell Junction, N.Y./John Jay), a second-team all-conference honoree, already has two years of experience in distributing the ball, averaging better than 4.0 apg for her career.
Hartford (17-16, 11-5) has four of five starters returning in 2011-12 from last year’s America East Championship squad. Head Coach Jennifer Rizzotti, the all-time league leader with 236 victories, hopes to lead the Hawks to their sixth America East title during her 13-year tenure. Junior forward Ruthanne Doherty (Richmond, Va./L.C. Bird) will have to continue to impress after averaging 10.1 ppg in conference play and earning a second-team all-conference nod a year ago. Junior guard Daphne Elliott (Fairfield, Conn./Fairfield Warde; 8.5 ppg) and tournament Most Outstanding Player junior guard Alex Hall (Pembroke, N.H./Pembroke Academy; 7.4 ppg) rounds out Hartford’s top three returning scorers for the upcoming season.
Binghamton (19-12, 11-5) advanced to last year’s America East Championship semifinals and hopes to reach the program’s first-ever title game this season with four experienced seniors on the roster. First-team all-conference guard Andrea Holmes (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell), who missed last season’s final three games due to injury, is one of those seniors and can make a difference with 14.3 ppg, 3.3 apg and 1.9 spg to her credit. Second-team all-conference forward Viive Rebane (Talinn, Estonia/Audentes School) and 2011 Rookie of the Year Jasbriell Swain (Memphis, Tenn./Horn Lake) both bring a presence under the net as the team’s top two returning rebounders at 8.5 and 7.9 rpg, respectively.
Albany (16-14, 9-7) boasts four returning starters, including Defensive Player of the Year Ebone Henry (San Diego, Calif./Mater Dei Catholic) who finished with 14.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 2.6 spg last season. Junior forward Julie Forster (Huntington, N.Y./Huntington) has led America East in rebounding in each of her first two years, compiling 9.7 rpg a year ago. Albany’s squad also features five newcomers and 6-foot-9 freshman Megan Craig (Whangarei, New Zealand) who could bring a whole new look to the Great Danes’ game.
New Hampshire (9-20, 6-10) also has four starters returning from last year’s team which finished sixth after the coaches predicted the Wildcats to end up last. Standout forward Denise Beliveau (Framingham, Mass./Framingham) is back to close out her collegiate career and was the team’s top scorer (12.9 ppg) and rebounder (8.9 rpg) in 2010-11. All-rookie team member Kelsey Hogan (Nashua, N.H./Nashua North), a point guard who led America East with 4.1 apg, and junior guard Cari Reed (Oswego, N.Y./Oswego), who finished with 10.4 ppg, each had breakout years last season and the Wildcats hope those trends continue.
Vermont (5-25, 5-11) welcomes six newcomers in 2011-12, including four McDonald’s All-America nominees, a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year, and Seton Hall transfer Shanai Heber (Paterson, N.J./Kennedy) who sat out last year due to NCAA policy. This group joins four starters from last year’s Catamounts, led by junior forward Lauren Buschmann (St. Catherine’s Ontario/Gov. Simcoe). Buschmann finished second on the team a year ago with 10.0 ppg and paced the team with 7.1 rpg.
Head Coach Beth O’Boyle enters her first year at Stony Brook (7-23, 3-13) and inherits 10 letterwinners. Among those letterwinners is senior guard Misha Horsey (Wyncote, Pa./Cheltenham) who lost all but three games and received a medical red shirt last season. Horsey averaged 8.1 ppg and 3.3 apg as a junior in 2009-10. Junior guard Sam Landers (Springfield, Va./West Springfield) took on much of Horsey’s ball-handling responsibilities last season, averaging 9.2 ppg and 2.9 apg.
Maine (4-25, 2-14) also welcomes a new head coach into the fold this season in Richard Barron. After losing all-conference forward Samantha Wheeler (Derry, N.H./Timberlane Regional) early in the year with an injury, all-rookie guard Ashleigh Roberts (Wilmington, Del./Concord) stepped up to lead the Black Bears with 10.7 ppg in 2010-11, including 11.9 ppg against America East opponents. Barron and his staff bring in five new freshmen this season, including two home-grown Mainers.
2011-12 Preseason Poll
Rank Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. UMBC (5) 60
2. Boston U. (2) 56
3. Hartford (2) 54
4. Binghamton 43
5. Albany 37
6. New Hampshire 25
7. Vermont 22
8. Stony Brook 15
9. Maine 12