CAMBRIDGE, Mass.  Stony Brook University, the 2008 America East Softball Champions, have been chosen to win consecutive league titles according to the preseason coaches’ poll, which was announced Friday. The Seawolves, who claimed their first ever conference crown a year ago, received five out of a possible seven first-place votes (coaches are not allowed to vote for their own team) and a total of 45 points. Boston University, which garnered two first-place votes, and University at Albany, which had one first-place tally, tied for second, finishing just three points behind with 42 points apiece.

University of Maine was tabbed fourth with 28 points, while University of Hartford and UMBC finished tied for fifth with 23 points each. University of Vermont (12 points) and Binghamton University (9) rounded out the eight-team poll.

The top four teams in the conference will advance to the America East Championship, held at the top seed on May 7-9, with the winner of the tournament receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Softball Championship.

Stony Brook (33-23 overall, 13-8 America East in 2008) returns eight starters from a squad that had its most successful season in program history last year. The Seawolves, who took the title with a 4-0 victory from defending champion and host Albany, will again rely on the right arm of junior ace Alyssa Struzenberg (Cooper City, Fla./Cooper City). The 2008 Pitcher of the Year and Most Outstanding Player at the championship was a horse all season long for Stony Brook. Struzenberg led the league in innings pitched with 222 1/3, 62 more than anyone else in the league, won a league-best 24 games and struck out a conference-high 244 hitters while posting a 2.01 earned run average. Senior first baseman Marissa Fleury (Mahopac, N.Y./Mahopac), a first-team all-conference selection last year, will pace a lineup that led America East in batting average (.268) and runs scored (233).

Boston University (29-23, 15-6) returns eight starters from a team that earned the No. 2 seed for last year’s conference championship, including four all-conference selections. Sophomore April Setterlund (Torrance, Calif./South Torrance), a first-team selection and Rookie of the Year last year, was third in the league with a .356 batting average and ranked among league leaders with 34 runs scored and 12 doubles. Fellow first-teamers Melissa Dubay (Auburn, Wash./Auburn Riverside) and Shayne Lotito (Acton, Calif./Vasquez) combined for 13 home runs and 53 runs batted in last season.

Albany (34-17, 16-5) claimed the regular-season title last season and has won three of the last four America East Championships. The Great Danes will rely on the right arm of sophomore hurler Leah McIntosh (Whitby, Ontario/Sinclair) and the bat of senior Meagan Butsch (Tomball, Texas/Tomball), both first-team All-America East choices in 2008. McIntosh paced the conference in ERA (1.57) and batting average against (.159) while striking out 217 in only 155 2/3 innings for a league-best 9.8 punchouts per game. Butsch earned the conference batting title with a .381 average and also led the league in slugging (.626).

Maine (11-39, 10-11) was tabbed to return to the league tournament after missing out last year. First-year head coach Deb Smith has a trio of all-conference selections to build around, including 2008 Player of the Year Ashley Waters (Amesbury, Mass./Amesbury), a second baseman who was among the league leaders in nearly every offensive category including hits (58), home runs (10) and total bases (101).

Hartford (21-20, 9-12) is in search of its second trip to the league tournament in the last three years and has the pitching to do it. The Hawks led the league in ERA last season with a 2.40 team mark had the fewest hits allowed (228). Second-team all-league choice Brittney Stratton (Staten Island, N.Y./Tottenville) was a big reason for the success on the mound posting 16 of the team’s 21 victories and registering a 1.95 ERA.

UMBC (25-29, 12-9) advanced to the conference tournament for the third straight season with power at the plate. The Retrievers led the league with 40 home runs and a .399 slugging percentage, but may rely on the arm of sophomore pitcher Stephanie Weigman (Elkridge, Md./Archbishop Spalding) who won 14 games and finished with a 2.60 ERA and 141 strikeouts en route to receiving all-rookie honors.

Vermont (14-27, 7-14) and first-year head coach Tarrah Beyster will bring back four starters from an extremely young team that will inlclude 11 freshmen and sophomores. Sophomore second baseman Caroline Goddard (Oakland, Calif./Piedmont) was an all-rookie selection last season after contributing who 10 RBI and 16 runs scored.

Binghamton (7-37, 2-19) will return an experienced group after losing just two players form last year’s roster. is led by another second year head coach, All-Rookie selections Brianna Andrews (Endicott, N.Y./Union-Endicott) and Deannie Plemon (Irvine, Calif./Woodbridge), who recorded team highs with five homers and 22 RBI, will lead the Bearcats.

For more information on America East softball, including complete schedules, standings and results, log on to www.AmericaEast.com.