CAMBRIDGE, Mass.- The UMBC Retrievers have been picked to win the 2009 America East Swimming and Diving Championship for the third consecutive year, according to the preseason coaches’ poll, but not without a little competition. Coaches are projecting a dog fight with the Boston University Terriers (32 points, two first-place votes) nipping at the heels of the defending Retrievers (35 points, four first place votes), trailing them by only three points in the poll. New HampshireVermont (23) in fourth, with Maine (15), Binghamton (11) and Stony Brook (7) rounding out the league. (24) was picked to finish third, just edging past

The Retrievers earned first place finishes in eight of last year’s 20 championship events and will be looking for senior Daniele Surkovich to repeat her Gold performance in the 500 yard freestyle, the 400 yard medley relay and the 200 yard freestyle relay. The graduation of seven seniors, including five-time America East champion Lindsey Engler who took home two individual golds and the two relay championships alongside Surkovich last year, will be a big blow to the two-time defending champs. UMBC will rely on its strong leadership from captains Surkovich, fellow senior Tina Cantwell, junior Tereza Kaplanova and junior Kate Chialastri. Cantwell, last year’s America East scholar-athlete for the women, took gold in the 200 yard backstroke and 100 yard breaststroke while contributing to the first-place 400 yard medley relay team.

Boston University’s most lethal asset is its youth. While capturing six gold medals during last year’s Championship, the Terriers did not graduate a single first-place finisher. Senior Eve Kinsella, last year’s Most Outstanding Swimmer, and junior Bridgette O’Shaughnessy, will return to defend their crowns in the 400 and 800 yard freestyle relays. The duo will swim with returning relay teammates junior Emily Munday and sophomore Maria McIntrye in the 400, and junior Liisa Young and sophomore Clara Van Allen in the 800. Tess Waresmith, who finished last season with a 24th-place finish at the NCAA Diving Championships and undefeated in dual meets during her first season as a Terrier, will play a large role in the team’s success this year.

New Hampshire finds itself seeded third in this year’s poll after falling just short of second place Boston U. in last year’s Championship. New Hampshire will take a hit with the loss of Kary Goodman, who earned last year’s Coaches’ Award for the most points scored by a female over four years of competition, and will look for others to step up in her absence. Sophomore Amy Perrault, the America East Rookie of the Year, should come through in a big way for Wildcats after last year’s gold in the 100 yard backstroke and the 200 yard medley relays. Perrault is the only Wildcat returning from the medley relay squad, and will be relying on sophomore Mattie Fowler, the only other returning Wildcat to grab gold last year, to continue to produce points for the team.

Vermont made great strides as a program last year and will be looking to make a statement this season. Breaking 18 school records and winning three individual championships in the conference tournament, the league can expect the young squad (made up of 25 underclassmen) to pick up where they left off. The Catamount’s three gold medalists, sophomore Kate Weaver and juniors Molly MacMillan and Colleen Clark, will be a dangerous trio as they gain experience and continue to improve throughout the season.

The Black Bears will look to improve on their fifth-place finish in the Championship last year as they return some of their strongest swimmers. Senior captain Colleen Miller has continued to make strides during her career and broke her own school record during last year’s championship. With the help of 13 incoming freshmen, the Black Bears will look to make some moves in the standings.

Bearcat standout Heather Jennings will take on the role of captain along with classmate Amanda Decker. Jennings, who is the only Bearcat to score points in the America East Championship during her freshman, sophomore and junior year, will look to keep her streak alive in the 400 IM and the 500 yard freestyle.

A strong freshman class will be what powers the Seawolves this season. Two major additions to the team, Darcy Heuser and Christie Bodden, may be the difference-makers for Stony Brook down the stretch. Bodden’s specialty is the 100-yard backstroke, which she competed in during this summer’s Olympics in Beijing for the Panama National Team.