CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - After a historic regular season, University at Albany continued to make history with the release of the America East women’s lacrosse end of season awards. Albany’s Nikki Branchini (Guilderland, N.Y./Guilderland) is the first Great Dane to garner the league’s Player of the Year award, while Albany head coach Lindsey Hart topped the Coach of the Year award balloting for the first time in her career. UMBC’s Jamie Fahey (Baldwin, Md./Loch Raven) also made UMBC history, becoming the first Retriever ever to earn America East Rookie of the Year distinction. All awards were voted upon by the league’s seven head coaches (coaches were not permitted to vote for their own players or themselves).

Branchini, a 5-6 junior defender, is the first defensive player to earn the top honor since Boston U. goalkeeper Anne Sheridan won in 2005. She leads the conference in ground balls (3.36/game), caused turnovers (2.07/game) and draw controls (5.14/game), ranking among national leaders in all three categories as well. Branchini, a three-time first-team all-conference selection, anchors a Great Danes squad which ranks sixth nationally in allowing just 7.80 goals per game, a mark that leads the conference. She also added 10 goals and three assists for 13 points during the regular season.

Hart has led the Great Danes to the program’s best season ever with a 13-2 overall record in her fifth season with the team. She has guided Albany to its debut in both national polls this year,
and has her team currently ranked 17th in the Inside Lacrosse media poll and 19th in the IWLCA coaches’ poll after receiving votes in previous weeks. Hart’s squad secured home field advantage at John Fallon Field, where the Great Danes are 8-0 this year, for the 2010 America East Women’s Lacrosse Championship by going an undefeated 6-0 in conference play and winning the program’s first regular season championship.

Fahey, a 5-3 defender, earned the league’s Rookie of the Year award by anchoring the Retriever backfield. Fahey led the team in ground balls (35) and draw controls (32), while also adding nine caused turnovers. She ranks tied for fifth in the America East statistics averaging 2.00 draw controls per game. The rookie has started all 16 of UMBC’s games, playing nearly every minute, in helping the Retrievers return to the America East Championship for the first time since 2006

Regular season champion Albany had a league-best five players named to the first team and eight all-conference honorees in all.

Branchini was a unanimous pick as a first-team defender and was joined by fellow back fielders Corcoran Downey (Ellicott City, Md./Centennial), another unanimous selection, of Boston U., Allie Duclos (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor) of New Hampshire and Caitlin Izzo (Longmeadow, Mass./Longmeadow) of Vermont. First-team midfielders were Albany’s Mel Rorie (Lansdale, Pa./North Penn), Kayla Best (Guilderland, N.Y./Guilderland), Boston U.’s Rachel Collins (Winchester, Mass./Winchester) and New Hampshire’s Kate Keagins (Bayshore, N.Y./Bayshore). The attackers making up the first team were Albany’s Christine Grueniger (Lindenhurst, N.Y./Lindenhurst), Boston U.’s McKinley Curro (Amherst, N.Y./Souhegan), Traci Landy (Seaford, N.Y./Seaford), and New Hampshire’s Shaunna Kaplan (Framingham, Mass./Framingham). The first-team goalkeeper was Great Dane Ashley Ross (Lancaster, Pa./Conestoga Valley), also a former field hockey standout.

Fahey, the only freshman on the all-conference teams, was a second-team defender, along with Albany’s Jenn Primeau (Niskayuna, N.Y./Niskayuna), Binghamton’s Siobhan Menz (Webster, N.Y./Webster) and Boston U.’s Caitlin Defliese (Garden City, N.Y./Garden City). UMBC’s Bria Phillips (Coronado, Calif./Coronado), Amanda Pappas (Padena, Md./Chesapeake), New Hampshire’s Ilana Cohen (Andover, Mass./Andover) and Vermont’s Megan MacDonald (Wayland, Mass./Wayland) made up the second-team midfield unit, while the attackers named to the second team were Taylor Frink (Baldwinsville, N.Y./C.W. Baker) of Albany, Xan Weitzel (Moorestown, N.J./Moorestown) of Boston U., Erika Braerman (Fallston, Md./Fallston) of UMBC and JoJo Curro (Amherst, N.H./Souhegan) of New Hampshire.

Joining Fahey on the all-rookie team were Albany midfielder Rachael Burek (Rensselaer, N.Y./Columbia), Binghamton attacker Kim McGeever (Northport, N.Y./Northport), Boston U. midfielders Kristen Mogavero (Massapequa, N.Y./Massapequa), Brittany Carlin (Summit, N.J./Chatham) and attacker Danielle Estrasco (Massapequa, N.Y./Massapequa), New Hampshire midfielder Amber Casiano (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor), defender Ally Stager (Reading, Mass./Reading Memorial), attacker Jenny Simpson (New Canaan, Conn./New Canaan) and goalkeeper Kathleen O’Keefe (Chatham, N.J./Chatham), and Stony Brook defender Justyne Passarelli (Glen Head, N.Y./North Shore).

Thirty-one of the honorees will be competing for their respective teams at the 2010 America East Championship this week hosted by top-seeded Albany. The Great Danes will host fourth-seeded UMBC in the first semifinal on Thursday, May 6 at 1 p.m., while second-seeded Boston U. and third-seeded New Hampshire will square off at 3:30 p.m. in a rematch of the last two title games. The winners will meet at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 8 to determine the league champion. The winner will receive an automatic berth to the NCAA Championship.