CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Boston University, last year’s America East co-regular-season champion with Albany, is the preseason pick of the league’s coaches to claim the conference title in 2012, the league office announced Tuesday. The Terriers received five of six possible first-place votes (coaches are not allowed to vote for their own team) and a total of 35 points while the Great Danes, the defending league champion, garnered the other two first-place votes and 30 points to come in second.
Binghamton, which made its first-ever America East Championship appearance last year, followed in third, just two points behind Albany, and received 28 points. Just one point separated UMBC (18 points) and Stony Brook (17) for fourth and fifth place. Maine (10) and Hartford (9) 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 10-12, with the winner of the tournament receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Softball Championship, where America East teams have won five games and advanced to two regional finals since 2007.
Boston University (34-18 overall in 2011, 14-4 America East) welcomes back 14 letterwinners from last year’s squad that led America East in team batting average (.287), runs scored (5.7 per game) and earned run average (2.30). Holli Floetker, the league’s reigning Pitcher of the Year, will lead the Terriers on the mound. The sophomore went 14-5 while posting a league-best 1.69 ERA in 26 appearances last year. The lineup will have last season’s Rookie of the Year, Chelsea Kehr in its middle. She batted .336 and drove in a league-high 46 runs last year. The Terriers also return four other players who have claimed all-conference honors in the past in Jayme Mask, Emily Roesch, Erin Schuppert and Megan Volpano. Shawn Rychcik’s team opens its season at the NFCA Leadoff Classic on Feb. 24.
Albany (28-23, 14-4) captured its fourth America East title and first since 2007 last year. The Great Danes bring back 11 letterwinners and six starters from that team and will rely on its pitching to carry them again in 2012. Hurlers Brittany MacFawn, Brittany Schweiger and Allie Weiser helped Albany hold opposing lineups to a league low 152 runs and just a .232 average last year. MacFawn earned first-team all-conference recogintion as well as Most Outstanding Player honors at the conference championship last year. Chris Cannatta begins her 18th year at Albany and is just three wins shy of 500 for her career. Her squad opens its season at the Eagle Classic in Statesboro, Ga. on Feb. 24.
Binghamton (23-23, 10-7) is coming off one of its best seasons at the Division I level after making its first-ever America East Championship appearance last year. The Bearcats lost just two players from a team that slugged a conference-best 50 home runs last season. Leading the charge in 2012 will be outfielder Jessica Phillips, who earned America East Co-Player of the Year honors in 2011 after pacing the league in hitting (.435), on-base percentage (.576), slugging percentage (.863) and home runs (14). Outfielder Megan Tucker and second basemen Lisa Cutrona are coming off seasons in which they earned second-team all-league honors. Michelle Burrell’s team starts play Feb. 17 at Florida Gulf Coast’s tournament.
UMBC (25-25, 8-10) reached the America East Championship for the fifth time in six years in 2011 and brings back 11 players from that team in 2012. The Retrievers’ lineup ranked among the league’s best last year, leading the league in slugging (.436) and ranking second in batting average (.282). Utility player Jessica Warner was a big part of that success and will lead the way in 2012. She batted .340 with eight homers and 29 RBI last en route to earning first-team all-league honors. She will also be asked to contribute on the mound after compilling a team-best 3.14 ERA in 15 appearances last year. Joe French starts his 11th season at UMBC when his Retrievers play Longwood on Feb. 17.
Stony Brook (20-29, 5-13) aims to get back to the America East Championship after missing the tournament for the first time since 2007 a year ago. The Seawolves batted .252 as a team, which ranked third in the league, but had a 3.90 team ERA. Second-team all-league choices Lauren Maloney (.307, 17 RBI) and Jessica Combs (.299, 19 RBI) will be asked to carry the offensive load in 2012 along with infielder Bernadette Tenuto (.338, 22 RBI). Taylor Chain is Stony Brook’s top returning hurler. She won five games and compiled a 4.00 ERA in 78 2/3 innings last year. The Seawolves, who are coached by Megan Bryant, start their season at the Charlotte 49er Classic on Feb. 17.
Maine (18-31, 7-10) begins its first season under head coach Lynn Coutts, a former All-American for the Black Bears. Eleven returnees and 10 newcomers will comprise Maine’s roster as it looks to return to the conference tournament after missing out last year. Maine returns its top three pitchers, including Ashley Kelley, a second-team all-league hurler in 2010. Shortstop Jennifer Eberhardt will pace the Maine offense after batting .329 and driving in 24 runs in 2011. The Black Bears are the first America East team to kick off their season and do so Feb. 10 at USF’s tournament.
Hartford (10-24, 4-14) hopes to return to the conference tournament after a four-year absence. The Hawks’ roster will be young again in 2012 and features 11 freshmen and sophomores. Kate Wacyk, who tied for the team lead with four homers, and Shannon Simpkins, who batted .294 last year, which is tops among returnees will lead the team. Hartford, which led the conference in field percentage last year (.965), begins its 2011 campaign with a doubleheader at Central Connecticut on March 3.
2012 Softball Preseason Poll
Rank Team (1st-place votes) Points
1. Boston University (5) 35
2. Albany (2) 30
3. Binghamton 28
4. UMBC 18
5. Stony Brook 17
6. Maine 10
7. Hartford 9