CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Boston University received five of a possible six votes from the league’s head coaches as the favorite to win its fifth consecutive title and to top the 2009 America East women’s lacrosse preseason poll. The Terriers earned a total of 35 points to edge out University of New Hampshire, which finished with the remaining two first-place votes and 32 points to take second in the seven-team poll. Head coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.
University of Vermont followed in third-place with 25 points, while University at Albany finished in fourth, garnering 18 points. Stony Brook University (12 points), UMBC (11) and Binghamton University (8) rounded out the poll.
The top four teams in the conference will advance to the America East Championship with the winner of the tournament receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championship.
The Terriers (18-3 overall record, 6-0 America East record in 2008) advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championship for the second time in four years in 2008 with a team consisting of only two seniors and a load of young talent. Boston U., four-time defending champion, return six all-conference players, including reigning Player of the Year senior Sarah Dalton (Cornwall, Vt./Taft School) and senior Kelly Munroe (Westwood, Mass./Westwood), both first-team all-conference members in 2008. Dalton, an attacker, led the conference in goals (71), goals per game (3.74), points (84), points per game (4.42) and game-winning goals (5) as one of the biggest offensive threats in the country. Munroe, who garnered last year’s conference championship Most Outstanding Player, is the anchor of the Boston University defense, along with second-team goalkeeper Rachel Klein (Forest Hill, Md./Roland Park). Entering the 2009 season, Boston University ranks 10th in the country by the IWLCA and looks poised to compete for a second-straight undefeated America East season.
New Hampshire (13-6, 4-2), certainly eager to dethrone the Terriers and win its first America East Championship since 2004, will be motivated by the memory of falling to the Terriers in both the conference title game and the NCAA Championship first round last season. The Wildcats, picked 14th in the country by IWLCA this preseason, finished third in the regular season conference standings before meeting up with Boston U. in the finals. Midfielder Michaela Hardy (Reading, Mass./Reading), tabbed a “Name to Know” along with Dalton by Inside Lacrosse earlier this year, leads a senior class of six Wildcats in 2009. Hardy finished last season with 52 goals and was ninth in the conference with 3.11 points per game. Fellow UNH senior Sarah Von Bargen (East Setauket, N.Y./Ward Melville), an attacker, tallied 41 goals and ranked eighth in America East with 3.12 points per game. The biggest question for the Wildcats this season may be if sophomore Nikki Hume (North Hampton, N.H./Winnacunnet) or freshman Kate Gunts (Wilton, Conn./Wilton) can fill the hole left by the loss of first-team all-conference goalkeeper Ashley Milley to graduation.
Vermont (8-9, 5-1), who defeated the Wildcats in the regular season, finished second in the conference before falling to UNH in the America East Championship semifinals in 2008. The Catamounts’ 2008 campaign was a breakout year, and one with much promise for the future. Sophomore Megan MacDonald (Wayland, Mass./Wayland) earned the league’s Rookie of the Year, as well as second-team and all-rookie accolades, while head coach Jen Johnson was recognized as the conference’s Coach of the Year. Led by MacDonald, as well as senior midfielder Kristen Millar (Whitby, Ontario/Sinclair Secondary) and senior defender Jessa Merrill (Kennebunk, Maine/Kennebunk), both first-team all-conference honorees, Vermont set school records for number of overall victories (8), number of league wins (5) and highest regular season conference finish (2nd). Millar, who already owns four career records at Vermont, is in a position to also become the school’s all-time leading goal-scorer and the NCAA’s all-time leader in draw controls before she graduates.
Albany (8-9, 2-4) slipped into the 2008 America East Championship as the four seed before falling to eventual champion Boston U., but has hopes of returning to the final after reaching it for the first time in 2007. Junior midfielder Kayla Best (Guilderland, N.Y./Guilderland), who earned second-team all-conference honors as a freshman and first-team recognition as a sophomore, returns as the Great Danes’ top scorer. Best notched a team-high 45 goals a year ago, including three gamewinners. Sophomore Nikki Branchini (Guilderland, N.Y./Guilderland) emerged as one of the league’s top defenders as a freshman last year, earning first-team all-conference status and finishing the season with 2.59 ground balls and 2.65 draw controls per game.
After a disappointing 2008 season just one year removed from a regular season championship, Stony Brook (9-6, 2-4) will be hungry for its first America East Championship crown. The 2007 Player of the Year, senior midfielder Kaitlin Leggio (Bay Shore, N.Y./Bay Shore), continued her success into 2008 and led America East with 2.0 assists per game, 4.20 ground balls per game, and 1.67 caused turnovers per game. All-Rookie attacker Melissa Cook (Bay Shore, N.Y./Bay Shore) returns on offense after ranking among the conference leaders in goals (2.47 per game) and points (3.13 per game).
UMBC (4-12, 2-4) will have a lot of holes to fill for the 2009 season, particularly on offense, but will return all three goalkeepers, two of which played significant minutes last season. If the Retrievers hope to return to the America East Championship for the first time since 2006, they will have to rely on their netminders, as well as All-Rookie midfielder Megan Linkous (Jarrettsville, Md./North Harford), who started all 16 games and tallied 23 ground balls as a freshman.
Sophomore Ali Castiglie (Middle Island, N.Y./Longwood) begins 2009 as the Bearcats’ (5-11, 0-6) top returner in points and assists (18 goals, 19 assists). The attacker, along with classmate Lisa Illig (Corning, N.Y./Corning), had successful All-Rookie campaigns which head coach Tony Zostant hopes carries over to the upcoming season. Binghamton’s season gets underway in Pittsburgh against Denver on February 20.
The 2009 America East Women’s Lacrosse Championship will be played April 30 and May 2 at the field of the highest seed.