CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – University of New Hampshire, seeking its first America East Field Hockey Championship title in over a decade, is predicted to win the 2009 conference crown according to the head coaches’ preseason poll. The Wildcats, who last won the America East Championship in 1998, finished with three of a possible five first-place votes and a total of 23 points. Head coaches were not permitted to vote for their own team.
Following closely behind the Wildcats is Boston University with one first-place tally and 20 points, and defending conference champion University at Albany, which picked up the final two top-place votes and tallied 18 points. University of Maine (15 points), University of Vermont (9) and Fairfield University (5) rounded out the six-team poll.
The 2009 America East Field Hockey Championship will be played at the top seed’s turf field on November 6-8. The top four teams during the regular season will compete for an automatic berth into the NCAA Championship.
UNH (9-11 overall record, 3-2 America East record in 2008) welcomes back experience at offense, midfield and defense for 2009. The Wildcats will miss last year’s Offensive Player of the Year due to graduation, but there are several candidates that could fill that role this year, including first-team all-conference forward Meg Shea, who finished with 11 goals and 24 points in 2008. Sophomore forwards Whitney Frates, a second-team pick, and Hayley Rausch each recorded over 20 points as freshmen and now have an extra year of experience. The latter could also be said for sophomore midfielder Kate Collins Smyth who earned all-rookie status with five assists and two goals as a freshman. The backstop of the defense will be senior Cally Cookie, a second-team all-conference honoree, who set up the game-winning goal in overtime of the America East Championship semifinals and sent UNH into its first title game since 2000.
Boston U. (10-10, 3-2), which won three straight America East Championships between 2005-2007, is picked second in the preseason poll for the second straight year and is eager to get back into the top spot. Returning six starters from last year, the Terriers will have four of their top scorers from a year ago, including senior forward Nikki Lloyd who led the team in goals (7) and points (16) in her first year after transferring from Virginia Commonwealth. Senior back Haley Robinson will provide some stability in a defensive core that allowed the fewest goals (1.51 gaa) per game and recorded five shutouts in 2008, while junior Maryette Stuart, who made two defensive saves last season and went 2-for-2 on penalty shot attempts, joins Robinson in the backfield.
Albany (12-10, 4-1) is fresh off its first America East Championship trophy and returns seven of its starters. Senior midfielder Nicole Savage, a second-team selection as a sophomore and a first-team honoree as a junior, will be relied on heavily as the top returning scorer with nine goals and two assists last year to her credit. Classmate Jess Lindsey, a back, is already the program’s career assists leader with 39 and will continue to play a prominent role on the penalty corner unit. With four goals and an assist last year, junior Alysia Hough also figures to play a role in the 2009 squad.
After missing the 2007 tournament, Maine (6-11, 3-2) came one overtime goal away from advancing to last year’s title tilt. With Rookie of the Year Kelly Newton and classmate Stephanie Gardiner combining for nearly half of the team’s goals scored last year, the offensive output should still be there for the Black Bears in 2009. Brittany Fleck, who played over one thousand minutes and recorded 4.81 saves per game in cage last season as a freshman, could also benefit from one year of experience under her belt.
Vermont (9-9, 1-4) hopes to return to the America East Championship this year, and will rely on its senior leadership on and off the field to do so. Senior forward Megan Maynard was the team’s leading scorer in 2008, while senior netminder Kristen Heavens is the top returning goalie in the conference. Maynard finished last year’s campaign with nine goals and 19 points, while Heavens started 16 of the team’s 18 games while recording a 1.99 goals-against average and a .717 save percentage.
Fairfield (4-14, 1-4) returns seven of its starters from last year’s squad, including second-team sophomore forward Marit Westenberg who emerged last season as the Stags’ scoring threat with six goals and three assists. Senior Carly McCullough, a second-team midfielder, started all 18 games last year and will undoubtedly provide a presence on the field as well. The Stags will carry four goalies on the roster and should see competition for that starting position.
2009 Field Hockey Preseason Poll
Rank Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. New Hampshire (3) 23
2. Boston University (1) 20
3. Albany (2) 18
4. Maine 15
5. Vermont 9
6. Fairfield 5
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