2011 NCAA Soccer Preview – Northeast Conference – Style and Steel

LIU

Hard Road Ahead? - Defending League Champs Long Island Deal With Heavy Losses in 2011

Well away from the eyes of most of the college soccer world, one of the DI’s most interesting dichotomies was brewing throughout the 2010 NEC season. Two teams proved they were without a doubt the class of the field but did it in very different manners. The Long Island Blackbirds left their mark with a punishing, withering defense that steamrolled almost all of the NEC teams in its’ path and had freshman keeper Jessica Sexton going down in the record books as having, statistically, one of the best seasons in recent memory. Their rivals, the St. Francis Red Flash, a program toiling in anonymity for most of their history, were doing it in entirely the opposite manner, with a destructive offense that blew the rest of the league out of the water, the beneficiaries of a little Samba flair and a successful injury return.

In the end, St. Francis would prove that defense doesn’t always win championships (at least in the NEC), by beating their rivals twice and taking their maiden voyage to the NCAA Tournament. It was one of the most interesting league developments in years in a conference plagued by undersupported and underfunded programs and a clutch of teams who have long been unable to pull themselves out of an extended cycle of losing. It also represented a departure from the usual duopoly of domination from Central Connecticut State and Monmouth who had ruled the league with an almost iron fist for the better part of a decade and a half. More competition at the top can only be a good thing for a league with its name in lights all too rarely these days.

(Teams listed in order of final RPI ranking.)

After over a decade of hard work, Tracey Bartholomew has helped oversee LONG ISLAND‘s ascension into the position of being one of the NEC’s top programs. Bartholomew had big shoes to fill in Brooklyn after taking over at the turn of the century in place of current Rutgers boss Glenn Crooks who had taken the school from 1-16-1 in 1997 to a spot in the NCAA Tournament in 1999 before earning a well deserved move to New Brunswick.

Progress was messy and slow for the most part for the new coach in the early part of the decade, but the Blackbirds’ brass’ patience with Bartholomew was well rewarded when in 2006, the program took home the NEC double, signifying their arrival at the top of the competitive stage that is the NEC. Success followed again in 2008 as LIU won a program high sixteen matches to lock up the program’s second NEC title, but the Blackbirds would fall short in the conference tournament, precluding them from a chance to prove their mettle in the NCAA Tournament. Long Island would continue their pattern of taking a step back in odd numbered seasons in 2009, just barely getting above .500 but still managing to qualify for their fifth straight NEC Tournament, no mean feat considering only the Top 4 in the conference qualify for the postseason.

2010 started out innocuously with four matches away from home and two wins over tame opposition, a loss against an average Cal Poly team, and most tellingly, a draw on the road with a good Harvard side. The good result against the Crimson set the Blackbirds up to go on a tear, winning six in a row and keeping five clean sheets in the process. As it turned out, the defeat to Cal Poly early was the last loss for LIU in a long while, as they strung together a fifteen match unbeaten streak, including seven clean sheets in a row.

By the time the Blackbirds traveled to St. Francis (PA) for a top of the table clash, Long Island was 7-0-1 in the league, having not given up a single goal in NEC play. The Red Storm would keep the Blackbirds from going unbeaten in league play with a 1-0 win, but LIU would lift the title two days later with a typical LIU win, 1-0, against Robert Morris. It meant that the Blackbirds ended the regular season having conceded a ridiculous one goal in league play.

They kept the clean sheets rolling in the NEC Tournament semi-finals with a 1-0 win over Central Connecticut State, their ninth 1-0 win of the year and fifteenth shut out of the season. Unfortunately, it’d also be their last. Offense met defense as LIU rematched against the only team that beat them in NEC play, St. Francis (PA). It was a different day at a different venue, but the result was ultimately the same as Long Island was edged out by their nemesis in what looks like a budding rivalry. Though they had had a magnificent season, the lack of a truly great win to hang their hat on left the Blackbirds on the outside of the NCAA Tournament bubble looking in.

Long Island is hit hard by graduation though, meaning this season may fall into line with other odd years over the last half decade with some rebuilding being done. Particularly hard hit is last season’s defense, tied for fourth in the country after giving up just nine goals all season and one in regular season league play. The lynchpin of that defense, Brittany Schandelmayer, departs after a brilliant season that culminated with being named NEC Defensive Player of the Year. After being limited by injury all season a year before, Schandelmayer rebounded to help marshal the Long Island defense and turn it into a brick wall for opposing offenses.

Compounding matters, the team also loses another two starting defenders, including another All-NEC First Team selection in Kelly Carter. Carter had an unbelievable career as the Blackbirds’ ironwoman, starting in all seventy-nine matches LIU played in her four year college stint. Originally a winger for the Blackbirds, Carter turned into a rock solid member of the defense for her final three seasons on Long Island. Also gone is well traveled defender Samantha Bock, who bounced around from UC Santa Barbara, Cypress College, and finally to the Blackbirds where she found a home on the defense and made a big contribution to LIU’s rearguard.

While the unit is depleted, the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Mammoth junior defender Jeanette Dolmetsch goes from cog in the defensive machine to being the defensive leader for the Blackbirds after starting in every match for LIU last year and impressing. The team’s recruiting this year looks to be strictly on the defensive side of the ball, and with all the losses, everyone could be auditioned for one of the vacant spots on the defense. Pay special attention to JUCO transfer Angie Young, who impressed at San Bernadino Valley College the last two seasons and New Zealand U17 international Tessa McPherson, a vice captain of the 2010 U17 World Cup Ferns side. The club will also be hoping to get unlucky injury victim Tasia Davis back after she missed her second full season last year through injury, a year after starting every match for LIU.

One spot where there will be no uncertainty is in goal, as Jessica Sexton is back after a star turn for LIU in her freshman season. Quite big for this level (6’0″), Sexton was more than good enough in her first season of college ball, winning the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year award at the first time of asking. Not only that, but Sexton posted the fourth best save percentage in a single season in DI History and the seventh best GAA in DI History in a single season as well. Now the challenge is doing that again without such a stout backline in front of her. Junior Jennifer Bannon is a fine backup having played every minute for the Blackbirds in goal in 2009 and also having made six starts last year.

On the other side of the ball, Long Island’s offense was above average in NEC terms, although it clearly took second billing behind the defense. This group also takes its losses going into this year, the biggest of which is midfielder Caitlin Meadows, a steadying influence last season with two goals and four assists also tossed into the bargain. LIU will be hoping for some reserves to step into starting roles in midfield or for some of the newcomers to prove instant hits. Again, the Blackbirds are going the JUCO route to try and fill some of the immediate gaps, with Alana Wohlers joining up after an impressive stint at Cypress College.

Up front Lara Martinez is also lost, but the Blackbirds get a massive boost with Kayleigh Morgan gaining a fifth year of eligibility. Morgan had four goals and four assists last season and will be vital up front this year. Chief among the other returnees is senior Ariana Calderon, last year’s scoring leader with six goals and two assists. All things considered, that might be a little disappointing with the way Calderon’s career started. In 2008, the forward from Sacramento stormed into the NEC with ten goals as a freshman, winning both the NEC Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors. But 2009 was plagued by injuries, and last season saw Calderon’s tepid total which was also boosted by a couple penalty kick goals. There’s no doubting that the Blackbirds really need to have Calderon firing on all cylinders if they’re to come anywhere close to approaching last season’s title.

Brit Toni Smith had a fine first season on Long Island with five goals and three assists, including four match winners to lead the team. Smith cooled down in league play though, only netting one time, and Bartholomew will surely be hoping for more from her foreign import this season. In fact, the only other player to score multiple goals in NEC play besides Calderon was junior Katie Egan who was a part-time starter with seven starts last season. With all the losses hitting LIU this season, Egan could very well step up into a key role for the team. This unit also gets its fair share of JUCO talent infusion with a pair of transfers. Evelyn Calderon scored twenty-one goals and had eleven assists at San Bernadino Valley College in 2009 before suffering through some injuries in 2010. Ruby Leon also joins up from San Bernadino Valley College after fifteen goals last season while she scored nineteen goals a season earlier at Cerritos College. There’s plenty of potential on the frontline, it’s just a matter now of making all the pieces click.

The Blackbirds are going to need a lot of players to step up this season if they want to stand any chance of what looks like an unlikely repeat of their title winning heroics of a season ago. There’s simply too many big losses to the strength of last year’s side to think the Blackbirds will be amongst the favorites to left the NEC crown come late October. But there’s also still some talented pieces here and there, including a budding goalkeeping star in Sexton, meaning LIU still has a shot of keeping their postseason streak alive with another Top Four finish in the league.

ST. FRANCIS (PA)…a power in the NEC? You’d be forgiven if at first glance it sounded a bit absurd. After all, going into last season, the Red Flash had gone twenty-four seasons with four postseason appearances, zero postseason wins, and most importantly, zero major trophies to their name. Loretto had also earned something of a reputation as a coaching graveyard, having claimed no less than six victims before Brenda van Stralen took the helm before the 2004 season.

The results have really spoken for themselves. The Red Flash had had zero non-losing seasons before van Stralen took charge. After? Five of seven at .500 or above. If that hadn’t been enough to get the coach in the good graces of the Red Flash faithful, then St. Francis’ landmark 2010 campaign finished the job. One complaint going into the season was that while the Red Flash had certainly made strides forward, they had had only one postseason appearance under van Stralen entering last season.

There were some signs that van Stralen might have had something special in Loretto in non-conference play. The Red Flash were putting up some reasonably impressive offensive numbers against some weaker clubs, but at the same time, they were handled with reasonable ease by Georgetown on the road and in a closer match against Canisius, also on the road. While St. Francis had certainly shown potential before the start of NEC action, it remained to be seen how they’d fare in one of the more rigorous mid-major slates in the nation. Results through the first few weeks were notedly mixed with two big wins balanced out by two losses, including a horrific 1-0 loss at Bryant. It should be noted though that three of SFPA’s first four in NEC play were on the road, and a stretch of four in six at home did the Red Flash a world of good.

van Stralen’s side reeled off six straight wins to close out the regular season, including a 1-0 victory over eventual league champs Long Island at home. St. Francis’ patchy early conference season form may have cost them a league title by a single point in a thrilling NEC title race, but the Red Flash were certainly in with a chance in the NEC Tournament. They almost blew that chance in the semi-finals, needing penalties to dispatch of Quinnipiac, a team they had throttled in the regular season, 3-0.

A rematch with Long Island awaited in the final, and though they were second best for much of the match, the Red Flash made a first half own goal stick and lifted the first major trophy in program history. Naturally, that meant a first bid to the NCAA Tournament where SFPA drew Big Ten champs Ohio State. A bit out of their depth in all honesty, the Red Flash somehow survived into the second half of extra time despite being outshot 38-2 on the day. Less than five minutes away from an improbable shootout, OSU finally made good and ended the Red Flash’s dream season.

The mission now for van Stralen and the Red Flash is to show that they weren’t just a pack of one year wonders and that they can keep on rolling with a bullseye squarely on their head as defending NEC Tournament champions. Last year’s NCAA Tournament team took a pretty simple tact on the pitch: score, score, and score some more. It was a little unexpected considering that the team had lost their two leading scorers from a season before that had totaled thirteen of the team’s twenty-two goals in 2009. But counting the two matches in the NEC Tournament, St. Francis scored a whopping twenty-nine goals in twelve matches, or a little over two and a half per match against conference foes. To put that into a little perspective, that’s eleven more goals than the team that finished second in league scoring, Quinnipiac. The Red Flash scored two or more goals in thirteen of their twenty-two matches, and three or more goals ten times.

The good news for van Stralen and co. is that a good portion of that freight train of offense is back for 2011. The key piece is 2010’s NEC Player of the Year, Tesa McKibben. McKibben got a bit of a late start to her college career after going down to a serious injury just three matches into 2009. But upon her return in 2010, McKibben put together a dominant campaign, scoring fifteen goals and adding nine assists to easily lead the team in scoring. Ten goals and five assists in NEC play were also more than enough to crown her the league’s scoring champion and by some distance as well. Her next closest competitor was twelve points behind, meaning McKibben almost doubled up on the entire league.

She did double up on anyone not in a SFPA shirt though considering the second place finisher in the league was also a member of the Red Flash. Sadly for SFPA fans, that player, Haleigh Dunyon, is the team’s biggest loss to graduation after a breakout campaign of ten goals and three assists, including six goals in league play. The team also loses Chelsea Traurig and Lauren Compton from the attack but should still have plenty of firepower to spare. Besides McKibben, the team also returns the league’s rookie of the year in Brazilian Barbara Maros de Carvalho. Maros de Carvalho was a creative juggernaut for van Stralen’s side last year with eleven assists to go along with five goals. Capable of scoring and creating, Maros de Carvalho could be called upon to do more of the former to help replace the production of Dunyon.

SFPA will also be looking for more from Barbara’s twin sister Beatriz, who was limited to just four appearances off the bench last season after being hampered by a preseason injury. Stephanie Boulter, a sophomore, will also be a factor up front or in midfield after starting nineteen matches as a freshman, while junior Laura Stayrook could provide depth after making eleven starts last season.

The midfield will once again be able to call upon the services of one of the league’s best midfielders in senior Traci Flick, an All-NEC First Team performer last season. Flick’s not going to be a prolific scorer on this team in all likelihood, but there are few in this league better at keeping their team ticking over. With Compton and Dunyon both departing from the midfield, the Red Flash might have to dip into their depth to fill the holes. Aryn Askin was a super sub in midfield last season, while Codi Bixler only played ten matches but scored three goals off six shots, not a bad strike rate at all.

If all of that wasn’t enough to give opposing defenses nightmares, the team adds another Brazilian prospect this season in Eloa Coralina Nascimento. Capable in both midfield and attack, Nascimento comes from the same Guarani FC club that produced the Maros de Carvalho twins and could potentially make as big an impact in her first season in Loretto.

With such a potent offense, St. Francis just needed a defense that wasn’t totally inept, and they got that with a unit that was roughly middle of the road in the NEC. With all the key parts set to return on the backline this season, it stands to reason that the Red Flash should be able to move into the top tier defensively among NEC clubs. The defense should be led by sophomore Alecia McNiff, who is already well on her way to becoming one of the league’s best defenders after just one season in Loretto. Juniors Jennifer Brennan and Katy LaBella have been full-time starters for two seasons and should be steady performers in the back as well.

The team’s biggest concern this season could be in goal. Last year’s starting keeper, Lauren Fearer, departs leaving questions in goal. Junior Brianna Butcher started last season as the team’s #1 but lost her job to Fearer as the season went along and is far from a sure thing to start the season in between the pipes. Incoming freshmen Sabrina LaMantia and Katie Ross should find themselves in the mix for the starting job, and this situation probably won’t get settled until the opening of the new season.

With plenty of offense to burn and a capable looking defense, it’s looking mighty promising for the Red Flash this season. A more difficult non-conference slate awaits as well, meaning it could be a little harder to call SFPA a group of flat-track bullies if they rack up the wins out of NEC play again this year. In league play, the Red Flash look good bets to be serious contenders for NEC silverware again. If they manage a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, van Stralen’s side have the capability to give anyone taking them lightly a real rude awakening through their high octane offense.

In the eyes of many, CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE has been the benchmark program for the Northeast Conference throughout the history of the league. The Blue Devils are still to date the only team from the NEC to have won a match in the NCAA Tournament, in the magical season of 2003 when they topped Boston College and came oh so close to advancing further as they fell to UConn in extra time. CCSU of course is at a natural disadvantage come the BIg Dance thanks to their proximity to those local powers that they ran into in 2003, ensuring that the Blue Devils will almost always have a very difficult path through the Big Dance.

As far as conference silverware, CCSU’s record in the NEC is unparalleled. Seven league titles, seven NEC Tournament titles, and five doubles in their long and storied history. The Blue Devils have put together both a string of three straight league titles right before the turn of the millennium, along with four straight NEC Tournament titles in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium. Although the trophies have kept rolling in in the recent years, some of the other teams in the league have just about done enough to catch up, as could be seen in a two year trophy drought through 2006-2007.

The good times returned in 2008 and 2009 though, and the Blue Devils entered into 2010 with no shortage of motivation after having lost in the NEC Tournament Final to Monmouth the season before. CCSU played a relatively challenging non-conference schedule and paid the price, falling short to much bigger quarry, although they did end up recording a nice win against Columbia at a neutral site. You really couldn’t get a grip on the Blue Devils’ true level last year until they started league play.

And even then, CCSU were deceptive. After starting their first three matches, all on the road, winless, the Blue Devils went on a relative tear through the league. A 5-1-1 NEC record through the stretch run saw CCSU rally to get back into the postseason for the ninth straight season, a phenomenal number for a program playing in a league that only takes four teams to the postseason. That they got in by winning the head-to-head tiebreaker over Monmouth after last year’s NEC Tournament final loss made things all the sweeter. There was no way past Long Island’s steely defense in the league tournament though as CCSU fell to the Blackbirds 1-0 for the second time in 2010.

You’d have to be a fool to bet against the Blue Devils at least making some impact once again in the NEC title race. But CCSU’s road record wasn’t fooling anyone last year, as the Blue Devils were an appalling 2-7-1 in road games in 2010. Compare that to a 6-1-1 home record, and you can see how just a small improvement from CCSU on their travels could go a long way. Long serving and well decorated Head Coach Mick D’Arcy will look to cure those road woes this year as his Blue Devils try to recover from the program’s first trophyless season since 2007.

D’Arcy has some serious holes to fill ahead of the 2011 campaign though, none bigger than Reading, England’s own Beth Lloyd. Lloyd broke out in a big way in 2009, the forward scoring eleven goals and adding five assists and proved that campaign was no fluke last year, banging home twelve goals with four assists to boot. Lloyd’s eleven points in NEC play were good enough for third in the league, and it’s safe to say, that at the end of her college career, Lloyd did a fine job of upholding the legacy that Leah Blayney left behind as an international talisman for the Blue Devils.

Clio Tregear, who scored three goals from midfield for D’Arcy’s squad last year and six the season before, also leaves, certainly leaving a drought of proven goalscorers for CCSU. Allison Kelley showed potential for the Blue Devils in midfield last year but was more of a table setter than scoring threat in league play last year. Senior Brittany Jackson is an option after scoring eight goals and ten assists in her first two seasons but mystifyingly dropped to just a single goal last season. Much may ride on freshman Julie Lavoie hitting the ground running for the Blue Devils. Lavoie is the pick of the recruits this year, but asking a first-year player to carry the scoring load is always dicey.

The midfield was very, very young last year with scores of freshmen among the ranks but should be improved this year with more experience. Kelley was the leading performer among the returnees with three goals and a team leading six assists and could become the team’s offensive spark plug this year. Nathalie Nilsson also showed well as a freshmen with four assists, though all came out of NEC matches. Rachel Cerrone and Jewel Robinson will also be in the mix, the latter possibly in the frontline as well.

There’s a big loss to overcome on defense as well as the team loses it’s best defender in Abby Graham. There’s more talented young pieces to cope in this area of the pitch though, including Kerriann Welch, a revelation as a freshman with three goals and three assists. Annie Freer and Nikki Kureczka could also play big roles on the backline while this is yet another area in which Robinson could help out the Blue Devils.

Australian U20 international Nikola Deiter also put a stranglehold on the starting goalkeeper spot in her freshman season and has the potential to grow into another international impact player for D’Arcy’s squad. Junior Jamie Trayer has a handful of starts in her first two seasons with CCSU and will deputize for D’Arcy’s squad.

With most other programs, under most other coaches, there might be reason to worry given the big losses to graduation CCSU faces this season. But D’Arcy has proven his mettle and so has his Blue Devils, meaning they should be back in the postseason once more this year with yet another chance to add to their expansive trophy case. They just might have to work a little harder for it this year.

A sense of frustrating inevitability seems to have slithered across the QUINNIPIAC soccer program. The Bobcats have pulled the quite amazing feat of losing seven matches in each of their last five seasons. This consistency has been both a blessing and a curse for Dave Clarke’s side. On the one hand, it’s ensured that QU hasn’t dipped too far into ignominy, but on the other, it’s left the Bobcats treading water among the middle class of the NEC for the better part of a decade.

The Bobcats didn’t look to be headed for mid-table anonymity at the beginning of Clarke’s reign at the front end of the decade. QU won a pair of NEC titles in 2000 and 2001 while also winning the NEC Tournament in 2001. Success was fleeting after that though, with 2007 a low water mark for the program after the Bobcats tabled a ninth place finish. A sixth place finish a year later marked a fourth straight year out of the postseason and the beginning of doubts creeping in at the direction the program was headed.

Faith has been restored by the past few years of Clarke’s stewardship though. QU finished third in 2009, making it back to the postseason and giving some hope that the Bobcats could make a darkhorse run towards the NEC title in 2010. Quinnipiac got off to a painful start though, losing four straight to open the year, including a dire loss to Holy Cross. A three match homestand ended up being the perfect tonic though, letting QU win three straight, including their NEC opener against Central Connecticut State.

It was a bit of a roller coaster from there on out, with one win in six raising serious doubts about the Bobcats’ postseason aspirations. It didn’t help that they dropped points against some of the league’s worst teams in Wagner and Robert Morris. But needing a rally of sizable proportions to make it into the league’s Top Four, they promptly pitched three shutouts and sealed a second straight third place finish in the NEC.

While the league outside of the top two teams was quite middling, the Bobcats weren’t complaining and took their postseason match against St. Francis (PA) in full stride. QU’s season would end in heartbreaking fashion though, the Bobcats keeping up with the Red Flash and fighting to a 2-2 stalemate through extra time but ultimately falling in penalties.

Clarke and the Bobcats are lucky to once again have the vast talents of senior forward Furtuna Velaj to rely on. A refugee from Kosovo, Velaj’s unbelievable story has continued in earnest as she’s become one of the best mid-major players in the country and will be among the collection of dark horses for the 2012 WPS Draft should she opt for a professional playing career. Velaj has found the increasing attention on the pitch from opponents more and more stifling as the seasons have rolled on though. After scoring a blistering fifteen goals in her first season of college ball, Velaj dipped to just seven goals last year, although that was plenty good enough to lead QU. The Bobcats are clearly a team that needs to get some offensive help out to their star to keep her from being swarmed on the by the opposing defense. Forward depth for the Bobcats looks a little thin on the ground though, meaning Velaj may be doing a lot of heavy lifting once again.

QU faces the uneasy proposition of having to replace a fair share of their roster from last year’s campaign. While the overall numbers are overwhelming at first, many of the departees saw limited minutes, but Clarke still has to replace four starters including a pair of defenders. The biggest loss is likely utility player Megan McLoughlin, who had three goals and two assists for the Bobcats last season.

The midfield will probably be in good shape though with Jillian Strassner back for her junior season. Strassner emerged as QU’s undisputed second best scoring threat with five goals and two assists, leading the team in conference goals despite not starting three NEC matches. Impressively, Strassner also led the team in game winning goals, despite the presence of Velaj. The continued growth of Strassner could be a key factor for any postseason aspirations the Bobcats may have in 2011. Also back should be Kristina Del Mistro, who tallied three goals and two assists despite only starting ten matches, and Irish sophomore Aine McKeever, who did very well for herself as a freshman and was second on the team in assists with four.

QU had one of the best offenses in the league last year, trailing only St. Francis (PA)’s electric attack. The defense wasn’t half bad either but loses a whole lot of bodies for the new campaign. Beck Kiting is the lone returnee with major starting experience from last season and scored two goals in the seven NEC matches she played in last season. Kemesha Woodfine will also likely be asked to step up from a key reserve role into a potential starting role to make up for the losses.

Quinnipiac’s Achilles’ heel may ultimately be a lack of overall depth, which also can be felt in goal. Senior Jillian Kelley started every match last season and looks in line to do so again after missing 2009 through injury. But primary backup Kendra Marguiles has graduated, and there don’t seem to be any replacements over the horizon, worrying indeed for Clarke entering the new year.

The Bobcats lose a lot of players and aren’t bringing that much in to replace them, which might be more than a little concerning. They’ve got one of, if not the, best player in the league in Velaj though which should be good enough to put them in with a shout for a chance at postseason play and perhaps more. If they can stay healthy and Velaj and Strassner are on form, they have as good a shot as anyone of lifting NEC silverware at the end of the season.

For a few glorious weeks last season, MONMOUTH likely felt on top of the mid-major college soccer world. After a win on the road against Big East side Rutgers and a further win against a very talented Boston University side, the Hawks looked to be cashing in on the potential many thought they had after 2009’s NEC Tournament title triumph. After a short hiccup in their proud history in the middle of the decade, the Hawks have been a constant threat at the top of the standings in the Northeast which culminated with 2007’s brilliant double.

Monmouth finished as league runners-up in the two years that followed but toppled fierce rivals Central Connecticut State in 2009 to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Some likely had doubts on Head Coach Krissy Turner as she took over in 1998 after an uninspiring stint at Lafayette, but those doubts feel like an eon ago as Turner has brought success after success to West Long Branch.

But just as some thought that more silverware was inevitably coming back to West Long Branch, the Hawks regressed to the mean, losing three straight. Once NEC play started, Monmouth’s form was unarguably spotty, the Hawks not able to string together consecutive victories. A two game stretch gave a pretty good idea of the Hawks’ conference season last year. After a 3-1 triumph against St. Francis (PA) and their wildly proficient offense, Monmouth went out and promptly laid an egg against Robert Morris two days later, losing 2-0 to the dreadful Colonials.

As the weeks rolled on, the Hawks did just enough to keep their head above water but dropped enough points to leave doubt as to whether they’d qualify for their fifth straight NEC Tournament. Despite winning 1-0 against Wagner in their penultimate match, Monmouth were mathematically eliminated before the final matchday, making their 3-0 win over Bryant irrelevant as they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker against Central Connecticut State after a 2-0 loss to the Blue Devils earlier in the year. Considering the season had started out so brightly for Turner and her Hawks, to finish so tamely must have been brutally disappointing.

The Hawks may look back upon 2010 as an opportunity lost, because 2011 looks like a potential rebuilding year for Turner’s group. The team loses six starters from last year’s squad, including the Hawks’ best three players. Hardest hit is a defense that will have to cope with the big loss of Ali Kliment, 2009’s NEC Defensive Player of the Year and once again an All-NEC First Team selection last year. Losing Kliment by herself would be a big blow, but the team must also replace one of the finest goalkeepers the program has seen in Lia Ferro who often saved her best for the NEC Tournament.

The downside of Ferro being such a constant presence in goal, including playing every minute of her senior season, is that it leaves a dearth of experience in goal for 2011. There’s a little bit of everything in regards to the race to replace Ferro. Ashley Lewis is a Providence transfer who spent her first season in New Jersey as Ferro’s backup. Ally Mancino comes over from UConn after losing out to Jessica Dulski and has the most experience of any of the candidates for the starting job and was purported to have played well for Monmouth in Spring action. A wild card is freshman recruit Jocelyn McCoy who would appear to be the longest shot coming into preseason.

On the backline, senior Tracey Biederstadt figures to be the leader and is a quick and fierce tackler in defense. Beyond her? Good luck. Monmouth has a decided lack of depth defensively and could realistically be placing two or three freshmen beside Biederstadt in defense. Among the newcomers, Kristin Brett, a towering, aerially proficient defender, and aggressive Mexican U17 international Areli Bermudez Delgado could both be among the frontrunners for a starting spot.

In midfield, there is also some reshuffling in order. The surest thing coming back looks like senior Jennie Vartebedian, who won a starting role last year after coming off the bench as a super sub for the whole of 2009. Though Vartebedian didn’t light up the scoreboard, she is still a capable player with a decent shot from range. Sophomore Alexandra Baca was also a revelation last year as a freshman and looks a steady performer but may also be drafted into the defense to solve some of the woes there. Junior Stacy Kadell, who did well after transferring from UCF, and senior April Damurjian, who missed all of last season, will also be in the mix for a starting role. The team also adds creative midfielder Jill Root who caught some eyes with an impressive performance or two in ECNL play with FC Delco.

Further up the pitch, there are also worries. Joint leading scorer (and NEC javelin champion) Mary Wilks departs after a bit of a down season as she saw her goal output cut in half and then some, dropping from thirteen in 2010 to six last year. Wilks was still the team’s leading assister with five though and leaves a void up front. Leading goalsocrer Dana Costello does return though after a promising freshman year saw her score eight goals. The goal now has to be for Costello to transfer some of that scoring prowess to the conference season, as only two of her goals were in NEC action. Courtney Snyder, a tireless workhorse, didn’t have that problem last year, as the senior was ice cold early in the year but came through in league action with three goals in conference play. Newcomer Estefania Bermudez Delgado, sister of fellow freshman Areli, could also make an impact as a freshman and is a threat in the air despite standing at only 5’4″.

Turner brings in an intriguing crop of newcomers to help fortify the ranks in 2011. Despite those additions though, consolidation may be the order of the day for Monmouth as the team has some serious selection questions thanks to graduation, especially in goal and on defense. An outside shot at returning to the NEC Tournament may be the best Turner’s team can hope for in 2011.

The eternal bridesmaids of the NEC, SACRED HEART hasn’t quite been able to match the euphoria of their first trip to the NEC Tournament in 2001 when as the last team in, they downed Maryland-Baltimore County by a 1-0 margin to win their only piece of silverware to date and the subsequent ticket to the NCAA Tournament that went with the trophy. The Pioneers have run into a brick wall the three other times they’ve reached the NEC Tournament Final, including losing two heartbreaking penalty shootouts.

Of course postseason struggles would look nice to Sacred Heart right about now after three exceptionally lean seasons. Head Coach Kim Banner inherited a squad in 2005 that had qualified for the postseason in four straight years under former coach Joe Barroso who moved over to take control of Sacred Heart’s men’s team after the 2004 season. Banner would stretch that postseason run to seven years through 2005, 2006, and 2007, but 2008 was a horrific low point for the program as the Pioneers bottomed out at 2-14-4 and ninth place in the NEC.

Banner’s picked up the pieces from that disaster and has the team moving upwards at the very least, culminating with last season’s sixth place finish in the NEC, a mere two points off a spot in the Top Four and postseason play. There seemed to be the potential for more at the beginning of the year when the Pioneers won three of their first four including a win over a great Army team to open the year. But Sacred Heart hit a rough patch right before league play begun, winning only one of five, although a draw against Brown was creditable.

In the NEC, the Pioneers generally did what you would expect a team that finished with their final record would do. They usually beat the bottom of the league, drew with the middle tier, and lost to the elite sides. The one anomaly to that equation could have proven costly though, as a win against Bryant instead of a draw could have seen Sacred Heart sneak into the fourth spot in the league and get back to the postseason. Instead, the Pioneers had to settle for the team’s first winning season since 2003.

The basis of the relative success the Pioneers experienced last season was a mean defense that only conceded five goals, good for second best in the conference. Matching that feat could be a bit more difficult this season as the team loses its best defender in Jasmine Rodriguez. A two-time All-NEC First Team selection, Rodriguez may have stood only 5’0″ but she packed a whole lot of game into that small frame, and her loss will be difficult for the Pioneers to deal with in 2011.

Alyssa Brandofino could be one to watch for the future though after racking up six assists in her freshman year from the backline, including three in NEC play. Brandofino is a danger on set pieces as well and could round into one of the Pioneers’ top defenders by the end of her collegiate career. Juniors Elizabeth Stewart and Lia Palmacci also return after logging serious starting minutes in defense last season and should ensure SHU doesn’t face too huge of a drop off on defense. Utility player Heather Quevillion is also a returning starter who bagged three goals last season and could see time either in defense or midfield.

Also departing from the defense is goalkeeper Meghan Reichelt who logged serious minutes for Sacred Heart in her senior year. Junior Sydney Judkins is likely first in line to fill her boots after making one start last year in the final match of the season, but she could be pushed by incoming freshman Talia Schwartz.

The need to fill holes defensively in the wake of Rodriguez and Reichelt’s departures could be worrisome for Banner as her side was down among the more toothless attacks in league play. The team does face the loss of starting forwards Alex Mack and Leigh Dogmanits in addition to midfielder Lindsay Elliott, but none of the trio were big contributors to Sacred Heart’s (limited) offensive cause. The good news for the Pioneers is that the team’s top three scorers from last year all return to try their luck again. The bad news is that all three found it tough sailing in league play last year.

Samantha Kee and Lucy Gildein all but crumbled in NEC action, combining for just one goal and zero assists in league play. That’s obviously got to change if the Pioneers are to make a serious move up the table this year. There is perhaps a little more hope for Amanda Stiles who did manage to tally two goals and an assist to lead the team in scoring in conference matches and was overall scoring leader with four goals and five assists. Stiles only started twelve matches, so there may be room for more production yet in her senior season.

In midfield, keep an eye out for Jen Mulvey who scored twice in league play but was otherwise mostly silent offensively last year, perhaps because she missed much of the team’s non-conference campaign. The midfield could SHU’s Achilles’ heel this year, as Mulvey’s the only real out-and-out midfielder with any experience on a freshman laden unit. Stiles and Quevillion may be asked to pick up some of the slack from the departees in what could be a much changed midfield.

The Pioneers look to be headed back in the right direction after last year’s turnaround following a couple of really bad seasons, but losing some key starters, especially Rodriguez, may protract Sacred Heart’s recovery for another season. The offense isn’t up to snuff with the top units in the league, while the defense could suffer without their best player of recent seasons. Sneaking back into the postseason would be nice, but in reality, consolidation in the middle of the NEC table and perhaps another winning season would probably suit Sacred Heart just fine in 2011.

A fairly average league season in 2009 where MOUNT ST. MARY‘s fell just three points short of a spot in the NEC Tournament had optimists hoping that 2010 would finally be the year in which The Mount returned to the postseason after the program made the first NEC Tournament in 1997 but has failed to make it back since. Instead, the team ended up slip sliding back towards the bottom of the league as they finished tenth and a good ten points behind fourth placed Central Connecticut State.

It was the latest set back for Mountaineers Head Coach Tom Gosselin as he tries to bring postseason action back to long suffering Emmitsburg. The Mountaineers have never had a non-losing season and haven’t been less than five games under .500 since 2003’s 6-9-2 mark under former coach Paul Wood. Gosselin hadn’t exactly made waves at his previous stop, Division III McDaniel College, but 2009’s ascent up the table had given Mountaineers fans some hope that 2010 would mark the end of the team’s long postseason drought.

Little could be discerned about the Mount from the team’s non-conference schedule last year though, as the side failed to string together two of the same result in a row, managing to beat a side like Towson but also managing to get pounded three days later by minnows Longwood. A draw with Monmouth to open up league play gave the side hope that it could hang with the NEC leaders, but that hope was quickly extinguished by a brutal six match losing streak that saw the Mount lose five matches by a single goal while also being pounded by league revelation St. Francis (PA), 6-1. The team did manage to recover to beat Wagner and Bryant to avoid the wooden spoon by a single point, but it was little consolation for a side who had been expected to at least challenge for a spot in the NEC Tournament coming into the season.

Patience is likely growing short on the ground as Tom Gosselin’s rebuilding project enters a fifth and possibly decisive season. Quite simply, his side didn’t score enough goals in league play and conceded too many to contend with the league leaders, although this latter number is skewed because of the crushing defeat at the hands of St. Francis (PA). A lack of killer instinct could also have been a factor into the disappointing campaign: The Mount were 4-9 in games decided by a single goal.

Gone are three of 2010’s starters, with the midfield hardest hit after the graduations of Jenna Stern and Kaylyn Mahon. Also departing is defender Kaitlyn Chambers. Luckily for Gosselin, he does manage to get most of his scoring back, although there were few offensive dynamos to be found in 2010. The two top leading scorers for the team were midfielders Kelly Baker and Sarah Malpezzi. Baker built off a fine freshman season with four goals to lead the team last year, though most of her tallies were not in NEC action. Malpezzi, a mountainous senior midfielder, nailed down a starting spot in her junior year and made good with three goals despite missing a pair of league matches. Both midfielders will likely be counted on for more offense and leadership this season.

Jourdan Brill and Mary McCarron also return after starting most of the Mountaineers’ matches last season and give the team options in midfield. Sophomore Ragan Cote will also be looking to be one of the first players considered to filling one of the team’s holes in midfield if players are moved around to fill gaps elsewhere. Cote also had three assists for The Mount in her first season, which was mostly played off the bench as a super sub.

Up top, more will likely be expected from Sadie Winship, who tied for the team lead in assists in 2010 with three but saw her goal production from 2009 slip from five to two. Depth at forward isn’t necessarily overflowing, and Winship could be partnered up top by one of the team’s more attack minded midfielders or a newcomer.

Questions will linger on defense where junior Andrea Bujacich and sophomore Kate Murphy both return after being everpresent on the backline last year, but the other options wouldn’t appear to have too much starting experience, meaning some of the listed midfielders may be slid into defense this season. Thankfully, there’s a little more stability in goal with three year starter Alicia Miller returning for a final season with the Mountaineers. Cover will likely be provided by sophomore Alina Rakiewicz, who saw all of one half of action last season.

There’s precious little to get excited about when taking a peek at Mount St. Mary’s prospects for 2011. There don’t seem to be many eye-catching additions to a team that loses just a troika of last year’s starting core. Gosselin needs real progress in his fifth season at the school and could grab a couple more wins with what looks like a more settled squad but one that also may ultimately fall short of qualifying for the NEC Tournament again.

With another season in the books, ROBERT MORRIS‘ dubious distinction of having never qualified for the postseason in the NEC remained intact after another year with double digit losses saw the Colonials stuck in mid-table once again, seven points off a spot in the NEC Tournament. John Kowalski may have had great success coaching men, including four NEC titles with RMU’s men and a brief stint as the interim coach of the men’s U.S. National Team in 1991, but little of this success has transferred over to his tenure coaching the RMU ladies.

The Colonials have never finished above sixth in his ten year reign in charge of the women and have only avoided double digit losses in one season, 2009 (8-9-1). In fact that’s been the only year RMU have avoided double digit defeats in their history. Needless to say, the Colonials have never had a non-losing season, though the progress of 2009 had some hoping that 2010 was finally going to be their season.

The year started out with some degree of promise, as RMU went 2-1-1 in their opening four matches which included wins over George Washington and Florida Atlantic. The momentum would fade though with five losses in six, including indefensible capitulations to St. Peter’s and Howard, who both finished in the 300s in the final RPI. After those calamities, the Colonials did manage to rebound and win two of their first three matches in NEC play to give themselves a fighting chance at the postseason.

But RMU then went winless in five, including being shutout four times. The last of those shutouts was a 4-0 pounding by Sacred Heart, effectively ending their hopes of a Top Four finish in the NEC. A win over Wagner was cathartic, but the following loss to Long Island on Halloween made RMU’s season another one some way short of the postseason.

Robert Morris wasn’t exactly horrid in either the goals scored or goals conceded category but were just poor enough in both categories to knock them out of being true contenders in the NEC. Unfortunately for the Colonials, things may be just as challenging in 2011 with the loss of four players, three of whom were full-time starters for the team. The area most hard hit is the midfield, which loses Kathleen Caggiano and Jennifer Tobar to graduation.

The Colonials got a big boost though when Jaimie Morra was granted another season of eligibility over the offseason. The Pittsburgh native started every match last season and finished with a pair of assists. Her leadership could be invaluable on a team light on depth. Brianna Bell, who had two goals and two assists as a junior last year is also back, as is sophomore Johanna Kadam, who started eight games as a freshman. Also back should be Jess Sharik, who was impressive with four goals and four assists last year despite only really entering the starting lineup come the beginning of NEC play. Sharik could be the budding star of this group, a midfield that could be OK despite the loss of those starters listed above.

RMU can breathe a little easier up front with the knowledge that Ayana Davis, the team’s leading scorer with six goals and an assist does return and hopes to add to her four match winning goals of 2010. Davis has been a great performer in Moon Township thus far, with fifteen goals in two seasons and could be poised for another great year, especially if opposing defenses can’t just key on her all the time. That might be up to fellow senior Rachel Sebbens who had a decent year in 2010 with three goals and two assists to follow up a five goal campaign.

Defense could be a real worry for Kowalski with no full-time starters returning. Marissa Raymond and Leah Prentice started twelve matches as freshmen though and will have to be the anchors on a unit that looks thin on numbers. Katie Austin also started five matches and played in all of RMU’s matches and may be asked to step up into a starting spot this year.

In goal, senior Jessica Olin saw the bulk of the minutes, as she had in 2009 as well and figures to be giving the starting nod once again this year. Sophomore Peyton Burns backs her up after starting two matches as a freshman last season.

Even with some of the talented returnees, the Colonials figure to be one of the lightest squads depth-wise in the NEC. The Colonials only had twenty-one players on last season’s roster and must replace four of those for 2011 with limited numbers coming in it seems. With so many of those losses coming from major contributors, it’s tough to see a major rise in the table from RMU. However, if the newcomers thrust into significant minutes in 2011 find their feet early and combine well with Davis and Sharik, the Colonials might have an outside shot of sneaking into the postseason for the first time.

After four rounds in the 2010 Northeast Conference season, BRYANT looked set to be in position to potentially cause one of the big shockers of the campaign. It had been a welcome change from what had been a bumpy transition phase as long serving Head Coach Chris Flint did his best to replicate the success he head led the Bulldogs to in Division II and the NE-10 as Bryant moved to Division I and joined the NEC.

Bryant’s past successes had counted for little at the beginning of their new DI era, and the Bulldogs finished their first season as NEC members in ninth place, well off the postseason teams. But 2010 was poised to perhaps be the season where Bryant made a quantum leap forward as the upstart Bulldogs, only in their third season of DI play had sparkled with a 3-0-1 record, scoring six and conceding none in the opening weeks of NEC conference action. A 1-0 win over league power St. Francis (PA) had been the latest victory, and Bryant now seemed set to challenge for league honors down the stretch.

And then the wheels fell off as Bryant ran out of gas. The Bulldogs managed to lose their last six games to send the sliding down the NEC table at great haste. Frustratingly, Bryant lost five of those six matches by a single goal before being blown out by Monmouth in the season ender. The RPI didn’t really reflect any growth thanks to some brutal losses to Lafayette and Manhattan and only one win of consequence, but the Bulldogs were giving a good account of themselves until the final three weeks of the season. Seventh wasn’t a great final position considering how well the team had started off in the league, but it still represented progress as a program still in its DI infancy took more small steps towards becoming a player in the NEC.

Defensively, Bryant were just fine, middle of the road nationally, but perfectly acceptable for a small conference school. Among the backline returnees for Bryant, Kaitlyn Fare, Elizabeth Guimond, Regan Marin, Stephanie Morse and Alyssa Kozlowski should all once again be in contention for starting honors after holding down spots in the rearguard for most of last season. The team will also have senior Mary Green back after the two-year starter was kept off the pitch by injuries last year. Bryant are massively experienced on defense and could wield one of the league’s best units this year.

Flint will also be able to call upon two experienced options in goal this season in junior Kelsi Jacob and sophomore Lauren Viverito. Jacob saw most of the time in non-conference play but Viverito closed the gap in league play. Both could see big minutes again this year in a rotation between the pipes.

It was on offense that the team found its difficulties. The Bulldogs were shutout twelve times in 2010, including two stretches of three scoreless games in succession. The team’s leading scorers were Kaitlyn Hinck and Krista Johnstone, but the pair only tabled three goals each. Both return in 2011 though, and coach Chris Flint will be looking for continued growth from the pair, especially Johnstone, who could make the step up from super sub into the starting lineup if she gets among the goals early. She could take the starting place of junior Jennifer Harding, who started every match last season but was hardly productive with only one goal in twenty matches.

The midfield welcomes back Alex Bengston and Ari Goldberg for 2011, and the latter could turn into a decent offensive option for the Bulldogs as one of only three players to score multiple goals last year. An extremely young Bryant squad returns mostly intact for 2011. In fact, if all things go according to plan, this group will be back mostly intact for 2012 as well with very few seniors listed on this year’s roster. As it is, the squad does lose big time defender Steph Del Mistro and part-time starter Sarah Donovan. Their loss should be offset by another wave of recruits as Flint does his best to make the transition to DI as painless as possible for the Bulldogs.

With the RPI ticking downwards in each of the program’s first three years, it would be easy to discount progress from Bryant. But this team wasn’t that bad if you look beyond the final six games, and with increased experience, I think they’ll make a little progress towards mid-table in the NEC, perhaps even battling for a spot in the NEC Tournament.

WAGNER can sugarcoat their 2010 season by bragging about having the most wins in this five-year cycle last year, but the RPI doesn’t lie. The Seahawks were just as bad as they have been in previous seasons. And considering the lengthy and futile history of the Wagner program, that’s pretty darn bad. Consider this is a program that hasn’t reached the postseason since 1997 when they finished fourth in the first year of the NEC’s soccer league. Consider Wagner’s finished last or next-to-last in ten of the seasons in the NEC since that lone postseason appearance. And consider the Seahawks have been a program that’s eaten coaches alive over the past few decades. Ed Hynes, Phil Fluhr, and Hope Troman all came and went without winning more than seventeen matches.

Former Murray State boss Mike Minielli’s topped that mark with eighteen wins in five seasons on Staten Island, but he’s also lost sixty-six matches as well and has been unable to vault the Seahawks into contention in the NEC. Without a win over a decent Pacific team on neutral ground in Hawaii, it’s scary to think where Wagner might have ended up in the RPI at the end of last year. Their other five wins were over teams in the uRPI ranked 303, 285, 312, 315, and 293.

The creampuff non-conference schedule allowed the Seahawks to be 4-2-0 out of the gate, but it was all downhill from there. Wagner lost five in a row and went winless in seven before beating NEC basement side Fairleigh Dickinson. It was something of a false dawn with Wagner then losing six of their final seven, managing to beat Bryant at home to save a little face. It equaled a ninth place finish for the Seahawks, a full nine points off a postseason berth. Having been in charge for five fruitless seasons, it’s hard to believe coach Mike Minielli enjoyed a stress-free offseason knowing the heat surely is rising on Staten Island.

It’s not like the Seahawks were a squad bereft of experience either. Wagner had twelve upperclassmen on the roster, including six seniors. Five of those players saw major time as starters meaning it will likely be all change for Minielli’s squad in 2010. Thankfully for Wagner, their leading lady in front of goal returns for her junior season after a breakout campaign in 2010. Julie Vigliotti may stand a spry 5’0″, but she was plenty big enough to bang in the goals for the Seahawks, scoring eight, including four of Wagner’s five match winners.

Beyond her? Good luck. The Seahawks only had one other player with multiple goals last year, Jackie Nicholas, who also is back for her sophomore season. If she doesn’t up her output if someone else doesn’t emerge to take some of the scoring pressure off of Vigliotti, Wagner’s talisman may find herself drowning in pressure through 2011.

In midfield, the Seahawks get a huge addition in Ireland U20 international Jenna Fioranelli, who comes in after transferring from Murray State. Fioranelli started thirty-eight matches for the Racers in 2008 and 2009 and will certainly be a big factor for Wagner this year in the midfield. Also back is Monica Zurich, a junior who tallied three assists in each of her first two seasons with Wagner and Jessica Panarella, who started twelve matches for the Seahawks last year.

The defense was a tad too porous last season but returns all the major contributers, meaning it could take a big step forward this year. Leading the charge is senior Terryn Marette, who has started every match in her Wagner career thus far, and junior Katie Keown, who had three assists last year. It was a learning experience for Katie Marcy on the job in goal in her freshman season. She figures to improve a bit between the sticks with the added experience and will be hoping to shore up a Wagner defense that was a little too leaky a little too often in 2010. Backup Jen Emigholz started six matches in 2009 and is a decent backup for the Seahawks in goal.

Recruiting emphasis in 2011 seems to be very local and very focused on the midfield. Vigliotti’s a great building block up front, but she clearly needs help that the Seahawks don’t seem to have right now. That means Wagner may have to win with defense, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility given how much they have coming back. Wagner probably won’t jump into a postseason place this season, but they do have a decent shot of climbing a few places in the NEC table.

When you endure a season as bad as the one FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON suffered through in 2010, it means you’re probably at the bad extreme of goals scored or goals allowed (or in rare cases, both). It was the former that did the Knights in last season, FDU only scoring seven times in a brutal season. It was the continuation of a disturbing downturn for the Knights, who had crept closer to .500 in coach Renee Montana’s second and third seasons in charge but had plummeted in 2009 with a 2-15-1 mark.

The Knights had once been on top of the NEC as hard as that seems to believe now, with Peter Gaglioti overseeing FDU’s 2004 league title triumph. But with Gaglioti now an assistant at Seton Hall, fortunes in Teaneck have taken a decided turn for the worse. Montana certainly knew the area upon taking the job, having worked at FDU-Florham in nearby Madison, New Jersey in a successful stint at the DIII school. The Knights looked to be on the right path a few years into Montana’s reign, finishing third in 2007 and then cracking the postseason again in 2009 after finishing fourth. But the bottom had fallen out in 2009 as FDU went winless in the league.

Last year was no better, FDU going 2-16-0 and finishing deep in the 300s in the RPI once more. A close loss to Manhattan to open the year up provided a brief solace of hope before a staggering scoreless streak afflicted the Knights. After scoring once against the Jaspers on August 27, FDU wouldn’t hit the target again until October 15 against Monmouth. The Knights were a walking clean sheet opportunity for opponents, the eleven match scoreless streak also coinciding with fourteen straight losses to open the year up.

Miraculously, FDU turned it around with a road win against Mount St. Mary’s and followed it up with a 2-1 win against Robert Morris to give them a faint chance at the NEC Tournament. But three more losses in a row, including a demoralizing 6-0 reverse at Quinnipiac ensured another awful two win season for the Knights.

Fairleigh Dickinson were altogether too reliant on the goals of Rashidah Sherman to boost their offense. Sherman was the only Knight to hit multiple goals in 2010 and when you consider her paltry four goal haul was more than half of the team’s overall total, it’s bad on every front. The Pelham Manor, New York native showed her class as a freshman with eight goals but also had more help back then. Sherman has showed her talent in W-League matches when surrounded by better talent but can’t do everything herself, which is worrying because FDU doesn’t seem to have a great second option in attack. Sherman returns for 2011 as a senior and will likely be the go-to player again for the Knights as they seek to haul themselves off the basement. It’s difficult to see where the additional offense is going to come from considering the team doesn’t seem to be bringing in any high-powered recruits. The Knights aren’t exactly teeming with depth up front either, meaning Sherman could be facing as much attention as ever.

In the midfield, experience will be at a premium, especially after the early defections of starters Noelle Harner, who led the team with three assists, and Australian Katie Hilder. Francesca Yaccarine and Bailey Popovich both return after starting last season, and depth player Stephanie Austin also returns, but none of those returnees really made significant contributions offensively.

Defensively, FDU weren’t a total sieve but were still below average on the whole. The team loses one starter on defense but should return everyone else relatively intact. Amy Flanagan, Lisa-Marie Curti, and Julie Woolridge all return as seniors, meaning this should be an experienced group at the very least. Whether they’ll improve markedly is up for discussion though. There’s also a senior in between the pipes as well as Stephanie Tanzi returns to the fold after winning the starting job full-time last season. Sophomore Sage DoVale saw time in three matches last year as well and provides decent cover.

A added year of cohesion cannot hurt matters, with 2011’s squad likely to be senior dominated. There are still worrying signs afoot though in New Jersey. Such a marked decline could be understandable if Coach Montana had been in her first or second year and helping to transition from an old regime, but 2010 marked the coach’s fifth year in charge of the Knights. FDU sadly proved 2009 wasn’t an aberration with an equally putrid 2010 season. This year’s edition of the Knights has a capable striker in Sherman and a bevy of experience but very little depth and looks saddled with a one-dimensional offense. It seems as if Montana has been given a vote of confidence to try and turn things around in 2011 despite the downward slope of the program. Another two win season may not be met with the same measure of leniency.

Projected Order of Finish

* = Projected NCAA Tournament Automatic Bid Winner

*1. St. Francis (PA)
2. Central Connecticut State
3. Long Island
4. Quinnipiac

5. Monmouth
6. Sacred Heart
7. Robert Morris
8. Bryant
9. Mount St. Mary’s
10. Wagner
11. Fairleigh Dickinson

Non-Conference Strength of Schedule Rankings (Most Difficult to Least)

1. Central Connecticut State
2. Quinnipiac
3. St. Francis (PA)
4. Long Island
5. Sacred Heart
6. Monmouth
7. Bryant
8. Robert Morris
9. Mount St. Mary’s
10. Fairleigh Dickinson
11. Wagner

2 thoughts on “2011 NCAA Soccer Preview – Northeast Conference – Style and Steel

  1. gogogo

    Love the Red Flash! (My sister went there.) I was shocked and amazed that they hung in against Ohio State as long as they did. It’s hard to get to Loretto, PA, but I may see them in October when they visit the Mount.

    Reply

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