Garden State Contingent Tops Preseason Field Hockey Poll Again
Carly Figlio's Hawks are Preseason No. 1.
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Somerset, NJ - The Northeast Conference’s Garden State contingent has claimed the first two spots in the league’s field hockey preseason coaches’ poll for the third consecutive summer, only this time there is a new name at the top.
For the first time in program history, Monmouth has earned the moniker of NEC field hockey preseason favorite. Carly Figlio’s Hawks, who have finished as the runner-up to Rider each of the past two seasons in both the preseason poll and postseason tournament, garnered four first-place votes to headline the eight-team predicted order-of-finish.
NEC Field Hockey
Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Monmouth (4)
2. Rider (3)
3. Saint Francis (PA)
4. Quinnipiac (1)
5. Robert Morris
6. Sacred Heart
First place votes in parentheses ( ).
Two-time defending NEC champion Rider pulled in three first-place nods to finish second in the poll behind the cross-state rival Hawks. Saint Francis (PA) made program history by claiming third place in the poll, its highest-ever finish. Quinnipiac, which earned the lone remaining first-place vote, came in fourth followed by Robert Morris in fifth. Sacred Heart took sixth in the annual survey of the league’s eight head coaches. Bryant and Siena followed in seventh and eighth, respectively.
Having risen to the top of the preseason poll for the first time ever, Monmouth becomes only the fourth program in NEC history to ever hold that distinction. Prior to Rider’s reign as preseason favorite in 2010 and 2011, former NEC member Lock Haven topped the poll for five straight seasons from 2005 through 2009. Quinnipiac is the only other program to ever earn top billing in the annual preseason survey.
An encouraging trend for Monmouth, the Preseason No. 1 has gone onto win the NEC Tournament title in each of the past six years.
If Monmouth is to extend that run for a seventh season, the Hawks will have to navigate past a Rider team that has won the last four head-to-head meetings, including a 2-1 decision in the 2011 NEC Tournament Final. Monmouth’s last win over its Garden State rival came in the 2009 NEC Tournament semifinal with the No. 4 seed Hawks stunning the top-seeded Broncs on an overtime tally by the since-graduated Nora Bosmans.
Should Monmouth and Rider make good on the coaches’ preseason prognostication and finish amongst the top-four in the regular season standings, they advance to the 2012 NEC Tournament which is set for November 2 & 3 at home facility of the regular season champion.
Monmouth, which is undefeated against all NEC opponents except for Rider over the past two seasons, returns five of its six all-NEC selections from its 2011 roster, including its trio of first teamers. Two of the Hawks’ top players are up front in the form of forwards Michelle Pieczynski (Doylestown, PA/Central Bucks West) and Trish O’Dwyer (Dublin, Ireland). Helping the Hawks rank amongst the NEC’s top-three teams in scoring offense for a third consecutive season in 2011, Pieczynski (19 G) and O’Dwyer (16 G) both ranked amongst the conference’s top-five goal scorers. Juniors Alex Carroll (Oceanport, NJ/Shore) (first team) and Ali Askinas (Macarthur, Australia) (second team) give reigning NEC Coach of the Year Carly Figlio two all-NEC caliber athletes on the back line. Meanwhile, senior Nicole Manziano (Monroe Township, NJ/Monroe), a defensive-minded midfielder, has made 41 consecutive starts over the past two seasons.
Up Against America’s Best: Monmouth opens its season by welcoming two-time defending Big East champion Syracuse (No. 3 team in 2011 NFHCA Top 20 Poll) to So Sweet A Cat Field on August 24. In all, the Hawks will play three Big East teams (Rutgers, Georgetown) along with perennial national power Penn State (No. 7).
Bobcats Don’t Back Down: Quinnipiac’s non-conference schedule features two regional powers – Maine (No. 17) and Boston College (No. 19) –who both earned spots in the final 2011 MFHCA Top 20 Poll.
Firepower at Forward: All three forwards from the 2011 All-NEC First Team – Sandra Penas (Rider), Michele Pieczynski (Monmouth), Trish O’Dwyer (Monmouth) -- have returned for 2012.
New Direction: Two of the NEC’s eight programs have welcomed new head coaches this past offseason. Katie Kloeckner takes over for Chris Blais at Sacred Heart, while Siena filled the seat vacated by Bill Davidson with Kara Zappone.
National Standing: Rider received votes in the final edition of the NFHCA Top 20 Poll, finishing the 2011 campaign at No. 22 in the national rankings.
Colonials Coming of Age: Robert Morris’ roster features three sophomores with all-NEC credentials. Midfielder Jamie Hartley (Tamworth, Australia), back Michelle Lewthwaite (Macarthur, Australia), and goalkeeper Erin McKenize (Lismore, Australia) were all second teamers as rookies.
Garden State Success: Monmouth and Rider are a combined 26-0 against the rest of the NEC over last two seasons.
Broncs’ Bombers: Rider has been nothing short of dominant in Northeast Conference play over the past three years. The Broncs own a 22-0 regular season record and have outscored opponents 82-5 during that span. Rider has won 18 of its last 22 conference games via shutout.
Rivalry Games: The annual Garden State Rivalry Game, the result of which has decided the NEC Tournament host each of the past two seasons, is slated for Sunday, October 28, meaning Monmouth and Rider won’t see each other until the regular season finale. … The Keystone Clash between Robert Morris and Saint Francis (PA) will double as the regular season finale for both teams on October 28.
Bryant (8-10, 2-5)
Shaunessy Saucier’s Bulldogs are coming off a season in which they matched their Division program record of eight wins, but came up short in their bid for a second consecutive postseason berth.
Player to Watch: Sophomore Rose Bird (Hamilton, New Zealand) was one of the league’s top goal scorers as a rookie. The all-NEC second team forward rattled the cage 14 times to lead all freshmen in 2011.
Monmouth (15-6, 6-1)
After topping the preseason poll for the first time, the Hawks will look to capture their first-ever conference crown.
Player to Watch: Senior Michelle Pieczynski (Doylestown, PA/Central Bucks West), a key reason why Monmouth has featured one of the league’s most-potent attacks in recent years, tallied 19 goals (second in the NEC) and six assists last season.
Quinnipiac (11-8, 5-2)
Becca Main Kohli’s Bobcats have been a NEC semifinalist each of the past four seasons, but are searching for their first league title since 2003.
Player to Watch: Forward Jess Rusin (Garwood, NJ/Arthur L. Johnson) scored 10 goals as a sophomore, including a pair in a key conference victory over Saint Francis (PA).
Rider (19-2, 7-0)
The Broncs have been nearly unbeatable in NEC play over the past three seasons. Four-time NEC Coach of the Year Lori Hussong watched three-time NEC Player of the Year Virginia Egusquiza graduate this past May, but will welcome back the reigning NEC Offensive Player of the Year (Sandra Penas) along with two other all-NEC players.
Player to Watch: No player in the NEC scored more goals than forward Sandra Penas (Barcelona, Spain) did last season. The Spaniard’s 20 goals helped her earn a spot on the All-NEC First Team for the second year in a row.
Robert Morris (8-12, 2-5)
The Colonials appeared to have turned a corner under head coach Olivia Netzler. A youth infusion led to a program-record eight wins in 2011, including a 6-3 record at Joe Walton Stadium.
Player to Watch: Sophomore Jamie Hartley (Tamworth, Australia) was the team’s leading scorer as a rookie, having tallied eight goals and five assists.
Sacred Heart (6-12, 3-4)
Former Ball State player Katie Kloeckner had taken over the team on an interim basis last season and was officially named the head coach this past offseason. Kloeckner is no stranger to SHU, having spent four years as an assistant to predecessor Chris Blais.
Player to Watch: Senior forward Lindsay Kasten (Fair Haven, NJ/RFH) has seen action in all 54 games over the past three years for the Pioneers.
Saint Francis (PA) (5-15, 3-4)
The Red Flash’s prospects are bullish following last year’s postseason appearance that was sparked by a strong rookie class.
Player to Watch: Sophomore defender Carissa Makea (Auckland, New Zealand) was a vital part of Saint Francis’ resurgence and earned all-NEC first team status as a result.
Siena (0-18, 0-7)
Following five seasons as an assistant at Fairfield, former Iowa player Kara Zappone takes over as the head coach at Siena. The winner of the 2007 Big Ten Sportsmanship Award will coach herefirst game on August 30 at Colgate.
Player to Watch: Lindsay Mayo (Glenville, NY/Niskayuna), a junior midfielder, has started 36 straight games for the Saints.