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Somerset, NJ --
With the spring season underway, Northeast Conference women’s tennis coaches have forecasted Fairleigh Dickinson to make a successful defense of its NEC title. The Knights, who claimed their first conference championship in 24 years last April, earned six-of-11 first place votes.
Last year’s NEC runner-up, Quinnipiac, earned a pair of first place votes and finished second in the poll. Bryant, in its first year of postseason eligibility, was tabbed third and picked up three first place nods. LIU Brooklyn came in fourth, followed by Sacred Heart to round out the top-five. In order behind that group was Mount St. Mary’s, Saint Francis U, Monmouth, Robert Morris, Wagner and St. Francis Brooklyn.
The Mercer County Tennis Center in West Windsor, NJ will once again serve as the venue for the 11-team championship from April 18-21. The winner of the single-elimination tourney will earn the NEC’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament field.
2013 Northeast Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Fairleigh Dickinson (6)
2. Quinnipiac (2)
3. Bryant (3)
4. LIU Brooklyn
5. Sacred Heart
6. Mount St. Mary’s
7. Saint Francis U
9. Robert Morris
11. St. Francis Brooklyn
First place votes in parentheses
had knocked on the door in 2010 and 2011, coming up just short in the NEC title match on each occasion, before putting it all together a year ago with a 4-2 win over Quinnipiac in a terrific final. The longtime architect of the program, Ira Miller, resigned in the offseason, but the Knights kept it in the family by elevating assistant coach Jonathan Buchman to the top spot. The cupboard isn’t exactly bare for the first year head coach with three first team All-NEC performers returning, including 2012 NEC Player of the Year Anna Rapoport (Moscow, Russia/#1239)
. The Moscow native finished with an 18-3 singles record, led the conference in win percentage (.857) and posted a 12-2 record in #1 flight play. She also finished a perfect 5-0 against NEC rivals. Senior Egzona Morina (Prishtina, Kosovo/American School of Kosovo)
and junior Manuela Leme (Varginha, Brazil/E.E. Antania Alves Cruz)
earned All-NEC recognition at the #5 and #6 singles flights, repectively. The duo combined for 31 victories and a 9-2 mark against NEC competition. This past fall, Morina was named the October NEC Player of the Month. Look for freshman Nicole Chis (Highland Park, NJ/Highland Park)
to make an impact this spring after she debuted in the fall with a 12-2 singles mark. Chis was chosen as the NEC Rookie of the Month for September, and NEC Player and Rookie of the Month for October.
has won six NEC title since 2004 and advanced to the NEC Tournament championship match in 12 of the last 13 seasons, so it should come as no surprise that Mike Quitko and company have been tabbed as one of the top contenders for the 2013 crown. Quitko, a five-time NEC Coach of the Year now in his 22nd season in Hamden, has two returning All-NEC honorees at his side. Senior Sarah Viebrock (Carmel, NY/John F. Kennedy Catholic)
tallied a 5-1 mark versus league rivals and was a first teamer at the #3 flight in 2012. Michelle Dassa (Marlboro, NJ/Marlboro)
was one of just three freshman honored, earning second team accolades at #4 singles after finishing 4-2 against NEC opponents. Senior Rachel Cantor (Short Hills, NJ/Millburn)
, a former NEC Rookie of the Year, brings a veteran presence at the #1 flight.
NEC coaches certainly took notice of the Bryant
program the last few years as the Bulldogs were often dominant against their future league rivals while reclassifying to Division I. Under 13th year head coach Barbara Cilli, Bryant posted a 4-0 mark against NEC competition a year ago and sported a pair of second team All-NEC competitors in junior Stephanie Smyers (Pittsburgh, PA/North Allegheny)
and sophomore Rosie Bird (Hamilton, New Zealand/Hillcrest)
. Smyers went 9-5 at the #5 flight last season, while Bird was 8-2 versus #6 flight competition. They are two of eight returnees for an experienced Bryant unit that also includes senior Marcela Brandao (Santo Andre, Brazil/Colegio Singular)
and junior May Vickers (Montrose, CO/Montrose)
, who posted 14 and 15 wins last season, respectively.
Perennial contender LIU Brooklyn
walked away with back-to-back NEC titles in 2009 and 2010, and hopes to return to the top of the perch this spring under eighth year head coach Asi Phillips. Beset by injuries a year ago, the Blackbirds still managed to reach the NEC semifinals and return all six letterwinners, including two of the league’s best in senior Taysha Blessington (Sydney, Australia/Roseville College)
and sophomore Sanne Louwers (Nuenen, Netherlands/Mgr. Cuytenlaan)
. Both earned second team All-NEC honors and Louwers was named the NEC Rookie of the Year after posting a 9-2 record in #1 flight play. Blessington was also 9-2 competing at #2 singles.
NEC Tournament semifinalist Sacred Heart
was hit hard by graduation, but longtime coach Mike Guastelle brings back a pair of talented sophomores in Nicole Rydzewski (Maspeth, NY/St. Francis Prep)
and Gabi Kaldan (New Brunswick, NJ/New Brunswick)
. Rydzewski led the Pioneers with 19 wins against just 10 defeats and posted an 11-6 record at #2 singles. Kaldan manned the #1 flight for SHU and finished 5-2 in NEC competition.
Mount St. Mary’s
could be underrated in the poll considering they return all six starters for ninth year head coach Phil Hammond. The star performer for the Mount last season was Kelly Conroy (Tallahassee, FL/John Paul II)
, one of two seniors on this year’s squad. The #2 flight player finished 19-4 on the year and her .826 win percentage ranked second in the NEC. Classmate Carly Landini (Newark, DE/Archmere Academy)
won 11 matches and went 4-1 in league play competing out of the #4 spot.
Saint Francis U
made a big jump last season under third year head coach Paul Tobin, improving by five wins with an influx of young talent. The Red Flash sport a unique roster with all ten players underclassmen. Sophomore Shivani Patel (Leicestershire, England/Repton School)
led SFU with 16 wins in her freshman season, including a 6-2 mark in NEC play competing at the #3 flight.
The longest tenured coach in the conference, Monmouth’s
Patrice Murray returns a nice blend of youth and experience for the Hawks. Senior Dana Ferrari (Saddle Brook, NJ/Immaculate Heart Academy)
tied for the team lead with eight wins in 2011-12 and also led the Hawks with five wins during conference play.
and head coach Jeff Layman will look to make a move up the ladder behind junior Carolina Mourao Teixeira (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
, a #1 flight player coming off a solid 2011-12 campaign. Teixeira finished the year with a 12-9 record and was an impressive 6-1 against league competition.
begins the year under new leadership with recent Stony Brook standout Salome Mkervalidze taking over the program. Mkervalidze, a first team All-America East performer during her career, has a good one in, sophomore Julia Teichman (Plymouth Meeting, PA/Germantown Academy)
, who posted a 4-0 mark at #5 singles in the fall.
St. Francis Brooklyn
will look to turn things around under former Terrier all-time great Arthur Velnik. The Terriers sport five juniors on the roster, including talented freshman Luda Lisovska
, who is playing #1 singles for SFC.
About The Northeast Conference
Now in its 32nd year, the Northeast Conference is an NCAA Division I collegiate athletic association consisting of 12 institutions of higher learning located throughout six states. Media coverage of the NEC extends to four of the largest markets in the United States - New York (#1), Pittsburgh (#23), Baltimore (#27), and Hartford/New Haven (#30). Founded in 1981 as the basketball-only ECAC Metro Conference, the NEC has grown to sponsor 23 championship sports for men and women and now enjoys automatic or play-in access to 14 different NCAA Championships. NEC member institutions include Bryant, Central Connecticut State, Fairleigh Dickinson, LIU Brooklyn, Monmouth, Mount St. Mary’s, Quinnipiac, Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, St. Francis Brooklyn, Saint Francis U and Wagner. For more information on the NEC, visit the league’s official website (www.northeastconference.org) and digital network (www.necfrontrow.com), or follow the league on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube @NECsports.