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Somerset, NJ -- After a command performance at the NEC Championship race a year ago, Sacred Heart has been pinned as the favorite to repeat in the 2018 women’s cross country preseason coaches’ poll. The Pioneers received eight of the 10 first-place votes after striking NEC gold for the fourth time in the last five years. Central Connecticut, the 2018 runner-up, was chosen second, picking up the remaining two first-place votes with Saint Francis U third in the voting. Bryant was slated to finish fourth, followed by Mount St. Mary’s, Robert Morris, Wagner and Fairleigh Dickinson in that order. Brooklyn rivals LIU Brooklyn and Saint Francis Brooklyn rounded out the conference poll, placing ninth and tenth, respectively. It was a dominant team effort for Sacred Heart last season, as the Pioneers placed four runners in the top five of the NEC Championship race and five in the top-12. Despite the loss of 2017 NEC individual champion Kate Svensen, look for longtime head coach Christian Morrison to merely reload, led by graduate student Tara Connelly (Holmdel, NJ/Saint John Vianney) and junior Jody Dicicco (Berlin, CT/Berlin). Connelly comes off a runner-up finish last season in 18:02.1, while Dicicco finished in 18:05.3 to grab fourth place. Look for junior Jacqueline Thorne (Northport, NY/Northport) (17th place) and senior Emma Cary (Morristown, NJ/Morristown) (24th) to play key roles for the Pios as well this season. Runner-up to SHU in each of the last three years, CCSU could pose a strong challenge for NEC supremacy with a ton of experience coming back to New Britain. Ninth year head coach Eric Blake returns four all-conference members, highlighted by senior Dawn Hubbell (North Haven, CT/North Haven), whose third place finish (18:02.4) in 2017 makes her the top returnee in the NEC. Also returning to New Britain are 2017 NEC Freshman of the Year Megan Brawner (Gales Ferry, CT/Ledyard) (11th place), senior Madeline Mondo (Marlborough, CT/RHAM) (ninth) and sophomore Angie Rafter (Danielson, CT/Killingly) (13th). After winning it all in 2016, Saint Francis U settled for a third place finish a year ago. While the Red Flash graduated three all-conference honorees from last season’s squad, three members of the NEC All-Rookie Team - Hannah Jones (Hershey, PA/Hershey), Madison Wright (Eaton, OH/Twin Valley South) and Taya Whitfield (Marion Center, PA/Marion Center) – are back competing for seventh year head coach Douglas Hoover. The 2018 NEC Women’s Cross Country Championship will be in Smithfield, RI, as Bryant will play host on October 27. NEC-toids * The dean of NEC head coaches, Sacred Heart’s Christian Morrison is back for his 24th year in Fairfield. Morrison earned his sixth NEC Coach of the Year award last season. He is the most decorated coach in conference history. * Sacred Heart has now finished in the top-three at the NEC Championship for the last ten seasons. * Bryant has finished in the NEC top-four in each of the last six years. * Hubbell and Mondo have both posted back-to-back top-10 NEC Championship finishes for CCSU. A

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