#POLLWEEK: REIGNING CHAMPION CCSU TABBED AS 2019 NEC WOMEN’S SOCCER FAVORITE
Somerset, NJ -- After sweeping its way through the Northeast Conference (NEC) regular season and postseason in 2018 en route to the program’s ninth tournament title, Central Connecticut was selected by the league’s head coaches as the overwhelming favorite to repeat in 2019. In landing atop the NEC preseason poll for the first time since 2015, CCSU earned nine first place votes. Saint Francis U and Fairleigh Dickinson were picked second and third, respectively, each claiming a lone first place nod. Central Connecticut rolled through the NEC regular season with a perfect 8-0 mark and finished the 2018 campaign with a 16-2-2 record, compiling the second most wins in program history. The Blue Devils went into the NCAA Tournament unbeaten in 17 straight games before dropping a 3-1 decision to Georgetown. Despite graduation depleting CCSU of its top two scorers in 2018 NEC Tournament MVP Danielle Pearse and NEC Midfielder of the Year Charlotte Maurer, as well as NEC Goalkeeper of the Year Ashley Cavanaugh, the Blue Devils remain strong and stingy on the defensive side and pack some punch on the offensive end. The Blue Devils will bring back reigning NEC Defensive Player of the Year Shauny Alterisio (Danbury, CT/Immaculate) and first team All-NEC defender Emily Hogan (Warwick, RI/Bishop Feehan) for their senior campaigns. Alterisio and Hogan helped guide a defensive unit that only allowed 13 goals all season, the fewest in the league. Central’s .636 goals against average ranked 20th in the country. Sophomore midfielder Roma McLaughlin (Donegal, Ireland/Moville Community College), who took home NEC Rookie of the Year honors last season, stands as one of the Blue Devils’ top scoring returnees after tallying two goals and five assists during her freshman campaign. Junior Jenna Rae Covello (Plymouth, CT/Terryville), who recorded an assist and netted the game winning goal in the 89th minute in last year’s NEC Championship Game, finished the season with seven points and will look to build on her championship game heroics for the Blue Devils in 2019. Now in his 20th season as head coach, five-time NEC Coach of the Year Mick D’Arcy will look to lead CCSU to the program’s tenth tournament title, and first repeat championship since winning four in a row from 2002-05. Last year’s tournament runner up and four-time league champion Saint Francis U enters the year under new leadership with Ellie Davis at the helm of the program. The Red Flash maintain the longest active postseason streak in the conference, advancing to the NEC Tournament nine consecutive seasons. Picked to finish in the top-three for the fifth year in a row, Fairleigh Dickinson made its sixth straight NEC Tournament appearance in 2018. The Knights will field a veteran team in 2019, returning nine members of their starting 11, and 13 out of the 15 who took to the pitch in last year’s NEC tournament semifinal. Senior midfielder Stasi Torchia (Pickering, Ontario/St. Mary’s) and junior defender Samantha Roff (Canberra, Australia/Radford College) - a pair of first team All-NEC honorees - and 2018 leading scorer Viktorija Miseljic (Nis, Serbia/Milenko Hadzic) (6 goals, 2 assists) headline a core group of Knights looking to lead FDU to its first NEC title since 2015. After finishing in fourth place each of the last two years, Bryant was picked to once again finish fourth in 2019. The Bulldogs are led by two-time first team All-NEC defender, junior Jamie Irwin (Succasunna, NJ/Roxbury), and also return second teamers in junior forward Amanda Spitaleri (Ronkonkoma, NY/Connetquot) and senior midfielder Remi Manna (Pleasantville, NY/Pleasantville). Spitaleri paced the Bulldogs with five goals and Manna added a pair of markers. More than any other team in recent memory, Mount St. Mary’s defied preseason expectations last season. The Mount were picked last in the preseason poll, but ended up finishing in third place, qualifying for their first NEC Tournament since 1997. Now looking to make consecutive postseason appearances for the first time since the mid-90’s, the Mountaineers begin their journey forecasted to finish fifth. Sacred Heart comes into the 2019 season sitting at number six in the preseason poll, with Robert Morris at seventh, followed by Empire State foes LIU and Wagner at eighth and ninth, respectively. Rounding out the preseason poll are the two newest NEC women’s soccer programs. St. Francis Brooklyn begins its inaugural season on August 22nd at Brooklyn Bridge Park against Lafayette, while Merrimack enter its first DI season on August 25th hosting Hartford. The Warriors will play a full NEC schedule and count in the standings, but are ineligible for the postseason as they complete a four-year reclassification.