Pioneers Picked to Repeat as Champions in NEC Preseason Poll
Nov. 5, 2009
The defending Northeast Conference champion Sacred Heart Pioneers were tabbed as the preseason favorite to repeat and capture the 2009-10 women's basketball crown, receiving nine first-place votes in a poll of the league's 12 head coaches. The Pioneers placed two players on the 2009-10 Preseason All-NEC Team in junior guard Alisa Apo (Freehold, NJ) and sophomore forward Callan Taylor (Overland Park, KS). The NEC announced both the poll results and its five-member Preseason All-Conference Team during a media teleconference, which served as a prelude to the league's 24th season of women's hoops.
"We are excited to be picked first but that comes with expectations," stated head coach Ed Swanson. "Being picked for first is a nice honor but I want to be first at the end of the year. We look forward to the challenge and hopefully we can play up to the expectations. We are tremendously excited and I am pleased with the commitment our players have put forth over the summer and into the preseason."
Sacred Heart heads into their defense of last season's title riding a 21-game winning streak against NEC opponents. The Pioneers were named the NEC preseason favorite on one prior occasion, prior to the 2007 season. SHU won their first-ever conference crown in 2006 and were the coaches' pick to repeat during the subsequent season only to fall two points short of Robert Morris in the 2007 NEC Tournament final. SHU is home to the league's top returning scoring duo in Apo and Taylor, combining to averaged 28.9 points per game as underclassmen last season. In addition, junior co-captain Maggie Cosgrove (Andover, MA) started 31 of 33 games alongside Apo in the backcourt while contributing 8.3 points and 3.1 assists per contest.
Another key returnee will be on Sacred Heart's sideline for his 20th season at the helm. Head coach Ed Swanson oversaw the Pioneers' development from a Division II program into a D-I regional power. In 10 seasons of Northeast Conference play, Sacred Heat has finished no lower than third in the league standings. During the same season in which he won his third career NEC Coach of the Year award, Swanson became the all-time NEC wins leader (138) by surpassing the late Bill Sheahan (124) of Mount St. Mary's.
Playing both guard positions during her sophomore season, Apo spearheaded Sacred Heart's perfect run toward the NEC crown. The 5-foot-9 floor general became only the second woman in Northeast Conference history, joining the legendary Jess Zinobile of Saint Francis (PA), to win the NEC Player of the Year award after claiming NEC Rookie of the Year honors the prior season. Apo started all 33 games last season, the only Pioneer to do so, on her way to averaging a team-high 16.9 points per game (5th in NEC). Not afraid to draw contact from a defender, Apo went to the charity stripe 184 times last season and sunk a league-high 153 free throws. Her free throw percentage (.832) and three-point field goal percentage (.385) both ranked fifth in the NEC as did her 4.09 assists per game average.
Taylor, an NEC All-Rookie and All-Tournament Team selection as a freshman, was another catalyst for the Pioneers' championship run. The 6-foot-1 forward played with the poise of a polished veteran during the 2009 NEC Tournament, averaging 12.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game in three victories. Taylor was arguably the league's best all-around shooter. She became the second consecutive rookie Pioneer to lead the NEC in three-point field goal percentage (.441) and ranked second in overall shooting (.498). Her size and athleticism yielded the NEC's eight-best rebounding average (7.3 rpg) while her scoring average (12.0) landed her 19th amongst league leaders.
Saint Francis (PA), which fell to Sacred Heart in the 2009 NEC Championship Game, garnered two first-place votes to finish second in the poll, one spot ahead of Central Connecticut State (third).
Robert Morris, last year's preseason favorite, claimed the lone remaining first-place nod and took fourth. Quinnpiac finished in fifth place followed by two Garden State rivals - Fairleigh Dickinson (sixth) and Monmouth (seventh). Mount St. Mary's claimed the eighth spot in front of Long Island (ninth) and NEC newcomer Bryant (tenth). Wagner (eleventh) and St. Francis (NY) (twelfth) round out the results of the annual preseason survey, which does not permit coaches to rank their own teams.