FAIRFIELD, CT (February 6, 2013) - In the annual vote of the Northeast Conference's head coaches, the Sacred Heart women's lacrosse team was picked to finish sixth in the 2013 NEC Preseason Coaches' Poll released on Wednesday. The Pioneers won a share of the NEC regular season title last season and have won four of the last five league regular season championships. The defending champion Monmouth Hawks were tabbed to repeat as champions receiving eight first place votes.
The Pioneers enter the year on a streak of seven-straight seasons qualifying for the NEC's four-team championship tournament and welcome the return of four All-NEC players from last season's squad, in senior Emily Pepe (East Quogue, NY), juniors Kelsey Russo (Linderhurst, NY) and Samantha Villafranca (Wading River, NY) and sophomore Kelly Keenan (Wantagh, NY),
Pepe was the Pioneers top point producer in 2012, ranking third in the league in points per game with 4.24, with a total of 72 points on the year. Pepe set a new school record in 2012, breaking the mark for assists in a season set by Mary Montesarchio in 2008 (38). She needs 21 assists to set the SHU record for career helpers (Montesarchio - 91, 2006-09).
Russo made the move to midfield last season and turned in an all-around season for the Pioneers earning all-conference honors for the first time her career. Russo posted 30 goals and four assists on the offensive end and became a dominant force in the draw circle. She was second in the NEC 58 draw controls. She also led the team in caused turnovers (21) and was second in ground balls (36).
Villafranca was one of the Pioneers top-stoppers on defense, limiting several of the league's offensive threats to one goal or less. Villafranca booked 16 caused turnovers and 27 ground balls last season. She proved to be effective on the circle, ranking second on the team in draw wins with 36. The sophomore defender limited
As a rookie goalkeeper, Keenan started every game and played nearly every minute, posting 9.47 saves per match - third in the conference - and recording eight wins. She had an 11.36 goals against average on the year.
The 2013 season opens on March 20th with Iona paying a visit to Campus Field. The NEC opener is on March 22nd at Quinnipiac.