Defending Northeast Conference Champs Picked Third in Preseason Poll

The Sacred Heart Softball team was slated to finish third and received one first-place vote in the 2012 Northeast Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll, released today by the league office.  The Pioneers are the defending conference champions and have claimed two of the last three tournament crowns (2009 & 2011).  However, there will be several new faces in the SHU lineup as the Pioneers look to continue their recent winning ways.  Robert Morris earned six first-place votes and secured the top spot in the rankings while instate rival Quinnipiac picked up three first-place nods and were seeded second.  The final first-place selection went to Monmouth, who finished seventh in the voting.

The Bryant Bulldogs, who boast a potent offense, grabbed the fourth spot in the poll but will not be eligible for post season play until next year as they conclude a five year reclassification into division I.  LIU Brooklyn and Central Connecticut State are fifth and sixth respectively, just ahead of the Hawks and their sole first-place vote.  The preseason poll is rounded out by Fairleigh Dickinson, Wagner, Mount St. Mary's, and Saint Francis (PA).

2012 NEC Preseason
Coaches' Poll
1. Robert Morris (6)
2. Quinnipiac (3)
3. Sacred Heart (1)
4. Bryant
5. LIU Brooklyn
6. Central CT State
7. Monmouth
8. Fairleigh Dickinson
9. Wagner
10. Mount. St. Mary's
11. Saint Francis (PA)         

The Pioneers will rely on last season's NEC Most Improved Player, Nicole Sidor (West Vancouver, BC), as she becomes the ace of the pitching staff as well as a key part of the SHU lineup.  Sidor racked up 151 strikeouts in 104 innings pitched while also posting a .325 batting average and 22 RBI.  SHU will also benefit from the return of cleanup hitter Liz Tsipouras (Simi Valley, CA), who has become one of the best run-producers in the league.  Tsipouras led the NEC with 39 RBI in 2011 and finished the year with a .390 batting average.

Sacred Heart will also need the continued production of sophomores Annie Dreher (Saugus, CA) and Jade Bowins (Frederick, MD), who both had stellar rookie campaigns.  Bowins provides speed and is a good bunter at the top of the order.  The left fielder hit .333 in 2011 and had a team best ten stolen bases.  Dreher offered great protection for Tsipouras hitting fifth last season and did plenty of her own damage to opposing teams.  Dreher launched six homers and totaled 34 RBI at season's end; she was also named to the College Station Regional All-Tournament team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Pioneers will have to make some adjustments this season after the departures of last year's NEC Player of the Year, Taylor Froelich (Garden Grove, CA) and All-NEC first-team pitcher Jen Russell (Seymour, CT).  However, Russell will remain in the mix in Fairfield, CT as a volunteer assistant coach.  SHU will also be without the services of All-NEC second-team first baseman Courtney Lee (Camarillo, CA) and starting catcher Shannon McCoy (Yorba Linda, CA).  However, the Pioneers have a number of highly touted recruits who will look to make an immediate impact.

There is a lot of excitement around the Sacred Heart softball program as the university will open the newly renovated Pioneer Park during the 2012 season.  The state-of-the-art facility will allow the SHU softball team to compete in one of the finest stadiums in the region.  You can follow the progress of the new facility by clicking HERE to view the Construction Photo Blog, updated weekly.

SHU kicks-off the 2012 season February 24 as they travel to South Carolina for the Chanticleer Challenge, hosted by Coastal Carolina.