Fairfield, CT – The Pioneer women's volleyball team was tabbed the Northeast Conference preseason favorite for the first time in program history by the annual vote of the league's head coaches. Sacred Heart completed its rapid climb to the top of the NEC last season, capturing the regular season and tournament championships in 2010. SHU claimed seven of a possible eight first-place votes to top the poll while NEC Tournament runner-up Robert Morris garnered a single first-place nod and finished behind the Pioneers in second.
Central Connecticut State picked up the final first-place vote and sits in the third spot of the preseason poll after narrowly falling to SHU in the NEC Tournament semifinals. Long Island was picked fourth and Saint Francis (PA), one of just two NEC teams to defeat the Pioneers in 2010, was tabbed fifth. Bryant and Fairleigh Dickinson finished with the same number of points and share the poll's sixth position. Quinnipiac and St. Francis (NY) round out the NEC coaches' predictions in eighth and ninth, respectively.
|2011 Northeast Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
|1. Sacred Heart (7)|
|2. Robert Morris (1)|
|3. Central Connecticut State (1)|
|4. Long Island|
|5. Saint Francis (PA)|
|T-6. Fairleigh Dickinson|
|9. St. Francis (NY)|
|First-Place votes in ( )|
Rob Machan, the 2010 NEC Coach of the Year, returns four All-Northeast Conference selections from his championship squad. The league's Rookie of the Year, Dianis Mercado (Vega Baja, Puerto Rico), returns for her sophomore season after piling up 15 double-doubles in her freshman campaign. Elise Sage (Greenwood Village, CO) remains in the middle of the net for SHU after leading the league with a .387 hitting percentage in 2010. Libero Jessica Colberg (Long Beach, CA) will serve as a captain and looks to lead a Sacred Heart defense that dominated NEC competition a season ago as opponents hit just .140 versus the Pioneers. Johanna Ovsenek (London, Ontario) rounds out SHU's returning all-conference contingent as the junior averaged 2.62 kills per set last year.
The Pioneers also have plenty of incoming talent to balance the loss of 2010 NEC Player of the Year and two-time NEC Setter of the year Courtney Kidd-Kadlubek (Santa Barbara, CA), who graduated in May. Kimmee Roleder (Pasadena, CA) enters the mix as a transfer from USC and is a former All-Pac 10 honorable mention as well as a member of the 2008 A2 Women's National Team. Freshmen Alissa Young (La Verne, CA), Alisa Mesa (Long Beach, CA), and Sara Fernandez (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico) also could have a significant impact in 2011, all coming to Sacred Heart after impressive high school careers.
Sacred Heart was a perfect 16-0 at home in 2010 and will play at the William H. Pitt Center for the first time since hoisting the NEC Championship Friday, September 2nd for the annual SHU Invitational. The Pioneers will again take on a challenging non-conference schedule as the season begins August 26 at the Orange Invitational in Syracuse, NY.