FAIRFIELD, Conn. – The Sacred Heart women's basketball team is ready to tip off the 2018-19 season on Tuesday against UMass. The Pioneers, who received two first place votes while being picked third in the Northeast Conference Preseason Poll, welcome back 12 players from a season ago when they went 14-17 (9-9 NEC) and made an appearance in the semifinals of the NEC Tournament.
Opening tip in Amherst is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and can be watched live on NESNplus and streamed live on ESPN+.
• The Sacred Heart women's basketball team will tip of its 45th season on Tuesday afternoon with a matchup at UMass.
• SHU is 2-3 in season-openers under Jessica Mannetti, with both of those wins coming on the road.
• The Pioneers were picked third in the Northeast Conference Preseason Poll and received three first-place votes.
• SHU finished 14-17 (9-9 NEC) last season and was the No. 4 seed in the NEC Tournament.
• The Pioneers return 12 players from last season's squad, including four that made at least 15 starts.
• UMass finished 14-16 (6-10 A10) last season, falling in the first round of the A-10 Conference Tournament.
Sacred Heart returns 12 players from last season's squad, including four players that made at least 15 starts.
Among the returners are the team's two leading scorers in redshirt senior Candice Leatherwood (13.5 ppg), and grad student Katherine Haines (12.5 ppg), who also led the team and ranked fourth in the NEC with 8.6 rebounds per contest. Graduate student Erin Storck (11.2 ppg) also returns to the backcourt.
The Pios ranked fourth in the Northeast Conference by scoring 62.8 ppg last season.
The Pios earned their 19th consecutive bid to the Northeast Conference Tournament last season, having made the tournament every single season since moving to Division I in 1999-00.
SHU defeated fifth-seeded Bryant in the quarterfinals, before falling 78-47 to eventual conference champions, Saint Francis U.
FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING
Tuesday's matchup will be the first time SHU will play an Atlantic-10 team under Jessica Mannetti. SHU will also play Saint Joseph's at the Pitt Center on Dec. 20.
LOTS OF FAMILIAR FACES
The Pioneers are returning 12 letterwinners to this year's squad, and lose only three from a season ago - Tykera Carter (11.9 ppg), Jenna Silletti (2.2 ppg) and Korina Guerra (0.0 ppg in 3 games).
The lone newcomer to this year's team is redshirt junior Nikki Johnson, after transferring from Western Carolina. Johnson averaged 7.0 points and 2.1 rebounds per game in 2017-18, while making 25 starts and appearing in all 30 games. She shot 41.3 percent (78-for-189) from the field and 36.3 percent (29-for-80) from three-point range. She will sit out this season due to NCAA transfer eligibility rules.
2018-19 NEC Preseason Coaches' Poll
1. Robert Morris (5)
2. Saint Francis U. (2)
3. Sacred Heart (3)
5. (tie) St. Francis Brooklyn
Mount St. Mary's
7. LIU Brooklyn
8. Central Connecticut
9. Fairleigh Dickinson
SHU had two players earn all-conference honors last season, both of whom return this season:
Candice Leatherwood proved to be an integral force in the Pioneers' offense. The floor general slotted first on the team pouring 13.3 points per game which ranked top-ten in the NEC and was fourth in the NEC with 3.9 assists per contest.
Adrienne Hagood was named to the All-Rookie team after a solid first-year campaign with SHU last season. The Washington D.C. product scored in double figures 12 times and averaged 9.0 points per game.
SHU defeated fifth-seeded Bryant in the quarterfinals, before falling 78-47 at Saint Francis U. in the semifinals. SFU went on to defeat defending champ Robert Morris in the championship game and faced UConn in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Tuesday's matchup will be just the second all-time between Sacred Heart and UMass, and the first since a 61-46 win for Sacred Heart in Fairfield back on Nov. 21, 2003. The only prior meeting in Amherst was in 2002.
UMass was picked to finish ninth in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll.
The Minutewomen went 14-16 overall last season and finished 6-10 in the A10. Both totals were the most wins for the program in 11 years. The team entered the conference tournament as the No. 10 seed, and fell in the first round to Saint Louis.
Tory Verdi begins his third season on the sideline as UMass' head coach. He has 98 career victories between stops in Amherst, as well as Eastern Michigan and Columbia.
UMass will have five new freshmen joining the team in 2018-19, including Stamford, Conn. native Alexa Kellner. Junior Hailey Leidel enters the season just 70 points shy of 1,000 for her career.
The Minutewomen took down Division III UMass Dartmouth 109-51 on Oct. 31 in the team's lone preseason exhibition. Freshman Asia McCoy registered a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds on 5-for-5 from the field, and was one of seven players to score in double figures for UMass. Jessica George scored 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting, and genesis Rivera went 3-for-6 from beyond the arc with 11 points.
LAST TIME OUT
Sacred Heart took down UMass 61-46 in their last meeting on Nov. 21, 2003 at the Pitt Center. The Pios led 30-19 at halftime and a 17-5 run by UMass in the second half cut the deficit to 37-36. Sacred Heart held UMass to 18-of-49 (36.7 percent) from the field and forced 25 turnovers in the win.