FAIRFIELD, Conn. – The Sacred Heart women's lacrosse team has been picked to finish sixth in the Northeast Conference, as the league announced its preseason coaches poll on Wednesday afternoon.
The Pioneers are looking to return to the NEC Tournament after earning back-to-back postseason berths in the 2016-17 seasons. SHU finished 2-14 overall last season and 2-5 in NEC play in the 2018 season.
SHU benefits greatly from the return of senior attack Hanna Wise who led the Pioneers with 33 goals and sat third on the team with 36 points in 16 games last season. As a junior in 2018, Wise ranked ninth in the NEC in goals per game (2.06) and sixth in shots per game (5.25). Her return helps shoulder the loss of the top two leading scorers on the team last season, Averi Farhat (21 goals, 16 assists) and Alyssa Pearce (32 goals, five assists), who each finished with 37 points in their final season of eligibility.
The greatest position of strength, in terms of players returning, lies in the midfield and defense as 2018 All-NEC Second Teamer Elizabeth Small headlines that crop. Small continued to produce with a solid sophomore campaign that saw her compile the third-most ground balls (26), second-most draw controls (35) and most caused turnovers (28) on the team in 2018. Small tied for second in the NEC with 1.87 caused turnovers per game. Her role figures to take on even more responsibility in 2019 as the team's leader in draw controls last season, Dominique Anselmin (55), graduated this past summer.
Joining Small on the defensive end is sophomore duo Kelsey Perretta and Casey Hannon. Perretta started all 16 games in her rookie season last year and posted a solid all-around season with 21 ground balls, 12 draw controls and 11 caused turnovers. Meanwhile, Hannon played in 12 games (10 starts) and racked up 17 ground balls and nine caused turnovers.
Another bright spot from 2018, junior midfielder Cassie Cesario, returns looking to make a big impact in 2019. Cesario was a do-everything type of player for the Pioneers last season as she ranked among the team leaders in every major statistical category. Her biggest impact came defensively as she led the Pioneers with 44 ground balls in 2018 while adding 16 draw controls and the second-most caused turnovers (18) on the team. Her scoring prowess picked up last season as she chipped in 15 goals and 12 assists for 27 points. Cesario is the team's active career leader in points (45) heading into the 2019 season.
Bryant, winners of three of the last five NEC Championships, were named the preseason favorite in the league. The 2018 NEC Champion Wagner is second in the poll but tied with the Bulldogs for the most first-place votes with four. Mount St. Mary's was picked third, followed by Robert Morris, Saint Francis U and the Pioneers. LIU Brooklyn and Central Conn. St. round out the poll.
The Pioneers open the 2018 season with a pair of home games against New Hampshire (Feb. 22) and Monmouth (Feb. 27).
2019 NEC Women's Lacrosse Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Bryant (4 First-Place Votes)
2. Wagner (4)
3. Mount St. Mary's
4. Robert Morris
5. Saint Francis U
6. Sacred Heart
8. LIU Brooklyn