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Warriors hope to surprise again after second-division projection

abelli_head_72dpi_3834.jpgNORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. -  The Eastern Connecticut State University women's volleyball team looks to surprise Little East Conference opponents again in 2009 after being projected to finish in the second division for the second straight season in the 2009 LEC pre-season coaches' poll, released Wednesday.

At left: Taylor Abelli

.A winner of three straight regular season and three straight post-season tournament championships earlier this decade, Eastern was tabbed to finish fifth this year in the eight-team conference. Coming off their third straight tournament championship in 2007, the Warriors were selected to finish sixth among seven teams last year under first-year head coach Peter Viteritti. Eastern surprised many, however, capturing third place in last yaer's final standings - looking down upon three programs picked for a higher finish in the pre-season poll.

The University of Massachusetts Boston, once the doormat of the conference, rose from a fifth-place pre-season projection last year to finish second in the final regular-season standings, and is favored to win its first LEC title in this year's poll. The Beacons came within a whisker of posting their first LEC tournament title, losing to first-time titlist Keene State College, 3-2,  in last year's championship match.

UMass Boston received four of eight first-place votes in the poll and totaled 59 points. Keene State College, which parlayed its second straight perfect regular season in conference play last yearinto its first tournament title, was accorded three first-place votes and amassed 56 points. Western Connecticut, fourth a year ago in the conference standings, corralled the final first-place vote but fell 12 points shy of Keene in the poll.

A four-time regular-season and seven-time LEC tournament titlist, Eastern has never finished as low as fifth in 11 seasons of LEC regular-season competition (the Warriors shared fifth place in 2003 before winning regular-season championships the next three seasons).

The Warriors (20-12) won at least 20 matches last year for the sixth time in eight years, posting a 4-2 regular-season conference mark. For the second straight year, Eastern returns seven letterwinners, and will again rely upon a talented freshman class for its success. One all-conference player from a year ago returns in sophomore second-team defensive specialist Taylor Abelli (Cheshire), last year's team leader in digs and serve percentage who was second in reception attempts.

Additional key returning sophomores coming off impressive first seasons are Samantha Slonski (Griswold) and Kristianna Ibsen (Shelton). Slonski was last year's No. 1 setter and assist leader but may move to outside hitter this season. Ibsen was the Warriors' leader last year in kills, attack percentage, service aces and blocks.

Eastern opens its 35th intercollegiate season Sept. 5 at Salve Regina University at noon.

Little East Conference
2009 Women's Volleyball Preseason Coaches' Poll

Rank, Institution (First place votes)               Pts.   2008 Finish
1. Massachusetts Boston (4)                            59         2nd
2. Keene State College* (3)                               56        1st
3. Western Conn. (1)                                        44        4th
4. Plymouth State U.                                        41        5th
5. EASTERN CONN.                                        40        3rd
6. Massachusetts Dartmouth                            22        6th
7. Rhode Island College                                   16         7th
8. U. of Southern Maine                                   10           --
*-2008 playoff champion