All six programs get underway; w-soccer and field hockey are home
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - The Eastern Connecticut State University fall athletic season gets into high gear this weekend as all six fall programs open their respective seasons.
The women's soccer team plays at home by hosting the 2nd Annual Warrior Classic at the Mansfield Outdoor Complex Friday and Saturday, while the field hockey team hosts Saint Joseph's College (ME) Saturday at noon, the men's soccer team competes in the Western New England University Shootout Saturday and Sunday, the volleyball team plays three matches at the Springfield College Invitational Friday and Saturday, and the men's and women's cross country teams run in the Keene State College Alumni Invitational Saturday.
Both the men's and women's soccer teams repeated as the top picks in their respective Little East Conference pre-season polls. The men captured both the LEC regular season and playoff title a year ago while the women upended No. 1 seed Keene State College in the title match of their LEC playoffs.
Last year, Eastern finished 15-6-1 overall and 6-1-0 in the conference regular season and as the No. 1 playoff seed, shut out UMass Dartmouth and Keene State to claim the LEC playoff title. The Warriors advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year with its second first-round shutout win in as many seasons.
Eastern returns 15 letterwinners from last year, seven of them regulars. The Warriors lost eight letterwinners
At right: Bradley Fletcher.
Key losses from last year were four-time All-LEC defender Aaron Smiles, a two-time All-New England Region pick and 2011 LEC Defensive Player-of-the-Year; four-year starting keeper Carl Appel, a 2011 All-New England Region pick and three-time All-LEC selection and program leader in most every career goalkeeper category; and 2011 first-team All-LEC defender Matt Esposito, the MVP of last year's LEC playoffs.
Top returnees from last year are senior forward Matt Furman (Montville), senior forward/midfielder Cory Tobler (Portland), junior midfielder Carl Stensland (Storrs), senior defender Bradley Fletcher (Middletown), and senior keeper Jordan Munsell (Waterford).
Furman is a two-time first-team All-LEC pick and the team leader in goals and points the last two years; Tobler was a second-team All-LEC selection last year; Fletcher a two-time All-LEC pick and 2009 LEC Rookie-of-the-Year; and Munsell appeared in five matches in net last year (two starts) and did not allow a goal in 200+ minutes.
Eastern has qualified for post-season play every year under sixth-year head coach Greg DeVito, four times in the NCAA and once as the top seed in the ECAC. The Warriors have averaged 14.2 wins per year under DeVito and Eastern is the only public institution in New England to be ranked in every NSCAA New England Division III poll each of the last three seasons.
Eastern has won three Little East Conference regular season and three LEC playoff championships under DeVito. The Warriors have lost exactly one game in LEC regular-season play every year under DeVito.
Eastern repeated as the No. 1 team in the Little East Conference pre-season poll, receiving five of eight first-place votes and edging Keene State College in total points, 58-57.
Last year, Eastern finished second in the LEC regular season behind Keene State but went on to win its fourth LEC tournament title by defeating the top-seeded Owls on penalty kicks on their home field following a 0-0 overtime tie.
Eastern was ranked first for the fifth time in the LEC pre-season poll. The team held first place on its own this year and in 2011 and shared the top spot with Keene in 2010 and 2004 and with Western Connecticut in 2006. Eastern has never won the regular season when being ranked first or sharing first in the pre-season poll and last year won the LEC playoff title for the first time after being rated No. 1 or sharing the top spot in the pre-season poll.
Western New England edged homestanding Eastern in overtime midway through last year and, like Eastern, won a first-round NCAA tournament match. The Golden Bears were ranked No. 3 in the final New England poll, and No. 19 nationally. The Warriors will face either the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy or Springfield College in the second round of the tournament. Eastern blanked Springfield, 2-0, in last year's NCAA opener.
Eastern returns 13 of last year's 20 letterwinners and eight of last year's 12 regulars (1,000+ minutes) this season from an 11-9-1 team which won six of seven LEC regular-season matches on the heels of a memorable 16-1-5 campaign in 2010. The Warriors qualified for the NCAA tournament last year for the third straight season and fifth in the last nine years.
Among this year's returning regulars are eight seniors. Key players among the seniors are forwards Daniela Marchitto (Orange) and Taylor Buchanan (Ellington), keeper Mackenzie MacLeod (Northfield), and forward/midfielders Chelsea Downer (Colchester) and Kelly Wallace (South Windsor). Marchitto was last year's LEC Offensive Player-of-the-Year and a fourth-team All-New England Region choice when she led the team in goals and assists; Buchanan led the 2010 team in goals and points before missing all of 2011 with an ACL injury; in her first year as a starter last year, MacLeod appeared in all 21 matches, with 19 starts; Wallace is a two-time all-conference selection who has twice led the team in assists. Additional returning starters include junior midfielder Tamar Merheb (Bethel), an All-LEC pick last year, and junior back Megan Godwin (Manchester). Both are two-year starters.
Top losses from last year are keeper Theresa Pagnozzi and starting backs Amber Petrizzo and Sam Konopka, as well as midfielder Jo-Ann Merheb. Pagnozzi backstopped the 2010 team which was unbeaten until a season-ending NCAA loss. She missed most of last year but returned to earn LEC playoff Most Outstanding Player honors. She made nine saves and did not allow a goal in 110 minutes in two LEC playoff matches.
Head coach Chris D'Ambrosio is now in his 15th season with the program, the last 12 as head coach. Under D'Ambrosio, the Warriors have claimed outright or shared four Little East Conference regular season titles, captured four LEC playoff titles, qualified for five NCAA and three ECAC tournaments, and have recorded a winning percentage over 65 percent. Th winning percentage is the highest among the five head coaches in the program's 26-year history.
Prior to D'Ambrosio's arrival, Eastern was 26-23 in the first ten season of LEC regular-season competition. Since then, the Warriors are 65-13-6 (81.0) in regular-season conference play, having lost more than one regular-season conference match only once in the last eleven years and compiling the best regular-season winning percentage and most wins during that span of any LEC program. In the last nine years, Eastern has advanced to the LEC tournament championship match seven times, winning four. No team has advanced to the final more times in that span and none have claimed more than Eastern's four titles.
The Warriors open the season with the same opponents from a year ago at the Warriors Classic: Fitchburg State University Friday night at 7 p.m. and the University of Saint Joseph (CT) Saturday night. Eastern won by a combined 10-2 margin against those opponents on last fall's opening weekend.
WATCH: Head Coach Christine Hutchison Discusses the Season Ahead (6:00)
Despite losing seven seniors, an infusion of several talented newcomers have the Warriors optimistic under seventh-year head coach Christine Hutchison.
Looking to qualify for the Little East Conference tournament for the first time since 2004, Eastern returns four starters in seniors Lauren DeLuca (South Windsor), Rochelle Normandin (South Windsor) and Hannah Collier (Watertown) and junior Kelly Gawron (Ramsey, NJ). DeLuca, a returning All-LEC pick, and Gawron are defenders, Normandin a midfielder, and Collier a forward.
At left: Rochelle Normandin
Five of this year's starters are newcomers, three of them freshmen: sophomore defender Sam Rossetti (Shelton) and sophomore goalie Olivia Mullen (Bethel), freshmen midfielders Mackenzie Brower (Granby) and Laura Chicorka (Enfield), and freshman forward Hannah Keiser (Danbury).
Brower won three state titles in high school while Keiser was selected to the All-State team and Chicorka was a four-year all-conference pick and played Futures for three years.
Rounding out the starting squad are junior midfielder Finley Ahearn (Wallingford) and sophomore forward Deisy Naranjo (Washington Heights, NY).
WATCH: Head Coach Peter Maneggia Previews His Team (6:22)
A veteran team under first-year head coach Peter Maneggia won 20 matches last year and upset Western Connecticut State University on its home floor in the opening round of the Little East Conference tournament.
At left: Shannon Burke (3) and Katie Wilson
Ranked fifth among eight teams in this year's LEC pre-season poll, Eastern lost its top offensive player in Kristianna Ibsen, No. 1 defense specialist in Taylor Abelli, and best setter in Samantha Slonksi, but returns its best all-around player in 6-foot-2 inch middle hitter Katie Wilson (Pittsburg, CA).
Outside hitter Danielle Bourne (Branford) and right-side hitter Shannon Burke (Manchester) round out the senior class on a team comprised of seven returnees and six newcomers.
Bourne and junior Nicki Gasch (New Fairfield) will be counted upon to fill the void left by Ibsen, with junior Erynn Miller (Stratford) expected to take over at libero in place of Abelli. Sophomore Allie Henry (Middletown) and University of Saint Joseph (CT) sophomore transfer Jess Patrizi (Beacon Falls) will share setting chores following the graduation of Slonski. Patrizi led Saint Joseph in assists and digs last fall and was among the top three in points.
The Warriors, who play only one home match in September, face Rhode Island College Friday night in its opener at Springfield before meeting Westfield State University and host Springfield Saturday. The Warriors swept Rhode Island twice last year in conference play but last faced Springfield five years ago and Westfield in 2001.
Maneggia is in his fifth season with the program. After serving three seasons as an assistant under two different head coaches, Maneggia was named interim head coach for the 2011 season. He was appointed permanent head coach last spring.