WILLIMANTIC, Conn. -- The expectations for the Eastern Connecticut State University spring teams in 2019 range from middling to high, according to the Little East Conference head coaches whose opinions form the LEC pre-season polls, released this week.
At left: Megan Hodgdon
Under the direction of 18th-year head coach Diana Pepin '92, softball tops the chart, with both lacrosse teams picked for third and the baseball team -- the most successful regular-season and post-season program in conference history -- was tabbed for fourth place. With the exception of women's lacrosse -- where there are eight teams -- nine teams comprise the other three LEC spring sports. The Eastern women's lacrosse program is under the direction of 13th-year head coach Christine Hutchison, while men's lacrosse (Marc Graham) and baseball (Brian Hamm) will be led in 2019 by first-year coaches who bring significant Division III head coaching experience to their inaugural seasons at Eastern.
In the poll, softball edged 2018 LEC regular-season champion Plymouth State University by four points for the top spot, garnering five of the available nine first-place votes. Plymouth held a one-game lead over Eastern in last year's final LEC regular-season standings and advanced to the LEC tournament final before losing to No. 4 seed UMass Boston. Eastern was erased from the tournament with two shutout losses.
Softball returns 15 letterwinners from last year's 17-22 team, among them first-team All-LEC picks Sabrina LeMere (North Branford) and Morgan Bolduk (Vernon) and second-teamers Megan Hodgdon (Cheshire), Sara Pisanelli (Wallingford) and Alexis Tyrrell (Torriington). LeMere is a junior outfielder, Bolduk, last year's LEC Rookie-of-the-Year, is a sophomore pitcher and infielder, Pisanelli a junior infielder, Hodgdon a junior catcher and Tyrrell a sophomore utility player.
At right: Ralph Criscuolo
Like softball, women's lacrosse finished a game off the pace last year behind Plymouth State, which went on to defeat Eastern in the LEC title game. The Warriors defeated Keene State College in a semifinal thriller, 17-15, at the Mansfield Complex to reach the final. In the poll, Plymouth received six of eight first-place votes, Keene one and the University of Southern Maine was given the final first-place vote. Eastern totalled 44 points, two behind Keene and 11 shy of Plymouth's total.
At left: Alyssa Powers
Back from a team which won 11 of 18 matches overall are 12 letterwinners, among them senior midfielder/attack Michelina Pinto (Groton), junior attack Alyssa Powers (Ellington) and junior midfielder Tristan Kijak (Windsor). The three returning All-LEC picks are among six total selections from a year ago, with all three returnees earning second-team honors last year. In her first season after transferring in last spring, Kijak was named LEC Rookie-of-the-Year. Also back is senior goalie Jessica Purick (Riverhead, NY).
Six-time defending LEC regular-season champion Keene State commanded eight of a possible nine first-place votes to outdistance UMass Boston by 18 points as the coaches' pre-season pick in men's lacrosse. The Warriors, third in the poll, finished in second place in last year's final standings -- two games off the pace -- but were able to advance to the LEC title game for the 16th tiime in 18 years after surviving with a one-goal win over Southern Maine in the playoff semifinals. Although UMass Boston is 0-25 all-time against Eastern, the Beacons totalled three more points in the poll than the Warriors, who edged fourth-place Plymouth by one point.
Thirteen letterwinners return for Eastern (10-7 overall last year) under new head coach Graham, who spent the previous seven years as head coach at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. Among last year's four All-LEC selections, returning this year is senior attack Matthew Rougeot (Cheshire), the only returnee among last year's top four scorers. Also back are junior attack Brett Chin (Framingham, MA), starting poles Trevor Ross (Stratford), Ralph Criscuolo (Wallingford) and Tyler Koppy (Attleboro, MA), and ground ball specialist Anthony Choronzy (Clinton). Ross is a senior, Criscuolo and Choronzy juniors and Koppy a sophomore. Gone are last year's two top goalies and two top faceoff specialists.
Last year's baseball team, second last year in the LEC standings with a 10-4 record -- one game behind regular-season and tournament champion UMass Boston -- was picked for fourth in the pre-season poll. UMass Boston and Southern Maine combined for all nine first-place votes, with the Beacons edging the Huskies by a point for the top spot in the poll. UMass Dartmouth was third, one point ahead of Eastern.
At right: Nick Rascati
First-year coach Hamm, who averaged nearly 25 wins a year in nine seasons at Amherst College, welcomes 22 letterwinners from a squad which advanced to last year's LEC tournament final. All three of last year's All-LEC selections return in senior corner infielder Alex Parkos (Meriden), senior shortstop Dale Keller (Oxford) and senior righty pitcher Jordan Muchin (West Hartford). Parkos was a first-team pick, Keller and Muchin second-team selections. Parkos and Keller are the top two returning position players and Muchin the No. 1 starting pitcher. Also back are senior outfielder Alexander White (West Hartford), junior righty pitcher Jack Risley (Willimantic), and senior lefty hurler Nick Rascati (Wallingford).