PAWTUCKET, R.I.—For the first time in program history, UMass Boston was tabbed the favorite in the Little East Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll, the league office announced Thursday morning.
The Beacons edged out a tight pack of five front-runners, with a league-high 45 points. UMass Boston claimed a league-best three first-place votes, which marked the program's first three first-place votes ever
LEC Regular Season Champion Keene State College placed second with one first-place vote and 44 total points. LEC Tournament Champion Western Connecticut State University grabbed two first-place votes and finished with 43 points, while the University of Southern Maine (40 points) and Eastern Connecticut State University (38 points) collected one first-place vote apiece.
In total, the top five teams were separated by just eight points, with the top three just two total points apart.
UMass Dartmouth (33 points), Plymouth State University (21 points) and Rhode Island College (12 points) rounded out the eight-team poll.
UMass Boston is coming off their second-most wins in program history (22-19) and their best playoff run in the history of the program. After finishing fifth in the LEC Regular Season, UMass Boston downed #6 Eastern Connecticut State, #4 UMass Dartmouth and #1 Keene State in three-straight elimination games during the LEC Tournament. UMass Boston made it all the way to their first-ever LEC Tournament Championship Game, before falling 8-2 to second-seeded Western Connecticut State University.
UMass Boston's biggest advantage though starts in the circle. Sophomore ace Annie Thomas (Lunenburg, Mass.) is the only returning LEC pitcher to have ranked in the top-five in the conference in earned run average, wins, innings pitched, complete games and strikeouts. She will team up with freshmen Jess Greenspan (Rocky Hill, Conn.) and Megan Hoben (Bedford, Mass.) in an effort to lead a staff that posted a 3.10 earned run average a season ago.
In addition to their nine returners, UMass Boston added eight freshmen and one transfer. The group of newcomers will look to add considerable depth and compete for several starting positions, while also adding to and improving the team speed.
Tenth-year head coach Natalia Ardagna's squad will open their season on Saturday March 11 in Clermont, Florida. The Beacons will take on Western New England University at 8:00 a.m., before playing Olivet College out of Michigan at 10:30 a.m.
UMass Boston begins conference play on April 1 at 1 p.m., when they travel to take on Plymouth State University.