Connecticut Leads 2011 BIG EAST Field Hockey Preseason Poll

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The Connecticut Huskies have been voted the conference's top team in the 2011 BIG EAST Field Hockey Preseason Coaches' Poll. The Huskies received 35 points, earning five of a possible seven first-place votes. Syracuse, last year's regular-season and tournament champion, took second place in the poll while Louisville ranked third. The votes were cast by the league's seven head coaches who were not permitted to vote for their own teams. Connecticut is coming off a third-place finish in the conference in 2010, when it posted a 16-6 record and were 4-2 in BIG EAST play. The Huskies lost Melissa Gonzalez, the 2010 BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year, but return 2011 Preseason BIG EAST Defender of the Year, senior Rayell Heistand. This is Heistand's second pick as Preseason Defender of the Year, as she becomes only the second league player since 2005 to earn multiple Preseason Player of the Year honors (UConn's Jennifer Kleinhans earned co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 while winning the award outright in 2007 and 2008). Heistand is joined in the defensive ranks by 2010 Goalkeeper of the Year, sophomore Sarah Mansfield, who led the league with six shutouts and a 1.00 goals against average last season. The Huskies' strong defense will be matched by their offense as they return their eight leading scorers from a season ago including sophomore Anne Juete, the team's leading point-getter with 33 points (14 goals, five assists). Juete, a unanimous selection to the All-BIG EAST Preseason Team, looks to lead a potent offense that finished last season ranked second in the conference in goals (64) and first in assists (54). Joining Heistand, Mansfield and Juete on the All-BIG EAST Preseason Team are seniors Ali Blankmeyer and Jestine Angelini, giving Connecticut the most Preseason All-BIG EAST selections for 2011. Syracuse accumulated 32 points with two first-place votes in the Preseason Coaches' Poll. The Orange are the reigning BIG EAST regular-season and tournament champions after posting a perfect 6-0 record in conference play and going 16-5 overall in 2010. Leading the way for SU is senior Martina Loncarica, the 2011 BIG EAST Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Loncarica notched 29 points on 11 goals and seven assists last season to rank fourth in the league. Also making the All-BIG EAST Preseason Team for the Orange were senior Heather Susek, junior Amy Kee and sophomore Laura Hahnefeldt. Susek and Kee combined for 35 points in 2010 while Hahnefeldt anchored a defense that recorded five shutouts and a 1.08 goals against average. Loncarica, Susek and Hahnefeldt were all unanimous picks. Louisville rounds out the top three in the Preseason Coaches' Poll with 25 points. Last season the Cardinals finished second in the conference with a 5-1 BIG EAST record while going 13-7 overall. Louisville lost 2010 Offensive Player of the Year and league-leading scorer Nicole Youman, but will look to senior Hayley Turner to lead the team. Turner, a unanimous selection to the All-BIG EAST Preseason Team, recorded eight goals and eight assists for 24 points in 2010. She is joined on the team by senior defender Caitlin Collins and junior goalkeeper Erin Conrad. Collins and Conrad lead the Cardinal defense which registered five shutouts and a 1.76 goals against average a season ago. Rutgers earned 18 points and a fourth-place finish in the Preseason poll. Providence, Villanova and Georgetown finish out the poll having been selected fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. Also making the All-BIG EAST Preseason Team is Georgetown junior Catherine Shugrue. Shugrue finished third in the league with 32 points on 14 goals and four assists last year. This year's All-BIG EAST Preseason Team marks the third straight year that both Rayell Heistand and Martina Loncarica have been chosen as members. They join five prior players (Jennifer Kleinhans, SU; Rachel Chamberlin, PC; Nicole Youman, UofL; Melissa Gonzalez, UConn; Maggie Befort, SU) as the only athletes to earn the honor since the current league formation was set in 2005. The 2011 field hockey season is set to begin on Friday, Aug. 26 while BIG EAST play begins Friday, Sept. 16. All BIG EAST field hockey teams play a six-game league schedule. The BIG EAST Championship will be held November 4-6 at Syracuse University. The top four teams from league play will advance to the Championship.