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Keene State Perched Atop Women's Basketball Preseason Poll

Keene State Perched Atop Women's Basketball Preseason Poll

NORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. – If the preseason coaches’ poll is any indication, the top three seeds in the 2009-2010 Little East Women’s Basketball Tournament Championship may not be determined until the final day of competition. Keene State College, University of Southern Maine, and Eastern Connecticut State University have been projected as the top-three teams in the 2009-10 women’s basketball preseason survey in the smallest margin of separation since the conference expanded to its present eight-team membership in 1997.

For the first time in program history, the Owls are perched atop the annual poll after each of the eight head coaches’ cast a vote. Keene State received four first-place votes and 58 totals points to edge the Huskies (55) and Warriors (53). University of Southern Maine penned three first-place votes in its ledger, while Eastern Connecticut earned the final first-place tally.

Under the direction of Head Coach of Keith Boucher, the Owls reached the 20-win plateau for the second time in the past three seasons in 2009 with an overall record of 21-8. Keene State posted a 9-5 mark in the conference circuit to share third place in the team standings with the Huskies. The Owls welcome back nine student-athletes into the fold from last year’s squad, including four of their top-five scorers. Senior guard Kristin Degou (Newburyport, Mass.) paced the Keene State scoring attack last winter, averaging 13.1 points per game. The two-time all-conference selection reached double figures in scoring in 23 of her 28 games, including a season-high 21 points against UMass Boston. The Owls make their 2009-10 debut at 7 p.m. on Nov. 16, when Keene State hosts Nichols College.

There will be a familiar face on the Southern Maine women’s basketball sideline as legendary coach Gary Fifield returns to the Huskies’ bench after a one-year stint in retirement. Last season, Southern Maine raised the Little East Women’s Basketball Tournament trophy for the 19th time in school history. The third-seeded Huskies edged the top-seeded Warriors to earn their 23rd berth into the NCAA Division III Tournament. With four starters returning from last year’s 22-7 team, Southern Maine has garnered national attention in the WBCA and D3Hoops.com preseason polls, ranking 12th and 13th, respectively. The backcourt combination of senior point guard Nicole Paradis (Skowhegan, Maine) and junior guard Kaylie DeMillo (Jay, Maine) will lead the Huskies offense. Paradis directed the top-scoring offensive attack in the conference (66.9 ppg) by handing out a team-best 93 assists, while DeMillo averaged 13 points per game. Southern Maine will square off against the University of New England at 7 p.m. on Nov. 17.

Head Coach Denise Bierly guided Eastern Connecticut to the program’s 12th NCAA Division III Tournament appearance last season. A year ago, the Warriors posted an overall record of 25-4, including matching the program record for conference victories with a 13-1 mark. Eastern Connecticut captured the Little East regular season championship for the fifth time and earned the top-seed and right to host the tournament. Bierly will welcome back seven players from last winter, including just one starter in junior guard Jessica Moriarty (East Haven, Conn.). Moriarty is the top returning scoring option after averaging 10.9 points per game in her sophomore campaign. The Warriors open the season at home on Nov. 21, when Eastern Connecticut hosts the 30th annual Eastern Tip-Off Tournament.

The top-six teams in the final regular season standings will advance to the 2010 Little East Women’s Basketball Tournament Championship with the two highest seeded squads earning a first round bye into the semifinal round. The No. 1 seed will host both semifinal round contests on Feb. 27 with the two winners meeting in the championship round the following afternoon. The Little East champion will earn the automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division III Tournament.

Completing the order in projected order of finish in the final regular season standings are Western Connecticut State University (37), Rhode Island College (35), Plymouth State University (25), University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (21), and University of Massachusetts Boston (8).

Initially formed in 1986 as a six-team men's and women's basketball conference, the Little East Conference will begin its 24th sponsored season in 2009-2010. Western Connecticut State University joined the conference in 1993-1994, while Keene State College raised its current membership to eight teams in 1997-1998.

2009-10 Little East Women's Basketball Preseason Coaches' Poll

Rank Institution First Place Total Points
1 Keene State College 4 58
2 University of Southern Maine 3 56
3 Eastern Connecticut State University 1 53
4 Western Connecticut State University   37
5 Rhode Island College   35
6 Plymouth State University   25
7 University of Massachusetts Dartmouth   21
8 University of Massachusetts Boston   8