PAWTUCKET, R.I. – The UMass Dartmouth Corsairs were selected by the head coaches of the Little East Conference as the preseason favorites to win the LEC regular season title for 2016-17. UMass Dartmouth finished with four first place votes for a total of 49 points to place the Corsairs atop the LEC Women's Basketball Preseason Poll for the first time in the history of the poll.
Head coach Matt Ducharme returns for his third season at the helm for UMass Dartmouth, returning 11 players (3 starters) from a team that finished last season 18-9, 7-7 LEC and an LEC Final Four appearance. Junior forward Alicia Kutil (Franklin, Mass.) and junior point guard Chelsea Houlihan (Wolcott, Conn.) return from the 2015-16 starting lineup to lead a competitive program this season in the Little East Conference. Kutil averaged 8.7 points per game and 4.7 rebounds. Houlihan averaged 6.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game in 2015-16. The Corsairs will look to sophomore forward Nakira Examond (New Bedford, Mass.) and Rachel McCarron (Groton, Mass.) to have an increased role with the team this season. Examond, who averaged 7.9 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game last season, is expected to grow into one of the team's top offensive threats. McCarron finished last season strong, earning valuable minutes in the final two months of the regular season and is expected to be a vital piece to the success of the Corsairs this season. The Corsairs welcome three key newcomers in freshmen guards LeiAndra Busby and Kayla McMahon to replace the loss of their graduating seniors Colleen Kane and Beth Castantini.
The Western Connecticut State Colonials placed second in the 2016-17 preseason poll with 48 points. Head coach Kimberley Rybczyk has a core of seniors returning this season, led by First Team All-LEC performer Emily Dobson (Westerly, R.I.). Dobson led the Colonials in scoring with 12.3 points per game on 48.8 percent from the floor and 83.8 percent from the free-throw line. The senior guard is joined by Alecia Dulaire (Bloomfield, Conn.) and Samantha Smith (Wallingford, Conn.). Dulaire saw action in 24 games last season and averaged 5.3 points per game. Smith provided an offensive spark off the bench last season, averaging 9.3 points per game and collected 4.4 rebounds per game. The Colonials will look to their top newcomers Genesis Torres, Emma Belcourt and Gabrielle Hurlbert to provide quality minutes after graduating three senior guards from last year's squad.
The Eastern Connecticut State Warriors earned two first place votes for a total of 45 points to finish third in the preseason poll. The Warriors are led by head coach Denise Bierly as she enters her 24th season at Eastern Connecticut State. Bierly and the Warriors finished last season 22-7, 11-3 LEC and claimed the program's second straight Little East Conference Championship with a 64-56 win over UMass Boston. The Warriors will have to fill the void in the lineup with the loss of their graduated All-American and All-LEC performer Jill Ritrosky (14.9 ppg/10.3 rpg). The 2016-17 Warriors are led by a trio of seniors in Jordyn Nappi (SouthingtonConn.), Julie DePoi (Brookfield, Conn.) and Lexis Foster (Groton, Conn.). Nappi was a Second Team All-LEC member last season, averaging 13.0 points per game and made 43 3-point field goals and shot 74.3 percent from the foul line. DePoi started all 29 games for the Warriors, averaging over 30 minutes a game, scored 8.8 points per game and grabbed 7.6 rebounds per game.
The Keene State Owls finished with two first place votes and finished fourth in the 2016-17 preseason coaches' poll with 44 total points. The Owls finished last season with a 24-5, 10-4 LEC record and are returning nine players, including senior guard and reigning LEC Defensive Player of the Year, Stephanie D'Annolfo (Tyngsborough, Mass.). D'Annolfo dished out 99 assists and finished second in the LEC with 63 steals for the Owls. Head coach Keith Boucher also welcomes back the Owls leading scorer, Sandi Purcell (Hudson, N.H.). Purcell averaged 13.3 points per game and 29.6 minutes per game. Purcell connected on 77 three-point attempts on 30 percent shooting from behind the arc to lead the Little East Conference in three-point field goals made. The Owls welcome top newcomers in guard Jasmin Mitchell (Meriden, Conn.) and forwards Mackenzie Bennett (Lake George, N.Y.) and Rachel Bonnanzio (Middlebury, Conn.) for the 2016-17 season.
Rounding out the remaining 2016-17 Little East Conference Women's Basketball Preseason Poll is UMass Boston (37 points), University of Southern Maine (25 points), Rhode Island College (17 points) and Plymouth State University (14 points).
The 2016-17 season kicks off on November 15, 2016 with six of the eight LEC women's programs in action. The 2017 Little East Conference Championship qualifies all eight institutions and is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 with the quarterfinal round and culminating in a final four format at the highest remaining seed on Friday, February 24 and Saturday, February 25.
The Little East Conference was formed in 1986 when six public institutions gathered to create a single sport (basketball) conference and has expanded into what is now New England's premier athletic conference for public institutions in NCAA Division III. The LEC features 19 Championship Sports and sponsors quality competition in every season for our student athletes while following the Division III mission of passion, responsibility, sportsmanship and citizenship.
|Institution||First Place Votes||Points|
|1. UMass Dartmouth||4||49|
|2. Western Connecticut State||48|
|3. Eastern Connecticut State||2||45|
|4. Keene State College||2||44|
|5. UMass Boston||37|
|6. University of Southern Maine||25|
|7. Rhode Island College||17|
|8. Plymouth State University||14|