Boston-The UMBC women's basketball team was selected to finish sixth in the America East in a vote of the conference's head coaches, the league announced Wednesday, the program's highest preseason billing since joining the America East in 2003.
Hartford is the unanimous choice to repeat as conference champions, receiving all eight possible first-place votes for 64 points. Coaches are not permitted to vote for their own team. The Hawks, who also received votes in the USA Today/ESPN Preseason Coaches Poll, will go for their third straight America East title.
Stony Brook earned 56 points and garnered the only other first-place vote to finish second in the poll. Boston University (49) was picked third, followed by Binghamton (37), New Hampshire (36), UMBC (33), Maine (23), Vermont (14) and Albany (12).
In a crowded middle-third of the conference, the Retrievers are just four points out of fourth place.
"We think we have our deepest and most our experienced team since we entered the America East," head coach Phil Stern said. "I think we're more talented than we've ever been, and I think we've caught up to the league in terms of talent. Our players have gained valuable experience.
One of the league's most improved teams last season, UMBC was picked ninth in the 2005 preseason poll after finishing the 2003-04 campaign with an 8-20 overall record and 3-15 conference mark. But the Retrievers rattled off six straight wins over America East foes in early February for a program-best 7-9 fifth-place finish in the conference in 2005-06, and at 15-13 overall posted the team's first winning record since 1993-94.
That six-game league winning streak included victories over Stony Brook, Binghamton, Boston U. and New Hampshire, and eventual America East champion Hartford is the only team which UMBC did not beat during conference play
The Retrievers will be led by senior forward and team co-captain Sharri Rohde, a 2006 second-team all-conference selection and the only player in the league to rank in the top 11 in conference games for scoring (5th, 14.8 ppg), rebounding (11th, 6.4 rpg), assists (8th, 2.94 apg) and field goal percentage (3rd, 57.1 percent). Rohde has also started every game of her career for a streak of 84 consecutive starts.
Also returning are the team's other senior co-captains, point guard Brittnie Hughes and forward Heather Luttrell. Behind Hughes, UMBC led the league in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio last season and ranked 22nd nationally with 16.43 assists per game. Hughes personally ranked second in the conference with 4.21 assists per game. Luttrell has played at every position on the court over the last three years but will likely start the season at the No. 4 spot this year.
Junior Kristin Drabyn moves into the shooting guard position, taking over for the graduated Matea Pender, the team's leading scorer last season with 12.6 points per game. An outstanding outside shooter, Drabyn ranked fourth in the conference in three-point field goal percentage at 40.6 percent.
Six-foot-2 sophomore center Mackenzie Butler started the final 12 games for the Retrievers and posted 19 blocks, while 6-foot-4 junior Amanda Robinson started 25 games last season, averaging 9.1 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game and ranking sixth in the conference with 31 blocked shots.
Stern also brought in a strong recruiting class, which includes Carlee Cassidy, New York State's Section III (Central New York) all-time scoring leader.
The Retrievers' season begins Friday, Nov. 10, at George Washington, a team that finished just outside the top 25 in the USA Today/ESPN Preseason Coaches Poll and is the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic-10 Conference after winning five consecutive regular-season titles and appearing in four straight NCAA Tournaments.
2006 America East Preseason Coaches Poll
Rank Team (1st-Place Votes) Points
1. Hartford (8) 64
2. Stony Brook (1) 56
3. Boston U. 49
4. Binghamton 37
5. New Hampshire 36
6. UMBC 33
7. Maine 23
8. Vermont 14
9. Albany 12