HARTFORD, Conn.—The UMBC women's basketball team has been chosen as the 2011-12 America East preseason favorite as determined by a vote of the league's nine head coaches, the conference announced today at the 2011 America East Basketball Tip-Off Event at the Connecticut State Capitol. In addition, senior guards Michelle Kurowski (Hicksville, N.Y./Hicksville) and Erin Brown (Bethesda, Md./Walt Whitman) were both selected to the America East Preseason All-Conference Team.
The 2011 regular-season champion Retrievers earned five first-place votes and 60 total points to edge Boston University (56) and defending tournament champion Hartford (54), who each received two first-place votes, as well. Binghamton (43), Albany (37), New Hampshire (25), Vermont (22), Stony Brook (15) and Maine (12) round out the nine-team poll. Coaches were not permitted to vote for their own team.
The first-place billing is the Retrievers' highest since joining the America East in 2003. Prior to this season, UMBC had never been picked higher than fifth (2008-09, 2010-11).
"We are thrilled to be picked as the preseason favorite by the America East coaches," 2011 America East Coach of the Year Phil Stern said. "We're a veteran group, and our three senior all-conference players will keep our team humble."
UMBC returns the top three scorers and more than 80 percent of the offensive output from the 2010-11 squad that posted a 20-12 overall record and a 13-3 mark in conference play. The Retrievers exceeded preseason expectations, which had them tabbed fifth, as they won 10 of their last 11 games to win their first-ever America East regular-season title. Despite falling to eventual champion Hartford in the America East semifinals, the Retrievers earned the program's first WNIT berth and finished with the most wins in the team's Division I history.
Kurowski and Brown last season were the highest-scoring tandem in the America East, as each ranked in the top five in the league with 14.6 and 14.3 points per game, respectively, and both earned first-team all-conference honors. They are the first Retrievers to be named to the preseason team since Carlee Cassidy in 2009.
Kurowski, a unanimous preseason all-conference selection, has been a prolific scorer throughout her career, averaging 13.7 ppg in her first three seasons, and she is the league's active leading scorer with 1,263 points entering her senior campaign. She also led the conference in free throw percentage for the second year in a row, raking sixth in the nation at a school-record .894 clip.
Brown led the Retrievers in both rebounding (6.0 rpg) and 3-point shooting last season, ranking second in the league with 2.1 three-pointers per game while shooting with 32.8 percent accuracy. She bounced back from an injury-marred sophomore campaign to rank fifth in the conference in scoring a year ago.
Also returning is senior center Topé Obajolu (Randallstown, Md./Archbishop Carroll), who led the America East in blocks with a school-record 56 last year and also ranked third on the team with 10.6 ppg en route to third-team all-conference and all-defensive team honors. Obajolu, Kurowski and Brown were the only trio of teammates in the America East to rank among the league's top 15 scoring leaders.
Kurowski and Brown were joined on the preseason all-conference team by Boston University guard Chantell Alford, Albany guard Ebone Henry and Binghamton guard Andrea Holmes. Alford, the 2011 America East Player of the Year, and Henry, the 2011 America East Defensive Player of the Year, were each unanimous selections. Together, the five preseason all-conference selections comprised the 2011 America East first team, the first time that has happened since 1996-97.
The Retrievers' season tips off on Friday, Nov. 11, when UMBC hosts cross-town rival Morgan State at 5 p.m. at the RAC Arena. America East play begins on Jan. 2 at home against New Hampshire.
The 2012 America East Championship first, quarter and semifinal rounds will take place March 1-4 at Hartford's Chase Arena. The highest remaining seed will host the title game the following week, with the winner earning an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.