FAIRFIELD, CT (February 8, 2012) - The Sacred Heart women's lacrosse team was picked fifth in the Northeast Conference Preseason Coaches Poll released by the league on Wednesday. The Pioneers received one first place vote in the poll.
The Pioneers will open their season on Wednesday, February 22nd at Iona. The Northeast Conference slate is nine games long and will open on March 23rd at LIU Brooklyn. SHU enters this season on a streak of six-straight years of qualifying for the NEC Tournament, having won the title in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons.
The 2012 Pioneers will be captained by a trio of seniors in Kate Kmiotek (Farmingville, NY), Kaitlin Rochler (Wading River, NY) and Mary LaGrassa (Massapequa, NY). Kmiotek is a three-time All-NEC choice and is SHU's top-returning scorer after a 58 point season in 2011. She scored 38 goals with 20 assists and broke the 100 career goal mark last season.
The offense will also feature the return of 40-point scorers in junior Emily Pepe (East Quogue, NY) and Rochler. Pepe finished with 46 points and led the team with 27 assists. Rochler had a break-out junior campaign, scoring 35 goals with 11 assists.
Sophomores Kelsey Russo (Lindenhurst, NY) and Shelby Vaccaro (Brightwaters, NY)return after impressive rookie campaigns. Russo earned a spot on the NEC All-Rookie team after leading all freshman with 38 points on 32 goals and six assists. She led the team with 11 goals on 8-meter free-position attempts. Vaccaro finished her rookie season with 13 goals and seven assists.
LaGrassa leads the defensive unit that will also be helped by the return of senior Kelli Rutledge (Howell, NY) and sophomore Samantha Villafranca (Wading River, NY). LaGrassa had 17 ground balls and eight caused turnovers in 2011. Rutledge had a goal and an assist and finished with 18 grounders and 16 caused turnovers. Villafranca totalled 20 grounders and 11 caused turnovers as a freshman.
Head coach Laura Cook begins her 13th season on the SHU sidelines. She has guided the Pioneers to 117 wins over her career and nine NEC Tournament appearances. She is a three-time NEC Coach of the Year honoree (2006, 2009, 2010).