NORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass.—After earning their second straight trip to the Little East Conference Tournament last May, UMass Boston softball has been picked to finish sixth in the 2013 Little East Softball preseason Coaches' Poll.
Head coach Natalia Ardagna has led the Beacons to back-to-back postseason appearances, snapping a seven-year postseason drought that stretched from 2004 to 2010.
The defending champs Eastern Connecticut State were picked to finish first in the Little East Conference with six first-place votes and 62 points overall. Diana Pepin's squad is ranked 10th in the 2013 National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Division III Preseason Poll, as the Warriors will look to tie the LEC record with four consecutive regular-season championships.
Fellow Little East Conference Tournament participants Keene State College (52 votes), Plymouth State University (44 votes), Western Connecticut State University (42 votes) and Rhode Island College (35 votes) rounded out the top five. Plymouth State University picked up the final two first-place votes, after finishing in third place a year ago.
UMass Boston received 27 votes after finishing sixth a year ago, and were followed up by UMass Dartmouth (17 votes) and the University of Southern Maine (nine votes).
The Beacons bring back five starters and 10 total players from last year's team that finished 17-21.
All conference infielder Sue Killilea (Abington, Mass.) and outfielder Natalia Bouyea (East Longmeadow, Mass.) highlight a young Beacons squad looking to make a big run in the conference.
Killilea is primed for a huge senior year, as she looks to go down as the top player in school history. Last season, she was named to the LEC First Team and earned NFCA All-Region Honors, by leading the Beacons in almost every batting category. She hit .416, added a team-high 47 hits and 30 runs, and knocked out 17 extra-base hits in 34 games. The senior from Abington, Mass. will be the Beacons' every-day catcher, after starting at shortstop for most of last season.
Bouyea took a huge step forward in her play, as the then sophomore forward was named a Second Team All-Conference outfielder. The Beacons center fielder was one of the most dominant defensive players in the conference, and finished with a career-high .287 batting average and 27 hits.
The Beacons also bring back sophomore pitcher Michelle Zullo (Everett, Mass.), infielder Samantha Hemstock (Northford. Conn.) and senior Taryn Asta (Marshfield, Mass.)
Zullo is one of the top returning pitchers in the Little East Conference, after finishing last season 10-10 with a 3.10 ERA in almost 130 innings. Hemstock was just as good at the plate, hitting .339 and drove in 22 runners, the second most amongst all Beacons last year. Rounding out the group, Asta returns to action and will be an everyday infielder, after missing most of last season with an injury.
Add in five more returners and a talented group of transfers and freshman and the Beacons look primed for their third 20-win season in the past four years.
The Beacons begin play Saturday March 16 in Clermont, Florida. when they take on Bates College and Thomas College (Maine) in a doubleheader at Hancock Park. Coach Ardagna will pick up her 100th career victory, with the team's first win on the season.