NORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass.—After finishing in sixth-place in the Little East Conference each of the past two campaigns, the UMass Boston softball team was picked to finish in sixth place once again, in the LEC Coaches' Preseason Poll.
Defending tournament champion Western Connecticut State University was picked first in the Little East, just barely ahead of Eastern Connecticut State University, Keene State College and Plymouth State University. The top four teams in the poll were separated by just eight points, with all four squads earning at least one first-place vote.
UMass Boston will open their season Saturday March 15 in Clermont, Florida. The Beacons are slated to play eight games as part of the National Training Center Spring Games in Florida, including tilts against defending national champion Tufts University and regionally-ranked Babson College.
Seventh-year head coach Natalia Ardagna returns 12 of the 15 players from last season's squad, which earned their program-record third-straight Little East Conference Tournament berth. Overall the Beacons return seven starters including their entire starting outfield and their starting battery.
Seniors Erika Vecchiet (Pequannock, N.J) and Natalia Bouyea (East Longmeadow, Mass.), along with junior Kristina Bove (Medford, Mass.) headline the returners coming into this season. All three players are former Little East Conference All-Conference honorees and the trio stand as the top three returners in terms of batting average from last year's team.
UMass Boston also brings back their two pitchers from last season, as junior Michelle Zullo (Everett, Mass.) and sophomore Emily Gray (New Bedford, Mass.) will look to improve upon their combined 3.44 earned run average from 2013.
Western Connecticut State University finished with 55 total points and four first-place votes, just ahead of Eastern Connecticut State University's 53 points and one first-place vote. The Owls of Keene State College placed third with 50 points and one first-place vote and were followed closely by Plymouth State University who picked up two first-place votes and 47 total points.
Rhode Island College finished a distant fifth with 34 points, just ahead of UMass Boston's 22. The Corsairs of UMass Dartmouth earned 17 points and the University of Southern Maine rounded out the poll in eighth with 10 points.