WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – The Eastern Connecticut State University women’s and men’s basketball teams have been ranked first in their respective 2019-20 Little East Conference coaches’ pre-season polls, released today.
It marks the second time in five years that both programs have been voted to the top spot in the pre season, with both teams going on to regular-season conference titles that year, in 2015-16.
For the fifth time in the last 19 years, the women’s program has been ranked first or shared the top ranking under three-time LEC Coach-of-the-Year Denise Bierly, now in her 26th season. In those most recent four No. 1 rankings, the women have either won or shared the regular-season title all four times and went on to win the tournament title twice.
Under 18th-year head coach Bill Geitner, a six-time LEC Coach-of-the-Year, the men received at least a share of the No. 1 ranking for the fifth straight year. The men have won or shared the regular-season championship in each of those previous four years, and claimed two tournament titles in that span.
Picked for fourth in last year’s LEC pre-season poll, the women finished in second place, two games behind regular-season champion UMass Dartmouth. As the No. 2 seed, the Warriors eliminated No. 3 University of Southern Maine at home in the semifinals and trimmed No. 1 UMass Dartmouth in overtime in the title game at the Tripp Athletic Center.
In this year’s poll, the women received six of nine first-place votes and totaled 60 points, eight more than UMass Boston, which was fourth in last year’s final standings and was eliminated in the first round of the tournament.
The women (19-9, 12-4 LEC) return six of their top eight from a year ago, including first-team All-LEC senior forward and 1,000-point scorer Mya Villard (Cromwell), last year’s LEC tournament MVP. Villard averaged 15.9 points and 9.3 rebounds a year ago. Other fulltime starters returning are senior guard Sabrina LeMere (North Branford) and sophomore guard Julie Keckler (Trumbull). A top newcomer is freshman guard Jaclyn Santella (Hebron).
The men edged 2019 LEC tournament champion Keene State College by one point for the top spot in the poll, both squads receiving four first-place votes. The Warriors received 58 points. Eastern and Keene have shared the pre-season’s top ranking or were voted 1-2 for the fifth straight year.
The Eastern and Keene men split last year’s regular-season matchup – each winning at home – and the Owls averaged championship game tournament losses to Eastern each of the previous two years with a 72-69 home victory in the title game.
The men (20-7, 13-3 LEC) return three of last year’s five starters from their ninth 20-win season in the last ten years in junior guard Jake Collagan (Wethersfield), junior guard Cory Muckle (Westbrook) and sophomore forward Seth Thomas (Norwich). Collagan and Muckle were both second-team All-LEC picks last year and Thomas was one of the conference’s top rookies. Collagan averaged 16.3 points with 66 three-pointers, Muckle 16.4 points and 90 three-pointers and Thomas 12.2 points and team-leading 7.3 rebounds. Newcomers expected to help are junior transfer guard Shawn Gashi (Syracuse, NY) from Utica College and freshman forward Rakesh Tibby (East Hartford).
The women and men open their seasons Nov. 15-16. In their openers, the women meet host Trinity College at the Trinity College Tip-Off Tournament and the men face Nichols College at the WPI Ted Coghlin Memorial Tournament.
Little East Conference
2019-20 Women’s Basketball Pre-Season Coaches’ Poll
- EASTERN CONN. (6) 60
- UMass Boston (2) 52
- Rhode Island College (1) 47
- UMass Dartmouth 43
- U. of Southern Maine 40
- Castleton U. 28
6. Western Conn. 28
8. Keene State College 18
9. Plymouth State U. 8
Little East Conference
2019-20 Men’s Basketball Pre-Season Coaches’ Poll
1. EASTERN CONN. (4) 58
2. Keene State College (4) 57
3. UMass Dartmouth 49
4. Rhode Island College (1) 38
5. Western Conn. 37
6. Plymouth State U. 35
7. UMass Boston 27
8. U. of Southern Maine 15
9. Castleton U. 8