The University of Scranton women's soccer team finds itself in an unfamiliar position as it enters the 2014 season.
For the first time since 2010, the Royals are not a preseason favorite to capture the Landmark Conference championship. In each of the past three seasons, Scranton has been picked as a favorite to win the title, sharing the nod with Drew in 2011 and earning the honor outright in each of the past two seasons.
This fall, Scranton was chosen second in the poll of the conference's eight head coaches, second only two conference newcomer Elizabethtown, which received four first-place votes and 59 points.
The Royals received one first-place vote and 46 points a year after finishing first in the regular season and playing Drew University to a tie in the championship match before the Rangers claimed the crown in a penalty shootout. Scranton went on to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, its fourth straight and 15th in program history. The Royals finished the season 15-3-3.
Drew was picked third with two first-place votes and 42 points, followed by Catholic (one first-place vote, 40 points) rounding out the top four. The top four teams in the regular season advance to the Landmark Conference playoffs.
Moravian (25 points), Juniata (22), Goucher (15) and Susquehanna (7) round out the preseason poll.
Under head coach Colleen Pivirotto, the Royals return eight players who started at least 16 matches, and seven players who scored two or more goals. But Scranton graduated its top offensive threat, forward Samantha Russo, who had 10 goals and four assists and was named Landmark Conference Offensive Player of the Year last season, in addition to being a four-time first-team all-conference selection and a three-time all-region selection.
The Royals also graduated goalkeeper Kelsy McAnelly, a three-year starter who earned second-team all-conference honors in 2011 and first-team honors in 2012 and 2013.
Scranton's top returning offensive threats are sophomore forward Kelsey Bacon (Macungie, Pa./Emmaus) and sophomore midfielder Christina Akalski (Long Beach, N.Y./Kellenberg Memorial). Bacon finished last season with 10 goals and three assists as a key reserve, and Akalski had seven goals and three assists. Junior forward Gianna Vitolo (Denville, N.J./Morris Knolls) also returns after tallying seven goals and three assists, as does sophomore midfielder Kelly Egan (Essex Falls, N.J./West Essex Senior), who led the Landmark Conference with nine assists while adding three goals.
The Royals also return three of their four starting defenders, led by Landmark Conference Defensive Player of the Year Erin Casey (Hatfield, Pa./Gwynedd Mercy Academy), who scored three goals, including two game-winners last season.
Pivirotto is entering her seventh season as the Royals' head coach with a career record of 77-31-14 with three conference championships and four NCAA Tournament appearances.
Scranton opens its 2014 season on Saturday, Aug. 30, when it takes on Eastern at 4 p.m. in the Haverford Kick-off Classic in Haverford, Pa. The Royals open Landmark Conference play on Saturday, Sept. 27, when they travel to Selinsgrove, Pa. to take on Susquehanna at 3:30 p.m.
2014 Landmark Conference Women's Soccer Preseason Poll
|Institution (first-place votes)||Points|
|1. Elizabethtown (4)||59|
|2. Scranton (1)||46|
|3. Drew (2)||42|
|4. Catholic (1)||40|