The University of Scranton women's soccer team came up one victory shy of a conference title last season, and if the preseason poll of Landmark Conference coaches is any indication, they'll be in the hunt again in 2015.
The Royals were chosen second in the poll, released by the conference office on Tuesday morning, one spot behind defending champion Catholic, which held off Scranton, 1-0, in last year's championship game in Washington, D.C. The Cardinals received six of the eight first-place votes and finished atop the poll with 67 points.
Scranton is second with one first-place vote and 48 points, just ahead of Elizabethtown, which received one first-place vote and 46 points. Moravian was fourth with 28 points, followed by Drew (24), Susquehanna (17), Juniata (15) and Goucher (11).
The Royals and head coach Colleen Pivirotto return the majority of last year's team that went 10-8-2 overall and 4-2-1 in conference play to earn the third seed in the conference playoffs. They upset second-seeded Elizabethtown, 2-1, in overtime to reach the title game.
Junior midfielder Christina Akalski (Long Beach, N.Y./Kellenberg Memorial) leads the offensive attack after being named a second-team all-Middle Atlantic Region selection by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America for the second straight year. A first-team all-conference choice in 2014, she finished last season with five goals and one assist, and has 12 goals and four assists for her career.
Senior forward Gianna Vitolo (Denville, N.J./Morris Knolls) led the team with 15 points (five goals, five assists) last season and has 14 goals and 11 assists for 39 career points. Fellow junior Sarah Andrews (Mountain Top, Pa./Crestwood) also provides a scoring threat after finishing last season with five goals and two assists. Junior forward Kelsey Bacon (Macungie, Pa./Emmaus) had four goals last season and has 14 for her career.
In the midfield, seniors Erin Allen (Syosset, N.Y./Our Lady of Mercy Academy) and Michaela Arbus (Pequannock, N.J./DePaul Catholic) provide leadership and experience. Allen finished last season with three goals while Arbus had four, including two in the semifinal victory over Elizbethtown. Junior Kelly Egan (Essex Fells, N.J./West Essex Senior) had a goal and an assist after tallying three goals and nine assists as a freshman.
On the backline, senior Jasmine Sconciafurno (Woodland Park, N.J./Passaic Valley) was a first-team all-conference selection last season, and joins fellow senior Megan Manzo (Shelton, Conn./Shelton) and sophomore Katie Cullen (Malverne, N.Y./Sacred Heart Academy) as returning starters on a defensive unit that allowed just 0.83 goals per match and posted six shutouts.
Junior Krissy Welsh (Swarthmore, Pa./Strath Haven) anchors the defensive unit after playing in 19 games, including 16 starts, in goal last season. She held opponents to a 0.83 goals-against average while making 57 saves and posting five shutouts.
Scranton will open its season on Tuesday, Sept. 1, when it hosts Kean at 5 p.m. at Fitzpatrick Field.
To read the release on the Landmark Conference preseason poll, visit http://landmarkconference.org/sports/wsoc/2015-16/releases/08182015wsocpreseason.