ORLANDO, Fla. - Saint Leo has been chosen as the preseason favorite to claim the 2009 Sunshine State Conference women's soccer title it was announced by the Sunshine State Conference on Friday morning.

Last season's SSC tournament champions, the Lions amassed 120 points in a poll conducted among the league's women's soccer coaches and sports information directors. SLU received 10 first-place votes.

Saint Leo just edged out Rollins for the top spot in the poll, as the defending regular-season champion Tars garnered 115 points and the remaining eight first-place votes.

Coming off its first NCAA postseason appearance, Florida Southern claimed the third slot in the poll with 98 points. Close behind the Moccasins was Tampa with 90 points. Florida Tech was tabbed to finish fifth in the league standings, earning 66 points. Barry's 56 points placed the Buccaneers in sixth in the poll.

Lynn, Nova Southeastern, and Eckerd rounded out the poll. The Fighting Knights' 44 points were just one more than those accumulated by the Sharks, which tallied 43 to receive the eighth-place nod. Eckerd weighed in with 16 points.

Saint Leo finished fourth in last year's SSC standings, tallying a 15-5-2 overall record with a 5-3 conference mark. The Lions saved their best soccer for the postseason, posting three overtime wins, including two penalty kick shootout victories, to win the SSC tournament and earn a bid in the NCAA regional.

Fourth-year head coach Ged O'Connor returns nine starters from that squad, including reigning SSC Player and Offensive Player of the Year Hannah Beard. A senior, Beard led the league with 46 points and tied for the lead with 17 goals last fall. She also tied for second in the SSC with 12 assists.

Another key returnee for the Lions will be sophomore forward Pia Soesemann, who earned All-SSC Second Team honors last fall. Soesemann notched 13 goals and four assists in her collegiate debut season. Another veteran who should make a big impact is junior forward Chrissy Darwell, who posted 34 points on 15 goals and four assists in 2008.

This marks the highest ranking ever in the conference preseason poll for SLU Women’s Soccer, besting a second-place prediction prior to the 2007 season.

The Lions’ 2009 regular season kicks off on August 31st against Webber International University in Babson Park, Fla.  Kickoff is scheduled for 5:00 p.m.

2009 SUNSHINE STATE CONFERENCE PRESEASON WOMEN'S SOCCER POLL
Rank - School, Points (1st Place Votes)
1 - Saint Leo, 120 (10)
2 - Rollins, 115 (8)
3 - Florida Southern, 98
4 - Tampa, 90
5 - Florida Tech, 66
6 - Barry, 56
7 - Lynn, 44
8 - Nova Southeastern, 43
9 - Eckerd, 16