The Mount St. Mary’s women will compete in a new-look Northeast Conference this season with defending champion Monmouth and 2012 champion Quinnipiac having departed for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Mountaineers coach B.J. Johnson has mixed feelings about the changes which leave just eight teams in the conference.

“First obviously, we don’t really care who’s in the conference. Our goals remain the same no matter who we play,” Johnson said.

“Secondly, it helps us because with less teams, life becomes a little bit easier in the regular season. With that being said, we really enjoy the competition of playing Quinnipiac and Monmouth and they were two of our big games, so we’ll be sad to see them leave in that respect. We’ll miss playing them and I would have liked to beat Monmouth before they left.”

The Mountaineers, who return a veteran squad, are picked to finish second in the conference this spring behind Bryant, which fell to Monmouth 9-7 in last year’s tournament final. Mount St. Mary’s, in its 11th straight tournament appearance, lost to Monmouth in the first round.

With fewer conference games, Johnson has been able to add non-conference games against American, George Mason, Lehigh and Duquesne. Being so close to Baltimore and Washington D.C., she is eager to play teams in the area and already has Johns Hopkins, UMBC and George Washington on the schedule.

“We’re in Maryland in the somewhat Baltimore-D.C. area, why aren’t we playing the teams that are right down the road?” she said. “Geographically it made sense and on a competitive level it made sense and hopefully, they’ll be on our schedule for a long time. I think they’re great challenges. We’ll learn a lot and we’ll be able to compete in those games and hopefully by winning a couple of those games, it will take us to the next level.”

The Mountaineers open the season Wednesday by hosting Johns Hopkins. Their conference schedule takes up the entire month of April with home games against Central Connecticut State, Bryant and St. Francis, Pa. and road games at Sacred Heart (which shared the regular-season title with Quinnipiac last season), LIU Brooklyn, Wagner and Robert Morris.

After going 7-11 last season, the Mountaineers return all but three players and look to win the conferenc title for the first time since  the won back-to-back in 2004 and 2005. In 2007, they won the regular-season title.