PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Fans will need a game program when they watch the Plymouth State College field hockey team this fall. The Panthers have only seven returning veterans from last year's varsity squad, and the coaching staff is all new, highlighted by the arrival of new head coach Abby Burbank.
The season opener is this Thursday, Sept. 10, at UMass Lowell (4:00 p.m.). The Panthers will be road warriors for the first five games, playing two games in Massachusetts, one in Maine, and two at a tournament in Cortland, NY, before the home debut at Arold Field on Tuesday, Sept. 22, against New England College.
Burbank hopes to keep PSC's string of five consecutive post-season appearances going. The Panthers, led by former coach Wynn Hohlt, who left PSC for Bates College last spring, played in the NCAA Tournament in 1993 and 1994, and have participated in the ECAC New England Tournament the past three seasons. Last year's squad, which had 10 seniors, hosted the ECAC Tourney as the top seed, and finished with a 16-5 overall record.
Another new feature this season is the debut of field hockey as a Little East Conference sport. PSC is joined by Keene State, Southern Maine, Eastern Connecticut, and UMass Dartmouth for the inaugural LEC season.
"We want to continue to be strong and competitive in New England, always looking towards the post-season," said Burbank, who came to PSC after four years at the College of William and Mary. "We want to win the first Little East Conference. Our only concern is a lack of game experience. We don't know how people will handle pressure in a low scoring game like field hockey. It comes down to confidence, and it may take a couple of games for us to get our feet solidly under us."
After the home opener against NEC on Sept. 22nd, PSC will host Keene State at 2:30 p.m. on Homecoming Saturday, Sept. 26th, in a grudge match at Arold Field. The Owls handed the Panthers two of their five losses last season, both in Plymouth and both by 1-0 scores, with the second one coming in triple overtime/penalty strokes in the semi-finals of the ECAC Tournament.
The Panthers will have just one team captain this season, and senior sweeper Sarah Mello (Oak Bluffs, MA) will handle the role. She was a Third Team All-American last season when she patrolled the Panther defensive zone.
P.S.C. Field Hockey Outlook --- New Look All Around in '98
New Coach Abby Burbank, a 1988 Williams graduate, has been given the task of maintaining PSC's status as one of the top field hockey programs in New England. While last year's Panther team was dominated by seniors, Burbank has a young squad in '98. Several sophomores who were on PSC's JV team last season have waited their turn and are now ready to step in, along with some strong freshmen.
"I expect some of the sophomores and first-year players to step up and really play well," said Burbank. "It could take a few games to get some momentum. I think they'll adjust to the new coaching staff as quickly as they will to each other. With so many new faces, there will be a transition period for them. Additionally, we have a strength with our assistant coaches ... that'll be a big help which will make a difference."
The Panthers, who allowed only 15 goals in 21 games last season, should again be strong defensively. Senior captain Sarah Mello (Oak Bluffs, MA), an All-America selection in '97, returns at sweeper to stabilize the defense. Another key to the defense is the return of goalkeeper Chris Perruzzi (South Portland, ME), who played every minute of the season for PSC last year. She posted a school-record 12 shutouts, along with a sparkling 0.69 goals against average. Her top challenger for the job is freshman Leia Bridgham (Plymouth, NH).
The top returnees in the midfield are seniors Amanda Murphy (Canton, CT) and Sarah Dodge (Sanbornton, NH), who were regulars off the bench for PSC last season. Burbank also expects plenty of playing time for sophomores Kara Borden (Taunton, MA), Kerri Tarpey (Biddeford, ME) and Katie Grant (Canaan, ME), who all got valuable playing time as JVs last season.
The top returning scorer is junior forward Jill Sutherland (Rockport, MA), a starter in '97 who finished tied for fourth on the team in scoring with six goals and three assists. She may be expected to carry a bulk of the load, along with senior Kim Webster (Portsmouth, NH), who scored four goals and five assists last year, and senior Holly Laratta (Toms River, NJ), who picked up playing time as a reserve in '97.
Burbank added that newcomers who could be offensive threats are freshmen Sacha Jackson (Songerville, ME) and Katie Dodge (Sanbornton, NH) and transfer Angela Grady (Medway, MA) as well as freshmen midfielders Nicole Lauriat (Greenfield, MA) and Sarah Lynch (Belgrade Lakes, ME).
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