PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Plymouth State College makes its first appearance since 1994 in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Field Hockey Championship this Wednesday when the Panthers host New England College in a first round game.
PSC and NEC will play at 2:00 p.m. at Arold Field on Wednesday, with the winner advancing to a second round contest Saturday against William Smith College at Amherst, Mass. The Panthers earned the right to join the 18-team NCAA field by winning the Little East Conference Championship last Saturday, while the Pilgrims received their bid after winning the Commonwealth Coast Conference title the same day.
The Panthers, 15-4 overall and winners of 15 of their last 16 games under interim head coach Bonnie Lord, blanked Keene State 1-0 in Saturday's championship game. It capped a terrific LEC campaign for PSC, one that saw the Panthers go 10-0 during the regular season and earn the top seed in the conference tourney.
The Pilgrims, 14-2 overall and victorious in 12 of their last 13 under ninth-year head coach Susan Murray, needed double overtime and two rounds of penalty strokes to capture the CCC championship over rival Gordon College. NEC's only losses this season were a 3-0 decision at Bates early in the season, and a 2-1 double overtime loss at Plymouth State on Oct. 19th.
Plymouth State's only previous appearances in the NCAA Tournament were in 1984, 1993 and 1994. The 1994 team upset Williams in the first round before losing to Middlebury in the regional final.
"When I met with our three captains in August," said Lord, "I asked them about what goals they had. They looked at me and said ‘we want to go to the NCAAs.' I said if you believe in the coaching staff and if you believe in yourselves, then we will get there. For the players to be able to realize and accomplish this goal, that's what sports is all about. I'm thrilled for the team, and I'm thrilled for the seniors in particular. Everyone has worked incredibly hard all season long."
Plymouth State will feature a strong defensive team, a squad that posted nine shutouts and surrendered only 22 goals in 19 games. Since an 0-3 start in which they were outscored 13-2, the Panthers have gone 15-1 and outscored their opponents 41-9.
"When we started the season with three non-conference games, I felt like I was given a reprieve about how quickly I needed to learn the team and they needed to learn me," said Lord. "When we were 0-3, we knew that was OK. We were gaining confidence, and we knew winning the conference was what was going to get us to the NCAAs."
Leading the Panther defense is freshman goaltender Ellen Ward (Thorndike, Maine) and a strong group of backs that include freshman sweeper Whitney Swaffield (Wolfeboro, NH) and sophomores Kristle Wheeler (Brandon, Vt.), Marushka Eddy (Nantucket, Mass.) and Jill Matteson (Chatham, Mass.). Ward has reeived the headlines with a conference-leading 0.64 goals against average, but the field defenders limit the number of shots she faces. Ward, Swaffield and Wheeler were all LEC All-Tournament Team selections.
The Panther offense is led by seniors Kerri Tarpy (Biddeford, Maine) and Courtney O'Sullivan (East Kingston, N.H.) and junior Megan Fournier (East Waterboro, Maine), all of who were LEC All-Tournament selections. Tarpy leads the team with 10 goals, including one in each game of the LEC Championship, and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Fournier and O'Sullivan each have eight goals, giving PSC a balanced attack.
Rounding out the cast of PSC starters are three midfielders -- juniors Sacha Jackson (Sangerville, Maine) and Sarah Lynch (Belgrade Lakes, Maine) and senior Danielle Cardin (Southampton, Mass.). Jackson (six goals) and Lynch (five goals) have contributed to the offense, and Cardin and Lynch joined Swaffield as the only three to start all 19 PSC games this season.