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Panthers to host Ravens in season opener

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The two-time defending Little East Conference champion Plymouth State College field hockey team begins the season next week with non-conference encounters against a pair of Granite State foes.

The Panthers will debut Tuesday (9/10) at home against Franklin Pierce College, a game that was scheduled for Rindge, N.H., but was recently moved to PSC's Arold Field (4:00 p.m.). Plymouth State then travels to Saint Anselm University for a Thursday match-up (4:00 p.m.), followed by another home game Saturday (9/14) against Springfield University (2:00 p.m.).

PSC, which has qualified for the Division III NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, will play a 16-game regular-season schedule, including 10 LEC contests. The conference tournament is on tap for the second week in November, with the champion receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

2002 PSC Field Hockey Outlook

Plymouth State continued to be one of the most successful programs in New England in 2001, winning the Little East championship and advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. Third-year head coach Bonnie Lord says the prospects for the 2002 campaign are just as bright. The Panthers should have another outstanding defensive unit, similar to the one that has recorded 18 shutouts over the past two seasons. The key to the success, according to Lord, should also be the overall teamwork.

"If you're a team player, there's a spot for you on this team," says Lord. "Field hockey is a team game. We don't try to get the ball to one person, we involve everyone. There are 11 players on the field, and we utilize all of them."

The Panthers have six starters and 16 veterans returning from last year's team that finished 15-5 overall and posted nine shutouts, including a school-record seven in a row. The strength starts with the goalies and the defenders.

"No one has a one-two goaltending punch like we have in Ellen Ward (Thorndike, Maine) and Kerry Brady (Jefferson, N.H.)," says Lord. "They are the backbone of our team. Ellen is a Regional All-American and I don't have any hesitation in putting Kerry in there. We have tremendous confidence in both of them."

PSC also welcomes back three strong starters along the defensive line in senior Kristle Wheeler (Brandon, Vt.), junior Whitney Swaffield (Wolfeboro, N.H.) and sophomore Annie Metz (North Chelmsford, Mass.). They were instrumental in the Panthers allowing only 22 goals last year, including just three in an 11-game span late in the season. Sophomore Jill Carney (Yarmouth, Maine) is a top candidate to take over as the fourth starter.

"Our defense works as a unit extremely well," says Lord. "They know each other and have excellent awareness. We should be very tough to score on again this year."

The Panthers have strength in the midfield with a pair of returning starters in seniors Katie Dodge (Sanbornton, N.H.) and Melanie McAvey (Grafton, Mass.). Sophomore Caitlin Moran (Rowley, Mass.) also came on strong at the end of last season, and junior Andrea Musante (Amherst, Mass.) gives the Panthers a veteran presence.

"We have excellent speed in the midfield," says Lord, "and we expect big things from them."

It will be a new look up front for the Panthers, according to Lord. As many as five veterans - seniors Adriene Harvey (Nantucket, Mass.), Marushka Eddy (Nantucket, Mass.) and Jill Matteson (Chatham, Mass.), junior Carmen Villanueva (East Schodack, N.Y.) and sophomore Amanda Gutowski (Conway, N.H.) -- could see significant playing time, as well as a couple of newcomers. They all have experience at other positions, and Lord says they possess a scoring mentality and a nose for the goal.

"With a strong core of returning veterans and some talented newcomers, we've set our sights on nothing less than what we've accomplished in the past two seasons," says Lord. "We want to continue to be consistent and hopefully take another step forward."