PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Plymouth State College captured its third consecutive Little East Conference Field Hockey Championship Saturday, defeating the University of Southern Maine 2-1 in the title game of the 2002 LEC Tournament.
The victory sends PSC into the NCAA Division III National Tournament for the third straight season, receiving the conference's automatic bid.
The top-seeded Panthers also extended their winning streak this season to 14 games and improved their record to 17-1 overall. Third-seeded Southern Maine, which was making its first LEC Championship game appearance, drops to 14-7. Plymouth State has now won 35 of 36 LEC regular season and tournament games since 2000.
PSC senior defender Kristle Wheeler (Brandon, Vt.) was selected the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. She scored PSC's first goal of the game, and led a Panther defense that allowed only seven shots on goal. Wheeler's goal, her fourth of the season, was a nifty individual effort after settling the ball on a penalty corner by classmate Jill Matteson (Chatham, Mass.).
After leading 1-0 at halftime, the Panthers extended the lead to 2-0 with 19:45 remaining when Matteson tallied her team-leading 13th of the season following a scramble in front of the USM net.
The Huskies cut the deficit in half with 11:03 to play, when a crossing pass from senior Renee Heath (Brunswick, Maine) was knocked home by junior Darci Holland (Buckfield, Maine) for her fourth goal of the season. USM added additional pressure on the Panther cage down the stretch, but couldn't get the tying goal.
PSC junior Ellen Ward (Thorndike, Maine), one of the nation's leaders in goals against average (0.50 entering the game), made four saves. USM junior Jessie Superchi (Campton, Mass.) was strong in the USM goal, making 14 saves.
Plymouth State will be making its sixth appearance in the NCAA Field Hockey Tournament. The Panthers also qualified for the national tourney in 1984, 1993, 1994, 2000 and 2001, winning first-round games in 1994 and 2001.