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Panthers travel to Messiah for NCAA Tourney

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The three-time Little East Conference champion Plymouth State College field hockey team opens play this weekend in the 2002 NCAA Division III Championship Tournament, making its third straight appearance in the national tournament and the sixth in school history.

The Panthers, 17-1 overall and winners of 14 in a row, will open up this Friday (Nov. 15) at Commonwealth Conference Messiah College (Pa.), 14-3, in a second round game (10:00 a.m.). Messiah will also host another second-round game between Williams, 14-3, and Wittenburg (Ohio), 17-5, with the two winners meeting Saturday at the Grantham, Pa. school for the right to advance to the national semifinals.

Plymouth State earned its third straight automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament after winning the LEC Tourney title last weekend with one-goal victories over Worcester State (1-0 in OT) and Southern Maine (2-1). PSC also participated in the NCAA Tournament in 1984, 1993, 1994, 2000 and 2001, winning first-round games in 1994 and 2001. The Panthers knocked off Gordon College 5-0 in the first round last year, but was eliminated in the second round by eventual champion Cortland State, 4-2.

Led by third-year head coach Bonnie Lord, Plymouth State has outscored its opponents this season, 57-10. PSC captured all 10 LEC regular season contests by a combined count of 40-7. The Panthers are one of the nation's Division III leaders in winning percentage (.944), scoring offense (3.17 goals per game) and scoring defense (0.55 goals against average).

Messiah, a Christian college near Harrisburg, Pa., will be making its 16th NCAA appearance in the last 18 years. The Falcons have advanced to the NCAA semifinals seven times, and finished as national runner-up in 1984, 1995, and 2001 under 30-year veteran head coach Jan Trapp. Messiah was defeated in last year's national championship game by Cortland State, 1-0.

PSC features a stifling defense that limited opponents to 10 goals and 119 shots in 18 games, while the Panther offense was putting up 57 goals and 367 shots. Defensive leaders include junior goalkeeper Ellen Ward (Thorndike, Maine) and the unit of senior Kristle Wheeler (Brandon, Vt.), junior Whitney Swaffield (Wolfeboro, N.H.), sophomore Annie Metz (North Chelmsford, Mass.) and freshman Kara Parent (Hampton, N.H.). PSC's offensive leaders include senior F Jill Matteson (Chatham, Mass.), sophomore F Amanda Gutowski (Conway, N.H.), senior MF Katie Dodge (Sanbornton, N.H.) and freshman MF Lilly Silva (Lowell, Mass.).