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Plymouth State Field Hockey begins 2003 season

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Plymouth State University field hockey team will face a tough opponent in the season opener Saturday as the 2003 campaign begins at Arold Field.

The Panthers will host Colby College at 12 noon Saturday, the first of eight regular season home games. The Mules were the only team to defeat Plymouth State in the regular season last year, edging the Panthers 1-0 last September at Colby.

PSU is seeking its fourth consecutive Little East Conference championship in 2003. The Panthers earned their third straight last season, winning the conference tournament and advancing to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the third year in a row. Plymouth State finished 17-2 overall and is 47-12 over the last three years.

Included in PSU's 16-game regular-season slate are 10 LEC contests. The Panthers are 29-1 the last three years in regular-season conference games. The conference tournament is on tap for the second week in November, with the champion receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

 2003 PSU Field Hockey Outlook

 Plymouth State is now well established as one of the most successful field hockey programs in New England. The Panthers have captured three straight Little East Conference championships and advanced to the NCAA National Tournament all three years. The team is 47-12 over the past three seasons, and fourth-year head coach Bonnie Lord says the prospects for the 2003 campaign are just as bright.

"Each season brings a new team," says Lord, "but we always have the same goals: Win the Little East Conference regular season and tournament championships, and advance further in the NCAA Tourney. The people and faces change, but our goals and aspirations remain the same."

The Panthers have featured a stifling defense under Coach Lord, and this season should be no different. Even with the loss of All-American defender Kristle Wheeler from last year's 17-2 team that surrendered only 12 goals all season, the Panthers return three starters along the back, including two captains.

"Defense remains the foundation of the program," says Lord.

 The key returning defenders include senior Whitney Swaffield (Wolfeboro, N.H.) and junior Annie Metz (North Chelmsford, Mass.), two of the captains, along with sophomore Kara Parent (Hampton, N.H.), who was a starter as a freshman. Sophomore Morgan Butters (Stow, Maine) should vie for playing time in the back, along with freshman Laurie Allinson (Berwick, Maine), according to Lord.

Another key to the defense will be senior goalie Kerry Brady (Jefferson, N.H.), who takes over after three years in a reserve role. She has performed well in limited action, and both Lord and the players have confidence with Brady between the pipes. Freshman Erin Kindl (Granby, Conn.) has been impressive and will also see game action.

Junior Caitlin Moran (Rowley, Mass.) is the only returning starter in the midfield. Sophomore Melanie Dixon (Mattapoisett, Mass.) showed potential as a freshman but missed much of the season with mono. Lord will likely have to rely on sophomore Ashley LaRose (Milton, Vt.) or some newcomers, led by sophomore transfer Katie Kovacs (Hampton, N.H.).

Lord is also excited about the coaching help of new assistant Katie Dodge, a former All-Star midfielder and four-year starter for the Panthers.

Junior Amanda Gutowski (Conway, N.H.), the third Panther captain, leads the offensive unit. She was second on the team in 2002 with nine goals and six assists, her first year as a starter. Sophomore Lilly Silva (Lowell, Mass.) came off the bench to add eight goals last season, and likely will move into the starting line-up. Coach Lord will be looking for a couple of newcomers to step up, such as freshmen Shannon Santamaria (Northfield, N.H.) and Melanie Bates (Derry, N.H.).

"We have a strong and reliable core of returning players on all parts of the field, who have outstanding leadership," says Lord, "and we have some great talent coming on board. Our outlook continues to be very bright and favorable."

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