PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Another exciting season is on tap for the Plymouth State University field hockey team, which has made the post-season the past six years. The Panthers will open the 2006 campaign on Wednesday, Sept. 6, with a 4:00 p.m. non-conference contest at Castleton State College.
The home opener is set for Saturday, Sept. 9 at 12:00 p.m. at Arold Field, when the Panthers host Little East Conference rival UMass Dartmouth.
PSU shared the LEC regular season title last year with a 9-2 mark, and finished with a 13-6 overall record. The Panthers advanced to the ECAC New England Tournament for the third straight season, getting knocked out in the semifinals at Mount Holyoke. PSU is 54-7 against LEC opponents during the regular season the last six years, and after winning three straight championships from 2000-02, the team has been upset in the LEC Tournament the past three years.
Winning has been the standard for Plymouth State field hockey since Bonnie Lord (left) took over as head coach in 2000. The Panthers have combined for a 90-29 overall record with three NCAA berths (2000-02) and three ECAC berths (2003-05).
Included in PSU's 16-game regular-season slate in 2006 are 11 LEC contests. The conference tournament is set for the first week in November, with the champion receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
2006 PSU Field Hockey Outlook
The Panthers have 11 returning veterans from last year's squad, and while seven starters are gone, Coach Lord says this year's team should again contend for the top of the Little East.
"We should be challenging for the top spot, no doubt," says Lord. "Our strength, as always, is our defense and our balance. We don't have any superstars; we have a team that works well together. Our defense isn't going to miss a beat, and we have two veteran goalkeepers back."
PSU will have to do without the top four scorers from last year, who combined for 38 of the team's 57 goals, but Lord says this year's squad has probably the best group of newcomers since she's been here.
"We had a tremendous recruiting year," says Lord. "We have some top players from some very strong high school programs. We're excited about the newcomers, and we could see as many as five of them in the starting line-up. We knew what we were losing, and were able to fill those holes."
The Panthers have two juniors who can handle the load in goal. Katie Randall (Portsmouth, N.H.) posted an 18-4 mark as a freshman before missing much of last season with illness, while Leah Curtin (Londonderry, N.H.) posted a 9-3 mark last year as the starter.
"We build from the goal cage out, so it's nice to have two veterans back there," says Lord. "We look for Katie to rebound and return to the form of her freshman year."
Despite the preseason injury to senior co-captain Laurie Allinson (Berwick, Maine/Noble), PSU should again have a strong defensive unit, led by a group of three juniors. Katie Barany (Middlesex, Vt./U-32) is a solid returning starter from last year; Amy McGrath (Townsend, Mass./North Middlesex Regional), who was a starter as a freshman, is back after an injury kept her out all of last season; and Rachel Kirschner (Burlington, Conn./Lewis S. Mills) returns after missing all but six games in 2005 with mononucleosis.
Coach Lord says several freshmen could also challenge for playing time on defense, including Cortney Colligan (Brookfield, NH/Kingswood), Melinda Rozumek (Salem, N.H.), Katie Powers (Chelmsford, Mass.) and Lindsey Hiltz (Manchester, N.H./West). Senior Heather Corrigan (West Hartford, Conn./Hall) could also be a factor on defense or in the midfield.
Junior co-captain Heidi Hand (Portsmouth, N.H.) returns to anchor the midfield. "She did an outstanding job last year, and I expect that to continue," says Lord. Hand will be joined in the midfield by a group of newcomers, led by sophomore Ashley Gutowski (Conway, N.H./Kennett), a transfer from Holy Cross, and freshman Katie Chase (Goffstown, N.H.)
Senior co-captain Melanie Bates (Derry, N.H./Pinkerton) and senior Amanda Spadafora (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.) return to spearhead the offense. Bates has scored 21 career goals and Spadafora tallied six goals in her first season in 2005. Freshman Morgan Lemmon (Gilford, N.H./Bishop Brady) has the inside track on a starting spot, while freshmen Kerry D'Ambroise (Lowell, Mass.) and Sarah Smith (Lexington, Mass.) and sophomore Amanda Sherburne (Rumney, N.H./Plymouth Reg.) could also be contributors.
"Our goal remains the same -- winning the Little East Conference," says Lord, "and we believe we have a team that can do that. It's have a hard-working group, and we're looking forward to the season."
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