PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Plymouth State University field hockey team will have a Little East Conference championship on their minds when the 2008 season opens up this week with a pair of non-conference road games.
The Panthers will make their season debut this Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., and then visit Castleton State College in Vermont next Wednesday (Sept. 10) for a 4:00 p.m. encounter. The home opener at Arold Field is also the first LEC contest, a 12:30 p.m. meeting on Saturday, Sept. 13, against Salem State College.
Led by veteran head coach Bonnie Lord (right), the Panthers will also be seeking their eighth post-season berth in nine seasons. PSU finished with an 11-9 overall record last season, 8-3 in LEC games, and competed in the ECAC Tournament for the fourth time in five years. Eight of PSU's nine losses last season were by just one goal, including four in overtime.
Winning has been the standard for Plymouth State field hockey since Lord took over as head coach in 2000, as the Panthers have combined for a 108-47 overall record. PSU won three straight LEC Championships from 2000-02 and went to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
PSU will play a 17-game regular-season slate in 2008, including 11 LEC contests. Eight of the 12 teams advance to the conference tournament the first week in November, with the champion receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
2008 PSU Field Hockey Outlook
The Panthers have seven starters and 11 veterans returning from last year's squad. Coach Lord believes that if this year's squad can turn around the close games, it can challenge for the LEC title.
"The skill level on the team is the most fundamentally sound since I've been here," said Coach Lord. "If we can play as a team, and we preach that to the point of exhaustion, and finish plays and follow up on the ball, we can be very successful. We need to be mentally tough to win more of those close games."
A strong defense has been PSU's trademark during Coach Lord's tenure and this year should continue that trend.
"Defense will be our strength," said Lord. "We have nearly everyone returning along the back line. The big difference will be in goal, where we have two freshmen taking over."
The graduation of four-year veteran goalies Katie Randall and Leah Curtin has created an opportunity for a freshman to start. The Panthers have two candidates who both have the confidence of Coach Lord and the team, Elyse Sedgley (Hopkinton, N.H./Hopkinton) and Sam Reuss (Chapel Hill, N.C./Durham Academy/Tilton School-N.H.).
"It's a very close battle between them right now," said Lord. "I'm comfortable with either one and feel that they are both ready for this level."
The new keeper will have a veteran defense in front of her. Sophomore Betsy Renauld (Penacook, N.H./Merrimack Valley) should anchor the ‘D' from her sweeper position after starting 15 games last season. Junior co-captains Cortney Colligan (Brookfield, NH/Kingswood) and Melinda Rozumek (Salem, N.H.) are experienced two-years starters at right back and left back, respectively, and junior Lindsey Hiltz (Manchester, N.H./West) has continued to improve after starting nearly every game last season at either midfield or defense.
"It's nice to have that veteran presence back there to help with the new keepers," said Lord.
Ashley Gutowski (Conway, N.H./Kennett), the team's only senior, and junior Morgan Lemmon (Gilford, N.H./Bishop Brady) return to lead the midfield unit. The speedy Gutowski plays the center position but could also see playing time at forward. Lemmon, who led the team in scoring as a freshman forward and has scored 13 career goals, is a strong presence on the left side.
Freshman Lauren Bergeron (New Hampton, N.H./Newfound) has been impressive in preseason and appears ready to take over the other midfield starting spot. Sophomore Courtney McLaughlin (Bellingham, Mass.) and freshman Kaleigh Chase (Wells, Maine/Wells) will also see playing time in the midfield.
The top three scorers from last season are all back in the Panther line-up. Junior Kerry D'Ambroise (Lowell, Mass.) led the way with seven goals and two assists, while sophomore Kristina Conroy (Wakefield, Mass.) finished with six goals and one assist and junior Sarah Smith (Lexington, Mass.) was third with five goals and three assists.
"We have a solid group of offensive players," said Lord, "and we won't have to rely on one or two players to score. We have several people who can score."
Junior Sammi Romano (Kingston, N.H./Sanborn Regional) could fit into the offensive picture, returning to field hockey following a two-year absence., and freshman Christina Parisi (Hampton Falls, N.H./Winnacunnet) has impressed as the top freshman.
"We'd like to win the Little East and go to the NCAA Tournament," said Lord. "As much as we've enjoyed participating in the ECAC Tournament the past few years, our goals are a little higher."
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