PLYMOUTH, N.H. - With its sights set on a third straight Little East Conference title and a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid, the Plymouth State College men's soccer team begins its season-long quest this Saturday in the opener at Panther Field.
The Panthers will host Babson College at 2:00 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 5), beginning the 42nd year of PSC Men's Soccer and the seventh season under head coach Shawn Griffin. Plymouth State features a team that has made it to the NCAA Tournament two of the past three years, including 1997 when the Panthers advanced to the New England Regional final and finished with a 14-3-2 record.
"We're right where we were last year," said Griffin, an '88 PSC grad who has a 63-35-7 record in six seasons. "We think we can challenge for the Little East Conference championship and return to the NCAA Tournament. We won one game in the NCAA Tournament last season, so we know what it's like and what we have to do. We want to do it again, but not stop there."
The two-rime defending Little East Conference champion, PSC was picked first in the 1998 LEC pre-season poll, just ahead of rival Keene State. The Panthers received five first-place votes, second place Keene State got two first-place votes, and third place Western Connecticut received the other. PSC captured LEC titles by going 5-1 in 1996 and 7-0 last season.
After the road opener next Wednesday, Sept. 9, at St. Anselm, Plymouth State will participate in Keene State's Tournament, facing Norwich and R.P.I. on Sept. 12-13, respectively. Two other highlights on the September schedule are a match at regional rival Wheaton on the 23rd, and the first home night game in PSC history on Homecoming Saturday the 26th, a 7:00 p.m. match-up against Keene State under the new lights at Panther Field.
After advancing to the NCAA Regional Final in 1997 and finishing 10th in the final national poll, the Panthers will be challenged to match that success in '98. Griffin says it's a difficult but reachable goal.
"Absolutely we have the team to do that on paper," says Griffin, who has taken his teams to the post-season four times in six years, including twice to the NCAAs. "Our goals are to win the Little East Conference for the third year in a row, and to gain a bid to the NCAA Tournament. A lot of chemistry and a lot of blending has to happen, but we have the players to do it."
1998 P.S.C. Men's Soccer Outlook
Expect the Panthers to be very strong defensively, according to Griffin. PSC allowed only 17 goals in 19 games and registered nine shutouts last year, and that type of stifling defense should continue. There'll be a new look in goal after the graduation of four-year starter Magnus Karlsson, a two-time All-New England selection. Senior Shawn Higgins (Foxboro, MA), a former keeper at Central Connecticut, should fill the role after scoring nine goals as a reserve forward in '97.
Senior co-captain Danny Gilbertson (London, England) is a two-time selection to the All-Little East Conference First Team. He backbones the Panther defense and was on the scoring end of 10 goals last year from his sweeper position.
"Danny was the best defender in New England, as far as I'm concerned," says Griffin. "He's a great defender, and he scored 10 goals last year from the sweeper spot on one of the best teams in New England. He could play any position on the field, any where he's needed."
Senior Adam Jordan (Milford, NH) and junior Michael Soares (West Haven, CT) are also returning starters on defense, along with part-time starter Scott Curran (Pawcatuck, CT). Another returnee, senior Chris Fall (Nashua, NH), could also step in. Griffin says there are also four or five strong newcomers, led by Magnus Eriksson (Karlstad, Sweden), Dean Ronnie (Johannesburg, South Africa) and Justin Wengell (Newington, CT).
Look for junior co-captain Kevin Martin (Foxboro, MA) to patrol the midfield. He suffered a season-ending injury in the opener last fall after sitting out the previous year as a transfer, but he is healthy now, according to Griffin, and primed for a strong season.
"He's hungry," said Griffin, "It's been almost three years since he's played a full college game. He had two years of training, then the bad luck last year with the broken leg. He's as hungry as anyone, and he's fully healed from the injury. We want him to run the show."
Two other returning starters in the midfield are junior Jeff DeRosa (Billerica, MA) and sophomore Simon Sendowski (Gothenberg, Sweden). DeRosa, a three-year starter, is a strong defensive midfielder, while Sendowski enjoyed a solid rookie campaign, posting nine assists, second-highest on the team. Jordan can also fill in here, as can last year's reserves Jeremy Gasowski (Lee, NH) and Jon Plater (Hillsboro, NH), who gained some valuable playing experience. Freshman Garry Thompson (Glasgow, Scotland) could also be in the mix.
One of Griffin's biggest concerns is the team's ability to score goals after the graduation of All-American striker Brett Scaccia, who was good for 26 goals last fall. He's hoping for a big senior year from returning starter Jesse Elderkin (Concord, NH). He's scored 10 career goals, and could be a key.
"Forward is a big question right now," says Griffin. "Any of a number of other players could step up and fill that role. We'll have to wait and see who that is."
"We had a good run last year, and we want to pick up from where we left off," says Griffin, "and we will."
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