PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Plymouth State College will make its 16th appearance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Men's Soccer Championship this Wednesday when the Panthers host Norwich University in a first round game.
PSC and Norwich are two of the 44 teams invited to this year's tournament, and will meet at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Panther Field in a Northeast Regional battle. The winner advances to the regional semifinals Saturday at defending NCAA champion St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., with Hamilton and Plattsburgh State playing in the other semi-final. The regional final is Sunday at SLU.
Plymouth State, 14-4-0 overall, received its third NCAA bid in the last four years and fourth in the last six seasons after winning the 2000 Little East Conference regular season (6-1-0) and tournament titles. PSC needed triple overtime Sunday to secure the LEC Tourney crown, edging UMass Dartmouth in a thrilling 1-0 contest. The Panthers, who have now earned post-season bids seven of the last eight years, won the LEC title for the sixth time (1989, '93, '96, '97, '98, and '00), the fourth time since 1996.
"Getting to the NCAA Tournament was our goal all along," said PSC head coach Keith Byrnes. "It means everything to the guys. That's why they strap on the boots, to play for a chance to be in the NCAA tournament and a chance to win a national championship. It's an exciting level of collegiate competition you can't find anywhere else."
"A lot of the guys played in the NCAAs two years ago, and they were disappointed with an ECAC berth last season," said Byrnes. "From the very beginning of the season they were determined to get back to the NCAAs. They did all the work. I just sat by and enjoyed the ride."
Norwich, 14-3-1 overall, earned its second consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Cadets captured the Great Northeast Athletic Conference championship for the second straight year, and have gone 21-0-1 in conference play the last two seasons. Norwich took advantage of the school's first NCAA Tournament bid in 1999, defeating Springfield in the opening round before falling to eventual national champion St. Lawrence in the regional semifinals.
PSC and Norwich had only one common opponent in 2000. Both schools defeated Rivier College by 1-0 scores, Norwich doing it in double overtime.
The Plymouth State coach shouldn't need a scouting report on the Cadets. Byrnes came to PSC this season after serving the past two years as assistant coach under Bob Friske at Norwich. Byrnes was also a freshman player at Plattsburgh State in 1991 when Friske was an assistant coach there.
"I was excited and nervous at the same time to see that we are playing Norwich," said Byrnes. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Friske. We play a similar style so it should be a good game. It will be exciting to see the guys I used to coach. I wish them the best of luck. I wish we could see them later in the tournament so one of us doesn't get knocked out in the first round."
Plymouth State features a strong defensive squad, one that allowed only 13 goals in 18 games. Anchoring the defense is junior sweeper Magnus Eriksson (Arjang, Sweden) and senior backs Simon Sendowski (Gothenberg, Sweden), Ceamus McDermott (Centerville, Mass.) and Scott Curran (Pawcatuck, Conn.). Eriksson and Sendowski were All-Tournament Team selections in the LEC Championships as PSC posted a pair of shutouts and limited Western Connecticut and UMass Dartmouth to 12 shots total. Sophomore keeper Brad Wilby (Haddonfield, NJ) was also an All-Tournament team pick, recording PSC's seventh and eighth shutouts of the season.
The Panther offense scored 39 goals this season, led by junior Antoine Moiboueyi (Gabon, Africa) with eight markers. Other offensive threats include forward Sal Friello (West Haven, Conn.), who scored PSC's first two goals in the LEC semifinal win over WCSU to earn All-Tournament Team honors, along with midfielders Jeremy Gasowski (Lee, NH) and Garry Thomson (Glasgow, Scotland).
Plymouth State advanced to the regional finals in its last two NCAA appearances. The Panthers defeated Wheaton in the semifinals in 1997 before losing to Amherst in the regional final at Bowdoin. PSC hosted the regionals in 1998, nipping Amherst in the first game before losing to Williams in the final.
The Panthers made the NCAA Tournament 12 times from 1975 to 1989 under former coach Gerd Lutter, and three times from 1995 to 1998 under former coach Shawn Griffin. The 1982 team captured the regional title, and the '82, '83, '86 and '89 squads all advanced to the national quarterfinals.