PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Plymouth State College men's soccer season opens this weekend when the Panthers host the Best Inn Kick-Off Classic Saturday and Sunday at Panther Field.
The tournament pairings are set with Norwich University and Springfield College meeting in the first match Saturday at 3:00 p.m., and PSC and SUNY Oswego battling in the 6:00 p.m. contest. Sunday's competition has Norwich and Oswego going head-to-head at 12:00 p.m., followed by the PSC-Springfield encounter at 3:00 p.m.
PSC will play its first five matches and seven of the first eight this fall at friendly Panther Field, when the squad posted an 8-1 record last season and is 17-3 the last two years. The Panthers are coming off an outstanding 2001 campaign, which included a 14-6 overall record and the ECAC New England Championship.
The Panthers will play a 16-game regular season schedule, including seven LEC contests. The Little East play-offs are the first week of November, with the conference champion earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
2002 PSC Men's Soccer Outlook
There will be a new head coach on the sidelines for PSC this season, but new man Rob Wright, who was a Panther assistant last fall, thinks the 2002 Panthers will continue the strong tradition of men's soccer the school has enjoyed the past three decades.
Plymouth State has made post-season appearances five consecutive years and eight of the past nine campaigns, including four NCAA bids. The Panthers' ECAC Championship last season was its first New England crown since 1985.
The Panthers welcome back 17 veterans this fall, including seven starters. Wright says it will still be a different squad in 2002.
"We'll have our established players working with our strong recruiting class," said Wright, "in what should be a smooth transition to a new coach. The style of this year's team will reflect the change in players rather than coaching staff."
The defensive unit will have to overcome the loss of Magnus Eriksson and Antoine Moiboueyi, who were the LEC Players of the Year the past two seasons, and junior Mike Hallworth (Sandown, N.H.), who will miss the season with a knee injury. The team has a strong starter returning in junior Nick Libera (Cromwell, Conn.), according to Wright, but he expects a couple of newcomers to fill the openings, or perhaps sophomore Ryan Weeden (North Woodstock, N.H.)
The favorite for the starting goalkeeper position will be junior Brad Wilby (Haddonfield, N.J.), who missed all but two games of the 2001 campaign with a season-ending injury. He was the starter in 1999 and 2000, posting seven shutouts. Senior Michael Pompa (Johannesburg, SO. Africa), who is also coming off an injury, and sophomore Jayson Smith (Northwood, N.H.) will be pushing hard for the top spot.
Senior Justin Wengell (Newington, Conn.) will anchor the midfield unit. He is a two-year starter who scored six goals last year and has nine goals in his career. Seniors Troy Silva (West Tisbury, Mass.) and Rob Ball (Rockaway, N.J.) should also be factors, and Wright is looking for junior Kyle Bowman (Bedford, N.H.) to have a big season. Sophomores Matt Albert (Charlton, N.Y.) and Lindsay Chapman (Rye, N.H.) or a couple of newcomers could also fit in.
The top forwards are likely to include juniors Michael Cantelli (Raymond, N.H.) and Chipe Culum (Manchester, N.H./Central) and senior Sal Friello (West Haven, Conn.). Cantelli shared the team scoring lead last year with eight goals and 18 points, and Friello has scored 10 career goals and was a starter in 2000 before missing all of last season with an injury. Sophomore Sebastian Rodriguez (San Jose, Costa Rica) will also be a contender for playing time up front, and senior Jake Morley (Southampton, England) should see action in a variety of roles.
We had a terrific finish last season, winning the ECAC title, and we'll be looking to build on that," said Wright. "We are looking to win back the Little East Conference title and compete with the top teams in New England and in the national tournament."