PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Hopes are high in the men's soccer program at Plymouth State University as the Panthers embark on the 2003 campaign.
The Panthers will be on the road for their first match, this Saturday at Bridgewater State. The home opener is next Wednesday (Sept. 10) against Gordon College (4:00 p.m.), and the Little East Conference opener is the fifth game on Saturday, Sept. 20, against UMass Dartmouth.
PSU will play eight games this fall at friendly Panther Field, where the squad has registered a 21-7-2 record the last three years.
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.
2003 PSU Men's Soccer Outlook
With more than a dozen returning players, it appears like Plymouth State will have a veteran squad in 2003. But second-year head coach Rob Wright says the unit on the field more likely will be very young.
"We had four freshmen who were starting every game by the end of last season," says Wright, "and we have at least four newcomers who may end up starting for us this fall. So even with the veterans on the roster, the bottom line is that our best team may be with eight or nine freshmen and sophomores in the game."
The Panthers are coming off a 2002 campaign in which the team finished 8-7-2 overall and runner-up in the Little East Conference during the regular season with a 5-2 mark. This year's goals include winning the LEC Championship and advancing to the post-season for the sixth time in the last seven years. PSU won the ECAC New England title in 2001.
"We were in the conference championship picture last year," says Wright. "We were the only team to defeat Western Conn., which won the regular season title. And Keene State, the tournament champs, needed penalty kicks to knock us out. We think we can challenge for the championship again this season."
The strength of last year's team was the defense, according to Wright, and this year should be no different. Four of the returnees, seniors Nick Libera (Cromwell, Conn.) and Mike Hallworth (Sandown, N.H.), and sophomores Steve Balgach (Fairfield, Conn.) and Jeremy Whiting (Medway, Mass.) have starting experience. Libera is a two-year starter and Hallworth was one of the team's best defenders before missing all of last season following knee surgery. Balgach was arguably the team's best player, and Whiting worked his way into the starting line-up.
Wright added that a couple of the freshmen, like Bryan Biederman (Holderness, N.H.) and Sims Courtney (Orlando, Fla.) will likely play a lot.
"There's a lot of healthy competition for playing time," says Wright, "Some of the veterans may end up playing elsewhere on the field."
Another key to the defense is the return of senior Brad Wilby (Haddonfield, N.J.), the starting keeper three of the last four years (he missed most of 2001 with an injury). Wilby has nine career shutouts and the talent to be one of the top keepers in the region. Junior Jayson Smith (Northwood, N.H.) is the back-up, and Wright thinks freshman Zach Collins (Chester Springs, Pa.) could figure into the mix.
Three returning midfielders include sophomore Koichi Nakatsubo (Franklin, N.H.) and seniors Kyle Bowman (Bedford, N.H.) and Michael Cantelli (Raymond, N.H.). Nakatsubo is the "most skillful player I've worked with in this country," according to Wright, a native of England, and will likely play center midfield. Bowman and Cantelli are steady veterans who will provide experience and leadership. Others who are hungry for playing time include sophomores Brad Wyman (Manchester, N.H./Oyster River) and Chris Catatao (Burlington, Mass.), senior Steve Libera (Cromwell, Conn.), and the top newcomers - freshmen Peter Balslev (Charlottenlund, Denmark) and David Bueti(Katonah, N.Y.).
Seniors Chipe Culum (Manchester, N.H./Central) and Sal Friello (West Haven, Conn.) are experienced veterans on the front line. Culum shared the team scoring lead last year with six goals, and Friello owns 14 career goals. Junior Sebastian Rodriguez (San Jose, Costa Rica) could be ready to step up as a starter, and freshman Felix Rosen (Stockholm, Sweden) will be looking to make an impact.
"We will be talented, and will have competition for spots all over the field," says Wright.
"Some of the veterans may be fighting for playing time. The question is if we are too young, but I think we should be pretty solid."
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