- The Plymouth State University men's soccer team will visit an old friend this weekend for a season-opening tournament - the Doug May Classic at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y.
The Panthers, led by fourth-year head coach Rob
Wright(right), will face the Rochester Institute
of Technology Saturday (Sept. 3) at 3:30 p.m. in the second game of
the tourney, following the Nazareth-Allegheny College clash. PSU
will meet host Nazareth Sunday (Sept. 4) at 1:00 p.m., with RIT and
Allegheny wrapping things up Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
Nazareth is guided by second-year head coach Danny Gilbertson, a 1999 Plymouth State grad and former four-year starter and three-time First Team All-Little East Conference pick for the Panthers.
PSU, which plays six of its first seven games on the road, makes its home debut at Panther Field on Wednesday, Sept. 7, against Gordon College (4:00 p.m.)
The Panthers will play a 17-game regular season schedule, including seven Little East Conference contests. The annual LEC Tournament is on tap for the first week of November, with the champion receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Plymouth State, which shared the 2003 LEC regular season title, is seeking its first LEC Tournament championship since 2000.
PSU will have to avoid the injuries and inconsistency that hampered the team last season, when it finished 9-8-1 overall and 4-3 in conference play. The Panthers will also be looking for a third straight trip to the post season, and 11th in the last 13 years. PSU gave top-seeded MIT a fight in last year's ECAC Tournament, losing 1-0 in a close game.
"We finished the season strong against MIT," said Wright, "and we hope to build on that performance."
PSU will rely on a powerful defense to hold off opponents, led by junior Bryan Biederman (Holderness, N.H.), senior Steve Libera (Cromwell, Conn.) and sophomore Matt Verrecchia (South Kingstown, R.I./The Prout School). Biederman is a returning All-LEC First Team selection; Libera was an All-LEC defender in 2003 before struggling with injuries last season; and Verrecchia took over as starter midway through his freshman year.
"Any of those three could start for any team in the LEC," says Wright. "They give us an excellent base to build around."
Senior Steve Balgach (Fairfield, Conn.), a Second Team All-Conference pick last year, can play both defense and midfield well and will be a factor. Sophomore Greg Grieco (Mahopac, N.Y./ Carmel) has proven himself on defense, and junior Steve Martus (Wilton, N.H.) could also see playing time. Wright says a newcomer or two could also emerge.
The question mark on defense, according to Wright, is in goal. There are no returning keepers, so the Panthers will be relying on freshmen. "We feel comfortable with the guys we have coming in."
Wright says this year's team will be a more offensive unit. "We have such a strong defense that we can afford to play with a more attacking mentality."
Balgach and sophomore Seth Desjardins (Wakefield, N.H./Spaulding), the team's Rookie of the Year, are the top returning midfielders. Improved senior captain Chris Catatao (Burlington, Mass.) could be a factor, as well as the return of senior Matt Albert (Charlton, N.Y./Burnt Hills), who sat out all of last season. Junior Dustin Moya (Thornton, Co./Horizon) and sophomore Jamal Luttamaguzi (Stockholm, Sweden) should also see playing time.
Junior Felix Rosen (Stockholm, Sweden) leads the cast of forwards. He was a Second Team All-LEC selection in 2003 and has led the Panthers in scoring the past two seasons with seven goals each year. Sophomore Takeru Tanikawa (Shizuoka, Japan/Tilton Prep (N.H.) began to blossom after recovering from injuries last year and could be a factor, and sophomores Justin Flanagan (Hingham, Mass.) and Alex Marin (Manchester, NH/Memorial) add depth.
"We have some of the best players in the league, and one of the strongest defenses in New England," says Wright. "If we don't get the same injuries we had last year, things will be more consistent in who's playing and that will be a key factor. It's very realistic that we could win our conference."
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