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Panther Softball makes 2004 debut on annual trip to Florida

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Plymouth State University softball team will make its annual trip to Florida next week for the 2004 season debut in the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic in Fort Myers.

The Panthers will be under new direction this spring, as Bruce Addison has taken over as head coach from Harry Blood, who resigned last year after three seasons, including two of the most successful campaigns in school history.

PSC will play 11 games in six days in Florida against 10 different opponents, beginning this Sunday (Mar. 21) and running through Friday (Mar. 26). The Panthers are scheduled to make their New England debut on Wednesday, Mar. 31, with a home doubleheader at D&M Park against Bowdoin College.

There are 22 games on the PSU slate after the Florida trip, including 14 conference contests. The regular season wraps up on Apr. 24, with the annual LEC Tournament the following week. The Little East Tournament champion receives an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Softball Championship Tournament.

This year's Panther team might be hard pressed to duplicate the feats of its predecessors, but Addison is quite optimistic heading into the new season.

"We're pretty confident with our team," says Addison, the former coach at Bow High School. "We're trying to maintain what was accomplished the last two years, so expectations are high."

2004 PSU Softball Outlook

The Panthers have set school records for victories the past two seasons, winning 24 games in 2002 and finishing 30-9 last spring. PSU earned its first post-season berth in nine years with an ECAC Tournament selection two years ago, and did even better in 2003, capturing the ECAC New England Championship. PSU has also finished third and second the past two years in the Little East Conference.

"We want to finish in the top three in the Little East again during the regular season," says Addison. "That would put us in good shape heading into the LEC Tournament, and if we can be a little above what they did last year, then maybe we can win it."

A big key to the Panthers' success is the return of two-time All-America and LEC Pitcher of the Year Kim Jeffs (Stoughton, Mass.). She set an NCAA record last year with 375 strikeouts while posting a 26-7 record, a 0.65 ERA and 13 shutouts.

"Kim is such a viable part of our team, but not just because she's one of the best pitchers in the country," says Addison, "but because of her leadership qualities and determination. Her confidence breeds on the others. It's amazing the effect her personality has on the rest of the team."

Sophomore Rose Eaton (Concord, N.H.) earned valuable experience last season, and will be counted on more this spring. "Rose is a big part of this team, and we want to get her into the mix a little more," says Addison. "That would also give Kim a little more rest."

The Panthers batted only .225 as a team last season, and gone are top sluggers Adriene Harvey and Annie Metz. Addison knows that's an area that needs improvement.

"We have been preaching offense since Day One," says Addison. "We've been working on being aggressive and having confidence and having an attitude that you know you're going to get a base hit."

Leading the Panther infielders are a pair of seniors in SS Michelle Knox (Gilmanton, N.H.) and 1B Kristin Balles (Bedford, N.H./West). Sophomore Shawn Cooley (Waterford, Conn.) and junior Anna Godard (Florence, Mass.) give PSU a pair of veterans at 2B, and junior Niki Ramback (Bethlehem, N.H.) looks like she will take over at 3B. Freshman Cathy Aimola (Wellesley, Mass.) has the inside edge on the starting catcher's spot, with back-up infielders including senior 3B Krissy Crego (Rochester, N.Y.), senior C Heidi Beaulac (Newmarket, N.H.), sophomore SS Jess Fortin (Chester, N.H.) and freshmen 1B Nicole Lovejoy (Poland, Maine) and Heather Corrigan (West Hartford, Conn.).

PSU has returning veterans all over the outfield, led by senior Maria Curran (Scarborough, Maine) in left. Juniors Jess Rousselle (Deerfield, N.H.) and Michelle Dubois (Auburn, Maine) will both see time in center, and classmate Sara Madden (Londonderry, N.H.) could hold down right field. Outfield support is provided by freshman Colleen Courtney (Millis, Mass.) and sophomore Rose Eaton.

"There has been an adjustment with the coaching change for both me and the team," says Addison. "But everything has taken on a positive outlook. By the time the season starts, I expect we'll be operating on all four cylinders and ready to go."

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