PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Plymouth State University women's basketball team has high hopes for the 2005-06 season. With nine returning veterans from last year's team along with a half dozen newcomers, the Panthers have their sights set on the top of the Little East Conference.
The long road to the LEC title begins this weekend when the Panthers make their debut on home court. Plymouth State is hosting the Cobblestone Inn Invitational Friday and Saturday at Foley Gymnasium. PSU plays Roger Williams University in the tournament opener Friday at 6:00 p.m., with the Mount Ida College-Daniel Webster College match-up at 8:00 p.m. Saturday's consolation game at 1:00 p.m. precedes the championship game at 3:00 p.m.
Plymouth State has solid history in recent season-opening tourneys. The Panthers captured the championship of the MIT Tip-Off Tournament in 1999, the Colby Tip-Off Classic in 2000, and the Swarthmore Tip-Off Tourney in 2001 before being defeated in overtime in the title game of the 2002 Colby Tournament. PSU was defeated in the championship game again in 2003 at the Plattsburgh Cardinal Classic, and won the consolation game at last year's Swarthmore Tournament.
Led by eighth-year head coach Lauren Lavigne
(right), Plymouth State will play a competitive 24-game
schedule, including 14 Little East Conference affairs. The Panthers
are also home next Tues., Nov. 22, against Castleton State,
continuing a 13-game home schedule at Foley Gymnasium. The LEC
Tournament begins the last week of February, with a champion being
crowned on Feb. 25th and receiving an automatic bid into the NCAA
Division III Tournament.
Coach Lavigne says this year's team is improved and ready to overcome the obstacles that hindered the team the past two seasons.
"We're a much stronger team than last year and we're back to being a deep team," says Lavigne. "We have depth in the post area and we've been thin there before. We've added some height. We've always had good guards so now we'll be more balanced."
"I think we're a more fit team, too," adds Lavigne. "You can see the difference."
PSU finished 9-16 overall last season and 5-9 in the Little East Conference, but Lavigne thinks the Panthers will improve on that this winter. National power Southern Maine has a stronghold on the top spot in the LEC, but Lavigne says the Panthers can challenge for the upper half.
"Our first goal is to have a home play-off game," she says. "We want to be in the top three, and then as they say, ‘if you're playing well at the end of the season, anything can happen in the conference tournament."
The Panthers have only one senior on the team, forward Katie Susat (Glastonbury, Conn.), who provides quality minutes in the frontcourt. A four-year veteran, she has averaged 7.3 points and 4.7 rebounds a game the past two seasons.
The heart of the team should come from a group that includes four key juniors - guards Ashley White (Merrimack, N.H.) and Colleen Mahoney (North Attleboro, Mass.) and forwards Heather Thomas (Merrimack, N.H.) and Kaitlin Linehan (South Boston, Mass./Savio Prep).
"That's a junior class that is becoming a great class," says Lavigne. "They're really coming together."
White and Mahoney each averaged more than seven points a game last year, and that total should increase.
"Ashley does so many things, she makes everyone around her better," says the coach, "and Colleen has really stepped up this year. She's looking to score more than ever."
Thomas and Linehan lead the group of returning forwards, along with sophomore Sadie Hardiman (Loudon, N.H./Bishop Brady), who has continued to improve. They will be joined by junior McKenzie Ferguson (Conway, N.H./Kennett), a transfer from Endicott, sophomore Jaimee Coombs (Peabody, Mass.), a member of the soccer team the past two seasons, and freshmen Kayla Morin (Pascoag, R.I./Burrillville) and Sam Naas (South Hero, Vt./Burlington).
Look for sophomores Meghan MacDonald (Salem, N.H.) and Joy DePalo (Enfield, N.H./Mascoma) to continue holding down the point guard position. The both enjoyed solid rookie campaigns, averaging more than eight points apiece per game, and should be improved with more experience.
Giving the Panthers depth at the guard position are junior Kelsey McBride (Brookline, N.H.) and freshmen Janelle Chiles (North Andover, Mass.) and Kellie Pabst (Hill, N.H./Franklin).
"The maturity of this team is a huge difference from last season," says Lavigne. "With a year of experience under their belt, they're looking to move to the next level up."
-- 30 --