- A new era begins for the Plymouth State University women's soccer program this weekend when the Panthers travel to upstate New York for the North Country Classic, hosted by Clarkson University in Potsdam.
The tournament will mark the debut of Panther head coach
Gene Smith, who took over the program in April.
Smith (right) replaced Keith Scarlett , who resigned
following last season after four years at the helm.
Plymouth State will take on Saint Lawrence University Saturday (Sept. 3) at 3:30 p.m., following the Clarkson-Oswego State match-up at 1:00 p.m. PSU will battle host Clarkson Sunday at 1:00 p.m., and the Saint Lawrence-Oswego State clash wraps up the tourney Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
After another non-conference game Wednesday (Sept. 7) at Norwich University, where Coach Smith visits his alma mater and faces the team for which he was an assistant coach last season, the Panthers will host Saint Joseph's College (Maine) on Saturday (Sept. 10) in the home opener at Panther Field.
The Panthers will play a 17-game regular season schedule, including seven Little East Conference contests. The annual LEC Tournament is slated for the first week of November, with the champion receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Plymouth State is seeking its first LEC Championship since going undefeated in conference play in 1997.
While most of the players will be the same as last season, Smith says it will be a much different Panther team than a year ago.
"We're going to play a different style of soccer," says Smith. "I'm more offensive-minded than what our players are used to. I've also been here since April so they know what to expect. I expect great things from several people."
The Panthers have nine starters and several other veterans returning from last year's team, and a couple of newcomers who could bolster the line-up. Smith is optimistic with what he sees.
"We should be a quality team," says the coach. "We have a great mix of experience and youth. There's a very solid core of returning players, and they have the talent to make us a good team. They've put in a lot of work over the summer, and they're very motivated for having a good season."
The strength of the team lies in the midfield, where the Panthers have at least a half dozen veterans who could play key roles. Leading the way is junior Kelsey McBride (Brookline, N.H.), who led the team in scoring last year and earned Second Team All-Conference honors. Senior Melissa Erwin (Newington, Conn.) and junior Kelsey MacDonald (Oak Bluffs, Mass.) are key returning starters who could challenge for All-Star honors, and seniors Casey Bishop (Topsham, Maine) and Meagen Leenig (East Fishkill, N.Y.) are four-year veterans who have seen plenty of playing time. Juniors Kara Arnold (Wolfeboro, N.H.) and Ashley Lamell (Randolph, Vt.) can also help out.
"That's the strongest part of our team," says Smith. "We could have the deepest midfield in the conference, and it's a good balance of seniors and young players coming up. That's who I expect to lead our team this year."
Junior Allison Frobey (Sandy Hook, Conn.) returns to anchor the Panther defense. She has started every game at sweeper the past two years and earned Second Team All-LEC honors last season. Senior Kellli Langran (Marlton, N.J.) and sophomore Jordan Mayhew (Jamaica Plain, Mass.) are also returning starters, and sophomore Meghann McKenney (Hubbardston, Mass.) could also see action, but Smith admits there are positions open.
"There are some question marks on defense," says Smith. "We might be looking for some newcomers to step in there."
PSU has two seniors returning to hold down the goalkeeping position. Hayley Quinones (Waitsfield, Vt.) has started 36 games over the past three years, posting 10 shutouts, while Beth McAloon (Bedford, N.H.) has 12 career starts in two years with two shutouts.
"It's great to have that kind of experience back there," says Smith. "They both have areas of strength, and we have confidence in both of them."
Conversely, the returning Panther forwards are a group that lacks experience. Sophomore Brooke Tanger (Lebanon, Conn.) suffered a season-ending injury in preseason last year, but looks healthy this fall. Sophomore Jaimee Coombs (Peabody, Mass.) could also see more playing time.
The Panthers will be looking to move up in the Little East Conference standings in 2005.
"Finishing fifth or sixth is not where we want to be," says Smith. "We want to be in that top three this year. Our focus is on returning to the top part of the conference, and whatever happens after that, happens. Winning the LEC is our only focus."
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