PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Plymouth State University women's tennis team will open the 2009 season this week with a pair of road matches, including the Little East Conference debut.
The Panthers will play their first match this Thursday, Sept. 3, at Endicott College, followed by the LEC opener on Saturday, Sept. 5, at the University of Southern Maine. After another road contest next Tuesday, Sept. 8, at Worcester State College, PSU will host Bridgewater State College in the home opener on Friday, Sept. 11.
PSU will be looking to regroup after finishing with a 4-9 record last season. Sixth-year head coach Barbara Rawlsky-Willett (right) is pleased with the team in preseason and is optimistic about this year's squad. She hopes the team can return to the form that captured the LEC championship in 2006, although only one current player was on that team.
Coach Rawlsky-Willett has led the Panthers to a 30-28 record in her five seasons, including a 22-12 mark in LEC matches. PSU won LEC championships in 2004 and 2006
Plymouth State will play 12 dual matches over the next seven weeks, including six at home on the P.E. Center Courts. The annual single-elimination LEC team tournament begins with opening-round play on Tuesday, Oct. 20. The LEC Tournament champion receives an automatic berth in next spring's NCAA Division III National Championships.
2009 PSU Women's Tennis Outlook
The Panthers have six veterans back on this year's squad, including four from last season's starting singles line-up, but coach Rawlsky-Willett expects several new faces on the court with seven newcomers on the roster.
"We have so many new bodies," said the coach. "They're all hard-working and have positive attitudes; they're a tight group already. They're pushing each other, which can only make them better."
With more newcomers than returnees, the Panthers will look to senior co-captains Amanda Arponen (Plymouth, Mass./Plymouth South) and Melissa Castellano (East Northport, N.Y./John Glenn) and junior Buffy Garland (Freedom, N.H./Kennett) for leadership, according to Rawlsky-Willett. Arponen and Garland are returning starters but may have to battle to keep their spots.
A strong pre-season by freshman Sara Burke (Barrington, R.I.) has pushed her to the top of the ladder heading into the season. Rawlsky-Willett said Burke is very solid and consistent and is capable of handling the No. 1 singles position. Sophomore Laura Donovan (Acton, Mass./Acton-Boxborough), who played No. 2 singles last year, will likely remain in one of the top two spots again this year, giving the Panthers a nice 1-2 punch.
"They both have good strokes and a strong game," said Rawsky-Willett, "and Laura gained valuable experience last year. And I think they might make a good doubles team, too. After that, it's up for grabs. The whole lineup is very competitive."
Sophomore Lydia Smith (Marblehead, Mass./Marblehead) and junior Megan Cooper (Camarillo, Calif./Rio Mesa) are returnees who appear ready to claim a spot in the starting line-up. Smith posted a team-best 9-6 record at #4 and #5 singles last season and Cooper has shown marked improvement after being a reserve doubles player last year.
Freshmen Rachel Figura (Cheshire, Conn./Cheshire), Lacey Mailman (Freedom, N.H./Kennett), Danalyn Holdredge (Wakefield, R.I./South Kingstown) and Shaina Cyr (Rochester, N.H./Spaulding) have all shown promise and could battle for a spot in the starting line-up in either singles or doubles. Classmates Karli Kesson (Standish, Maine/Bonny Eagle) and Nichole Adamo (Coventry, R.I.) are also competing for court time.
The Panthers are hoping to be one of the challengers for the Little East championship; a race that Rawlsky-Willett says is pretty open.
"There will be some good teams in the conference that we will have to face, so it will be interesting," said the coach. "We hope to be competitive, but it's hard to say because we have so many new faces on the team."
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