Panthers make debut Saturday at Southern Maine
PLYMOUTH, N.H. – A new season for the Plymouth State University women's tennis team begins this Saturday, Sept. 1, when the Panthers visit the University of Southern Maine for a Little East Conference match.
The Panthers will play six of their seven home matches in September, beginning with the home opener next Wednesday, Sept. 5, against Granite State rival Colby-Sawyer College (4:30 p.m.) After another LEC match at Bridgewater State on Sept. 8, PSU will host three straight home matches the week of Sept. 10.
|Head Coach Barbara Rawlsky-Willett|
PSU is coming off a strong campaign in 2011 that included a 10-5 overall record, equaling the program standard for wins in a season. The Panthers finished third in the Little East with a 5-3 mark, its best finish since 2007, and advanced to the semifinals of the LEC Tournament. Led by ninth-year head coach Barbara Rawlsky-Willett, the Panthers hope to contend for their first LEC championship since 2006.
Plymouth State will play 13 dual matches over the next seven weeks, including eight Little East matches. The annual single-elimination LEC team tournament begins with opening-round play on Tuesday, Oct. 16. The LEC Tournament champion receives an automatic berth in next spring's NCAA Division III National Championships.
2012 PSU Women's Tennis Outlook
The Panthers return five veterans, including three starters, from last year's squad, and they are joined by three talented newcomers. It's one of PSU's smaller rosters in recent years, but Coach Rawlsky-Willett says she expects everyone to contribute.
"I've been very pleased with the team so far," said Rawlsky-Willett. "Everyone played a lot of tennis over the summer and they came back in outstanding shape. There's already a lot of team cohesiveness and there's a very positive attitude. They are starting to figure out where they all stand on the team and what their roles will be."
The Panthers are excited to welcome back senior captain Sara Burke (Barrington, R.I.), who was All-LEC Second Team last year at No. 1 singles, the first player in school history to earn the honor. A former LEC Rookie of the Year and PSU's No. 1 player for four years, Burke posted an impressive 11-4 record against some of the top players in the region last fall, including a 7-1 mark against LEC foes. Her only conference loss was in a third-set super-breaker (10-8) against the All-LEC First Team selection.
"Sara moved into the upper echelon of the league last year, and she's looking great so far this fall," said Rawlsky-Willett. "We will look to her to lead the team and make her mark on the LEC."
The other returning singles starter is junior Molly Heartfield (Dorset, Vt./Burr & Burton Academy), who posted an 8-6 record at No. 3 singles last year and owns a 16-7 career record. Junior Jane Duggan (Saunderstown, R.I./Exeter-West Greenwich) posted an 8-5 record at doubles last year, while classmate Chelsea Thibeault (Manchester, N.H./Central) and sophomore Rosalie DiRado (Gansevoort, N.Y./Saratoga Springs) have collegiate experience under their belt and will look to move into the starting line-up.
"Molly has come back in great shape and has increased her intensity this year," said Rawlsky-Willett. "She gives us a boost in the top half of the line-up. Jane did a nice job at doubles last year, and the other returnees will battle for a starting position."
The Panthers have three newcomers who have blended in nicely, according to Rawlsky-Willett. Freshman Nitsa Ioannides (El Cajon, Calif./Valhalla) will look to make an immediate impact near the top of the line-up, while classmates Andra Dion (Ashland, N.H./Plymouth Regional) and Peyton Smith (Stuttgart, Germany/Patch) will vie for spots in the bottom half.
The Panthers hosted and won their first-round LEC playoff match last year, and Rawlsky-Willett is hoping this team can take another step.
"Our ultimate goal is to win the Little East Conference," said Rawlsky-Willett. "We have a much different team this year, but we hope we can continue to improve."
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