PLYMOUTH, N.H. – The 2004 men’s soccer season at Plymouth State University kicks off this Saturday when the Panthers host Endicott College at 6:00 p.m. at Panther Field.
Hopes are again high in the PSU camp, after experiencing plenty of success in 2003. The Panther finished with a 12-3-4 overall record last fall, earned a share of the Little East Conference regular season title with a 5-1-1 mark, advanced to the ECAC New England Tournament, and ended up fourth in the final New England Division III rankings, the highest of any state school.
Saturday’s encounter with Endicott is the first of eight games this fall at friendly Panther Field, where the squad has registered a 27-10-4 record the last four years.
The Panthers will play a 16-game regular season schedule, including seven LEC contests. The Little East play-offs are the first week of November, with the conference champion earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
2004 PSU Men’s Soccer Outlook
With 15 returning veterans, including seven starters, third-year head coach Rob Wright is optimistic about the season.
“We were pleased to accept the ECAC bid, our sixth post-season berth in the last seven years,” said Wright, “but we were disappointed in not winning the LEC Tournament and getting to the NCAA Tournament. That’s our big goal every year. This year we want to continue to improve as the season goes on and peak at the right time.”
The Panthers made noise on the national level last year, getting as high as 18th in the national poll, knocking off a fourth-ranked team and taking another Top 10 team to overtime.
“We’ve proven we can play with the best teams in the country,” said Wright.
The biggest difference in this year’s PSU squad will be in goal, where the Panthers must replace four-year starter and last year’s First Team All-New England keeper Brad Wilby. Senior Jayson Smith (Northwood, N.H.) is the only returnee with any college experience, and he will be challenged by a couple of newcomers.
Whoever earns the keeper spot will get plenty of help in front of him, as the Panthers return four experienced starters along the defensive back line. Senior twins Nick and Steve Libera (Cromwell, Conn.) were both All-LEC Second Team choices last year, and sophomore Bryan Biederman (Holderness, N.H.) started every game at center back as a freshman. Junior Steve Balgach (Fairfield, Conn.) is a two-year starter and may be the most talented player on the team.
“I’m very comfortable with them as a group,” said Wright. “They play together very well, and give us an excellent defensive front. Opponents will have a difficult time getting past them.”
Juniors Brad Wyman (Durham, N.H.) and Koichi Nakatsubo (Numazo City, Japan/Franklin HS/N.H.) are the key returnees in the midfield, and Wright thinks they will blossom this fall. A lot will be expected of them, as well as senior Sebastian Rodriguez (San Jose, Costa Rica/Plymouth HS/N.H.), a Second Team All-LEC choice who splits time between forward and midfield. Solid contributions should come from other veterans Lindsay Chapman (Rye, N.H.) and R.C. Mooney (Roseland, N.J.), and Wright will also look to a couple of freshmen to step up.
Sophomore Felix Rosen (Stockholm, Sweden) leads the cast of forwards. He was a Second Team All-LEC selection after leading the Panthers in scoring with seven goals and one assist. Rodriguez will also be looked to to score goals, and several freshmen are expected to make significant contributions.
“Even with an outstanding defense, we’ll be far more offensive minded than in past years,” said Wright. “We’ll be able to take the game to other teams more. We have also added some excellent assistant coaches, and we’re excited about our team.”
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