PLYMOUTH, N.H. – A new era in Plymouth State University women’s varsity tennis begins this Friday at 4:00 p.m. when the Panthers play their season opener against Wheaton College at the P.E. Center Courts.
The match will feature the debut of new head coach Barbara Rawlsky-Willett, who was an assistant at PSU last year under the now-retired coach Judy Switzer. Rawlsky-Willett has also enjoyed a successful career as girls’ tennis coach at Plymouth Regional High School.
Friday’s match will also feature the return to Plymouth of Wheaton head coach Lynn Miller, who is in her 25h season with the Lyons. Miller is a 1974 graduate of Plymouth State and was inducted into the PSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1989.
After Friday’s encounter, Plymouth State will be on the road for its next three matches before returning home to host Salem State on Sept. 18. The Panthers will play 11 matches in the next seven weeks, culminating with the annual Little East Conference Championships the third weekend in October.
The Panthers, who return three starters and six other veterans from last year’s team, are coming off a string of successful campaigns, combining for a 20-10 record over the past three years. PSU is also 12-3 in Little East Conference regular season matches in that span, and finished runner-up at the 2002 LEC Championships.
2004 PSU Women’s Tennis Outlook
The Panthers are coming off a 5-5 season and a fourth place finish in the Little East Championships, and Coach Rawlsky-Willett is optimistic about the season.
“Our ultimate goal is to win the Little East Conference,” she said. “We have three key returning players, and we’re hoping some of the other returning veterans will move up or perhaps a couple of the newcomers could step in. We’re looking to have everyone improve their game, and who knows; maybe it could happen this year. If not, then next year would be very realistic.”
With no seniors on the roster, the top three returning players are all juniors –Whitney O’Leary (Sagamore Beach, Mass.), Rachel Xavier (Meredith, N.H.), and Megan Sowers (Londonderry, N.H.). O’Leary is the top returnee, playing at mostly #2 and #3 singles last year as well as #1 doubles. She will be at or near the top of the line-up again this fall. Xavier played at #4 and #5 singles last year and shared the team lead in wins with a 9-2 record. She also captured the LEC individual title at #4 singles. Sowers was a regular in the Panther line-up in 2003, posting a solid 6-5 singles record and a 5-5 mark at #2 doubles.
“Those are the three who will be the nucleus of the team this fall,” said Rawlsky-Willett. “They all have plenty of college experience, and know what to expect. Probably they way they go is how we’ll go.”
There are six other returning players for the Panthers. Juniors Sarah Cole (North Waterboro, Maine) and Liz Duell (Hopewell Valley, R.I.) and sophomore Erica Huckins (Plymouth, N.H.) all saw limited action last season, and could move into the line-up this year. Sophomores Kiley Boyd (Brattleboro, Vt.), Brittany Campbell (Newport, R.I.) and Jenna Soto (Southold, N.Y.) are unproven but could contribute with additional improvement.
The group of newcomers includes freshmen Virginia Abate (Toms River, N.J.), Briley Boisvert (Goffstown, N.H./Trinity), Jill Deyermond (Atkinson, N.H.), and Katie Pingree (Coventry, Conn.), and sophomores Ashley Gorman (Cumberland, R.I.) and Jacqueline Kasen (Livingston, N.J.).
“With a new coach and a new system, the first year is always a transition year,” said Rawlsky-Willett. “I won’t be new for nine of the girls. Luckily they know me and how I do things. As with any transition, there will be some things that stay the same and some things that will be different.”
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