'KEENE, N.H. 11/4/03 - Keene State College men's soccer and women's volleyball team begin their respective Little East Conference Tournaments tomorrow. The second-seeded men's soccer team will host third seed Rhode Island College in a semifinal game at Owl Athletic Complex. Meanwhile, the sixth-seeded Owl women's volleyball team travels to Southern Maine for a quarterfinal match against the third seeded Huskies. Both events begin at 6 p.m.
Winners of six-in-a-row, the KSC men's soccer team (12-5-1, 4-1-1 LEC) appears to be peaking at just the right time. While the Owls' defense continues to be a concern for Coach Ron Butcher, the team's offense is in full gear, averaging 4.5 goals per game during the span - including a tough 3-2 win over RIC two weeks ago in Providence. Jason Lombardo (14-9-37), Casey Banks (11-13-35), and John Harke (10-10-30), who was named LEC offensive player of the week after tying a school record with four goals in Saturday's 7-1 win over UMass-Dartmouth, hope to exploit the Anchormen's suspect defense.
"Rhode Island College's strength is up front and their weakness is in their backs," said Butcher. "On a big field we should have no problem turning the corner on them."
The biggest problem for KSC will be keeping close tabs on Anchormen strikers Kyle Teixera and Cory Lopes. The dangerous Teixera (24-6-54) leads the conference in scoring while Lopes (6-7-19), who didn't play against KSC, is expected back after missing the last few games with an injury. "They were riding high before Lopes got hurt," said Butcher. RIC (11-7, 5-2 LEC) has dropped its last three games.
Shooting for their fourth LEC Championship, and third consecutive title, the Owls know they can't look beyond RIC. "We've been to the NCAA Tournament five out of the past six years, so everyone is gunning for us," Butcher said. "My players have to understand that no one is going to give the berth to them."
Top seed Plymouth State University (12-2-2, 5-1-1 LEC) will face fourth seed Western Conn. (11-5-4, 3-2-2 LEC) in the other semifinal match up. An upset loss by the Panthers could bring the title game back to Keene State on Saturday.
The sixth seed in the women's volleyball tournament, Keene State (10-15, 3-4 LEC) will be facing a third-seeded Southern Maine (18-11, 4-3 LEC) squad that is making its first post-season appearance in four years.
KSC, under first-year coach Matora Fiorey, has had to regroup after losing all but one starter from last year's team that advanced to the semifinal round. Led by middle hitter Shelly Ellis, outside hitter Genna Florkowski, and setter Lauren Graham, who earned this week's LEC rookie honors, KSC has won three of its last four matches.
USM, which lost to KSC earlier this season, have been the surprise team of the conference. The Huskies received the home court advantage after upsetting R.I. College and Eastern Conn. in the last LEC round robin. "I think it's going to be an even match, but it's going to be tough playing in their gym," said Fiore.
"You can't help but have confidence against a team which you beat," said Owl captain Stephanie Benard. "But we need to respect them for what they recently accomplished."
The winner of the match will move on to Western Conn., which will host this weekend's semifinals and championship.