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Panthers enter first pre-season game on home turf after road win

Raine Easton, left, and Jenna Mae Ellsworth go after the ball Thursday during UPEI Panthers practice.
Raine Easton, left, and Jenna Mae Ellsworth go after the ball Thursday during UPEI Panthers practice.

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – The UPEI Panthers are looking to build on their first game of the pre-season.

The Panthers are on home turf today at 1 p.m. for Mulligan Cup action against the Mount Saint Vincent Mystics after defeating the Mount Allison Mounties 4-0 on Sunday in Sackville, N.B. The Panthers and Mystics also play Sunday at 9 a.m. in Charlottetown.

“You can’t read too much into exhibition games, but it does tell your story,” said Graeme McDonald, who is entering his fourth season as the Panthers head coach.

“It’s a great start for the girls’ confidence. It shows them the work they've put in over the last year (has paid off).”

The Panthers went 3-6-3 in 2016 to finish seventh in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference and miss the playoffs. UPEI went 0-1-1 against the Mounties in 2016, losing 2-0 and tying 1-1.

The Panthers were a young squad a year ago and have 14 second-year players on this year’s roster.

“Getting that experience last year was valuable,” McDonald said. “I can see the difference now for them coming in this year. Stronger, bigger, faster, more confident, so I’m looking forward to seeing the girls out there compete.”

Kristin Hood is the squad’s lone fourth-year player while third-year centre back Kelly Green will also be leaned on for leadership.

Jenn Balderston and Danielle Younker have been key contributors since their rookie seasons and McDonald is looking for them to continue to develop in their third season.

The Panthers have added a half dozen new players to this year’s roster, including five who played for McDonald as part of Team P.E.I. at the Canada Games in Winnipeg. They are midfielders Kamren Chaisson and Rachael Green, defender Laura Burge, keeper Alison Muise and forward Lauren Clark.

The UPEI Panthers have added five players who played for Team P.E.I. at the Canada Games in Winnipeg. From left are Kamren Chaisson, Laura Burge, Alison Muise, Rachael Green and Lauren Clark.

"I'm delighted to have recruited five of our most talented players,” the coach said. “The experience and development they have gained from the Canada Games program will give them a great start to their AUS careers. It's important that we continue to recruit our best island players so our team continues to have a strong P.E.I. identity."

McDonald said the team has picked its 25-player roster and the plan is to try and get everybody into this weekend’s games. The squad opens regular season play on Saturday, Sept. 9, at home against St. FX. The Panthers go to Moncton the next day.

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