By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The similarities between last year's Penn State field hockey team and the 2012 squad are striking.
After 10 regular season games, the Nittany Lions find themselves with one more
win than they had at the same mark during last year's campaign.
For head coach Charlene Morett, the similar successes can be attributed to a focus on fundamentals and an existing chemistry among her team that carries over from last season.
"This program has always been built on team chemistry and togetherness," said Morett. "You hear coach Bill O'Brien talk about what a special group of players he has--well we feel the same way about our team."
This season's squad returned all but four members of the 2011 Big Ten Tournament Championship team, and only added three newcomers.
"This team is so similar to last year's," said senior Kelsey Amy. "We brought back pretty much everyone so I think working with each other from last year has carried into this season and has really united us as a team."
In 2011, the program defeated Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament title game in Happy Valley, but ended up dropping a close contest to Connecticut in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
But the question lingers--how can this group of Nittany Lions avoid last year's NCAA Tournament fate and get the program back to their first Final Four appearance in five seasons?
Stay united and execute on fundamentals as the season winds down.
"There are a lot of things that have to happen before we get back to that point again," said Morett in reference to a return to the national semifinals.
"If we can do our job in the defensive end of the 25, not give up unnecessary shots and execute on offense--we will be ok."
The Nittany Lions faced four top-10 teams in the first half of the season--a tough schedule that has primed them for the rigor of Big Ten play.
"We can go back to those games and see why we were successful against some of those high quality opponents and know that's the type of effort we need to bring into the Big Ten," said Morett.
Penn State has certainly brought the effort into conference play since joining the Big Ten in 1992.
They lead the conference in inter-conference victories at 106, and are tied with Michigan for the lead in Big Ten Tournament titles at five apiece. The Lions are already off to a strong start to conference play, picking up wins over No. 24 Indiana and No. 17 Michigan over the weekend.
Now, as the Nittany Lions prepare to face three more top-25 opponents in the final six games of the season, they look back to the season's beginning and learn from what they've achieved so far.
In the first five games of the campaign, all but two of the contests were decided by just one goal. As the team started to become more fundamentally sound and form an even closer bond, those margins of victory jumped to an average of five goals per game leading up to the beginning of conference play last weekend.
The fundamentals--passing, scoring on penalty corners and playing consistent defense have all been coachable aspects of the game for Coach Morett, but the true driving force behind this 10-2 team is their togetherness.
"This is the closest team I've ever been on and I have been here for five years," said fifth-year senior Hannah Allison.
Not only does this team stay close and communicate on the field, but they stand right by one another in matters that aren't even related to field hockey.
"We are closer than ever this year," said goalkeeper Ayla Halus. "We have a lot of fun on and off the field--especially going to watch other teams play."
"We are all one team here at Penn State."