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Conference Champion Nittany Lions Gear Up for Postseason

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By Jackson Thibodeau, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just before the Penn State field hockey team boarded its bus en route to the Big Ten Tournament in Iowa City, the recently crowned conference champions took some time to celebrate.

8224132.jpeg"We worked so hard to get here and it is just so exciting to be outright Big Ten champs," said senior Kelsey Amy, sporting her new conference tournament champion T-shirt and hat.

As the team filed into the locker room after Tuesday's practice, they were surprised by a heavy new piece of hardware in the lobby--The Big Ten Conference Championship trophy.

The Nittany Lions clinched at least a share of the title on Saturday following a 6-1 victory over Michigan State, but were named outright champions on Sunday afternoon after Iowa's upset win over Northwestern.

Penn State finished the regular season with an outstanding 15-3 overall record, a 5-1 conference record and is currently ranked fourth in the NFHCA Coaches Poll.

"It has been a goal of ours to not only win the conference championship, but also win the conference tournament," said Amy, as the team quickly switched gears from celebration to preparation for the weekend.

Although the Nittany Lions stand atop the Big Ten heading into the tournament, the seven-team field still poses a very difficult challenge for the defending 2011 tournament champions.

"In conference tournament play, every team is on a lifeline--and we happen to play in probably the toughest conference," said head coach Charlene Morett as her team loaded their bags onto the bus.

Of the 11 conferences eligible for selection in the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten is the only conference in which every team holds a winning record.

"Every team that is going to be in Iowa City is going to be dangerous," said Morett.

Penn State outscored conference opponents 38-12 in six Big Ten matchups this season, claiming victories in all games except for one overtime loss at Northwestern.

"That was a very bitter loss for us," said Amy. "If we do get another chance to play them it will be a very different game."

A rematch with Northwestern isn't a guarantee, however, and Coach Morett has made it clear to her team that the Wildcats aren't the only force to be reckoned with.

"Right not our focus is really on the winner of the Iowa and Michigan State game," said Morett. "They will certainly be looking for the upset against us."

Michigan State and Iowa are slated to play in the first round of the tournament on Thursday morning, and because of the Nittany Lions' first round bye, Penn State will play the winner of the matchup in the second round on Friday at 1:30 p.m.

Being crowned Big Ten champions for the first time since 2008, Coach Morett insists that this team still has a lot to prove and play for.

"We need to improve every single time we step on the field," said Morett. "The only way we can continue to succeed is if we keep raising our standard of play."

Although the Nittany Lions are well on their way to a berth in the NCAA Tournament, winning this weekend's Big Ten Tournament could almost guarantee that they will also get to host a first round game at University Park.

"We play great on our field in front of our families and friends--especially with the way the community has bonded together around all of the athletic teams this year," said Amy.

"Hosting is huge," said Morett. "It would make a big difference for us in the tournament."

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