By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - After six weeks of practice, the Penn State women's lacrosse team is ready to kick off its season Saturday against Penn in an exhibition match.
At the spring sports media day press conference, head coach Missy Doherty, along with senior captain Molly Fernandez, spoke about the young players that will take the field in 2013.
"We have a fairly young team, we only have three seniors this year," Doherty said. "We're excited to see how fast we can mature and hopefully stay amongst the top teams in the country."
The Nittany Lions have on their roster 16 players that are either freshmen or sophomores. The player expected to have the most immediate impact is Emi Smith, the recently named starting goalkeeper. Smith, a Colorado native, has been battling with senior Ayla Halus for the starting job. Doherty named her the starter less than a week ago.
"Emi has just emerged as a really good goalkeeper. She just keeps getting better and better and better. I think it's a hard position to come into as a freshman, but she's really matured a lot in a short amount of time and I really think she's doing great for us," Doherty said.
The Nittany Lions have an extremely young, and talented, defense that will have to adjust to the high-scoring teams they have on their schedule.
"We're very young at defense, our starting keeper is a freshman, so you know were going to see how we progress through season, and build up our leadership. Thankfully our other senior caption is one of our great leaders on the defensive end," Doherty said.
Doherty also mentioned the importance of solid play from incoming freshman such as Madison Cyr, Ally Heavens and Jenna Mosketti.
"Across the board, freshmen wise we're really looking for them to step up right away and play right away. Having a couple more midfielders in the mix is going bring in a little bit more depth and give us the ability to run a little bit more with some of the top teams in the country, and they are slowly emerging as leaders too," Doherty said.
Along with the freshmen, the Nittany Lions will also have prominent starters returning for their sophomore seasons. Doherty said between the freshman and sophomore classes, the group has looked very impressive and is set for an exciting season.
"Were fairly young so were going to see how that youth can really get better as time progresses," Doherty said. "It's going to be another exciting season, we play the best teams in the country all year long, so were really provided the opportunity to play against the best teams in the country."
Molly Fernandez, one of only three seniors, led the Nittany Lions in scoring last season, and has taken over as one of the team's leaders.
"These younger kids, the freshman, they are so good and just like any little bit I can do to give them the confidence they need is going to help them," Fernandez said. "So far in practicing and practicing against each other they have done well, so I think they're going to do great. I'm excited to see them against Bucknell and Penn."
Fernandez also said she has been impressed with the leadership these young players possess.
"...We have a lot of new comers that are really stepping up. Our freshman, they're playing so well. We have a lot of starters that are going to be sophomores this year so they're really stepping up and playing really hard in practice, kind of filling the void of the three seniors that we only have. It doesn't really feel like we just have three seniors," Fernandez said.
Doherty has also been very high on her young freshman and sophomores. While she recognizes it would be nice to have players on the roster for three or four years, she does not have any doubt her team can compete with those that do.
"Obviously, it's always easier when you have four low defenders that have played for three years, it's not really the case for us. When it gets to NCAA time, thankfully we will have been playing against the top teams in the country. It's not like were going in wondering what the competition is going to be like and I think that will be the strength for us as, a young team, to have all the competition that we have all season long," Doherty said.
The Nittany Lions will be looking to advance beyond the quarterfinals of the NCAAs, where their 2012 campaign ended.
Some of the best teams in the country are in the Nittany Lion's conference, the American Conference League. The conference has five teams ranked in the top 20, including Northwestern at No. 1, and Florida at No. 3.
"[Playing in the ALC] gets us a little more prepared for the postseason, and it's always great to play the best there is out there, and fortunately, we have that with our conference. It's a great thing to have," Fernandez said.
Along with Florida and Northwestern, Penn State will also face 13th-ranked Ohio State and 19th-ranked Johns Hopkins. However, before they can get into the heart of the season, they have to face Penn first, and Doherty knows the importance of that game.
"Penn will give us the opportunity to go against some really great offensive players and to really test out our young defense, so were really excited to see that," Doherty said. "Our goals are to get as much out of the players on this team as we can."
After Saturday's exhibition match against Penn, the Nittany Lions will host Bucknell at 7 p.m. on Feb. 20 before heading to Loyola on Feb. 23.
Doherty's Young Team Ready For Challenges
By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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