By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions open up conference play on Sunday against the Vanderbilt Commodores. Penn State is looking to bounce back from a 13-12 double overtime loss against Cornell on Wednesday.
Head coach Missy Doherty, her staff and her team recognize they have their work cut out for them playing in one of the elite conferences in the nation.
The American Lacrosse Conference currently has four teams ranked in the top 20, including upcoming opponents Florida and Northwestern at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
"Our conference is one of the toughest in the country, if not the toughest, and the Vanderbilt game is always a huge rivalry," Doherty said. "Last year they were up by five goals and we clawed our way back and won. It's always a good game no matter how well the teams are doing."
Penn State (4-3, 0-0) heads into Sunday's game after losing two consecutive games. They faced No. 1 Maryland on the March 9, and got an early look at what they can expect conference play to be like.
"You have Maryland, Florida, Northwestern all in the final four last year and those are final four teams. You have to be able to stop their top scorers and keep them out defensively. [That is] is the first step in having a chance," Doherty said. "Thankfully, we get to continue to play against the best teams in the country which only keeps showing us what we need to do to be one of them."
Vanderbilt (1-7, 0-1) comes into Happy Valley searching for their first win in a month. Penn State has an all-time record of 8-7 against the Commodores, beating them in the previous two games. While Vanderbilt is struggling, the Nittany Lions know they are in for a battle.
"Vanderbilt, particularly, is definitely not one team that we would ever overlook. They've been a conference rival of ours since I've been here. It's a team that we know is going to be a fight, it's always a close game. It doesn't matter, records, when you're coming into a game like this because the two teams want to win a conference game and there has always been a healthy rivalry between us and Vanderbilt," Doherty said.
The team has been anxiously waiting to open conference action and play its best lacrosse of the season. Doherty said she expects her team to come out with lots of energy and be the type of team that will dictate the pace of the game for 60 minutes.
While the Nittany Lions have moved down to No. 14 in the rankings, Doherty knows her team is confident and they will continue to improve as the season continues.
"We've had the opportunity to work our way up the rankings, we have had the opportunity to be under the pressure to keep that ranking," Doherty said. "There has been a lot of learning experience so far in a short season."
Senior attacker Molly Fernandez said she believes confidence is the key to success for her and her teammates, a sentiment Doherty agrees with. The Nittany Lions have raised the energy and intensity in practice and look to take that that new energy to the field.
"Across the board we are confident. I just think handling the stressors of the game and keeping that confidence consistent is important. We can't wait for things to happen to be confident, we have to go in consistently and approach each play as best we can," Doherty said. "The girls are excited about [playing Vanderbilt]. We want to just get back to being a powerhouse team."
Vanderbilt will bring a fast-paced, high-scoring offense to Happy Valley. Senior attacker Carly Linthicum has already netted 31 goals in 2013 and has 37 points on the season. The Nittany Lion defense will have to continue their strong play to compete.
"Defensively we have been really young, especially with Emi (Smith) in the cage and a couple young players in the midfield. Our midfield is either freshman or sophomores, so seeing those girls get some experience in and at times it has been tough because you have to learn the hard way sometimes, but now with those experiences under their belt they just keep getting better and better," Doherty said.
New assistant coach Brooke Matthews spent her playing career at Northwestern and won three national championships with the Wildcats. She has brought new insight to the Nittany Lions on what it takes to win in this conference.
"She has been great all season. She is just a great addition to our staff, she brings a lot of energy and great ideas to the team and I think the girls really respect everything that she is saying. She has just been a fantastic addition to the staff," Doherty said of Matthews.
The Nittany Lions are a young team, but Doherty is excited about what she sees out of her group. The team has experienced setbacks as of late, but the potential is still through the roof.
"We keep getting better. We know the areas we need to improve on. I think we need to be ready to put a full 60 minutes together and that's the plan to come out a little more consistent against Vanderbilt," Doherty said. "I'm always impressed by our offensive's ability to move the ball and work together. We have a lot of different scorers' on the team so were not relying on just a couple people, so that has been great"
While the Nittany Lions prepare for Vanderbilt, their mindset is simple according to Doherty.
"We have to come out strong, believe in what we're doing, stick to the game plan and consistently approach each play like it's the biggest play of the game," Doherty said.
The game is set to begin at noon.
Doherty and Lions Preparing For Conference Play
By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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