By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - At the end of each season, head coaches sit down and reflect. They think of the ups and downs. They think of the wins, the losses, the growth of their team and the growth of their players. Whether the team is preparing for the postseason or not, the coach will still reflect on the regular season that was.
It is not hard to see what coach Missy Doherty thinks of her team as she reflects. You can hear it in her voice; you can see it in her eyes. She's proud. She looks up and down this roster and can't help but feel proud of her players. At one point this season, she didn't have a set starting goalkeeper. Now she has an established, effective goalkeeper for years to come. At one point, her team was too young and too inexperienced, now they all play like fifth-year seniors.
"I think they're a bunch of fighters," Doherty said. "They're competitors. I think competiveness sometimes has trumped our inexperience. They're in there to compete and they've continued to get better and learn and learn, but regardless of that they're going to come out and compete. Thankfully, at the beginning of the season, you never know how much you're going to be adversely affected by the lack of experience, but the fact that we have such competitors on the team has pushed us through some situations where the other team might be older or more mature than we were. But overall, it's been a fantastic season, pulling out some big wins against huge teams and we're just really excited about postseason."
Doherty has seen her young players like Jenna Mosketti, Maggie McCormick and Kelly Lechner become phenoms for the program. At the same time, she has seen her veteran players like Molly Fernandez and Mackenzie Cyr continue their stellar careers.
Individually, the Nittany Lions were recognized numerous times throughout the 2013 season. Mosketti was named ALC rookie of the week four times. Defender Colleen Shea was named ALC defensive player of the week. Tatum Coffey was named WomensLax.com co-player of the week. All in all, five Penn State players were honored with individual awards.
It took some time to get going in 2013. The team started 4-3 and was still getting into their groove. They struggled to find their footing defensively and the offense still lacked synergy. They had setbacks against some of the best teams in the country, like Maryland and Loyola. The Nittany Lions had a long way to go in 2013, but they met each challenge and never once backed down.
"Sometimes when players come in they bring their own confidence and we have a lot of young players that are confident in themselves," said Doherty. "It's easier to coach them when they bring their own confidence than then it is when they're always questioning themselves. Thankfully, a lot of our young players have brought in their own confidence and belief in themselves and we've been able to move them forward coaching wise to guide them down the right paths."
As the season progressed, they took down teams like Virginia, Florida, Ohio State and Johns Hopkins. Never once did they not seem prepared for the challenge or ready to take it on with a full head of steam. They raised their practice tempo and intensity, as well as their game speed and tenacity. They started dominating teams at home, never once losing.
An offense that was still working out some kinks early in the season has long been forgotten. They were scoring, and scoring a lot. They out-ran and out-worked each of their opponents. It's no surprise Doherty is proud of this team.
"I'm super proud. I think a goal of a coach is to be able to witness the team really experience some firsts and really experiencing being the best and to be able to sit back and watch them come up with big plays and achieve awesome things, that's the fun part about being a coach," Doherty said.
In February of this year, the leadership of the Nittany Lions was in question. With only three seniors on the roster and a core of freshman and sophomore players, the team was expected to lack leadership.
They proved that expectation wrong. All of the younger players, along with the older players, played crucial leadership roles and stepped up to fill the void. They worked out problems on the field and adjusted to the way teams played them. Whether it is a senior to a freshman, or a freshman to a senior, each Nittany Lion communicated on the field, and communicated loudly.
"Just to know that this team is going to grow up together is an exciting team. It's not a thing where our team is going to change much for the next two years, really," Doherty said. "That's our challenge as coaches, we're really happy with how we've done but how can we get so and so better? How can we get better for low-D? We don't want to be the same team this year next year and that's why I love coaching this team, because everyone is really good and it is a challenge to figure out how we can make things better, because they do things really well."
"We're continuing to grow form the leadership side, were continuing to grow kind of as a unit," said Doherty. "Thankfully, we have some great players that individually come up with big plays at big times, but going into post season you really have to have that complete team effort to talk it up and work together. That's continuing to grow and I think as our team gets older that will be easier to do."
The 11-5 record marks the best season under Doherty in her three years in Happy Valley. As a team, they out-scored opponents by 36 goals. Nine players scored ten goals or more for the Nittany Lions, while six players created ten turnovers or more. Penn State was paced by Maggie McCormick, who finished with 72 points after scoring 40 goals and assisting on 32 others. On the other end of the field, Katie Guy led the Nittany Lions with 30 created turnovers.
What were weaknesses had become strengths. They have a steady goalkeeper in net. They have a solid offensive unit. They have a defense that works incredibly hard, and of course, they have youth. They use their speed and will-power to beat you. They won games that came down to the wire, as well as blowouts. They've won outdoors and inside, on the road and at home.
The Nittany Lions earned a share of the American Lacrosse Conference title. They now enter the conference tournament as a No. 3 seed behind Northwestern and Florida. Their first game is on May 2 against Vanderbilt, who they beat 20-14 earlier this season.
Doherty Reflects on Strong Regular Season
By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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