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Nittany Lions Open Tournament Play Against Vanderbilt

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By Michael Renahan, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State Nittany Lions travel to Baltimore this week to begin play in the American Lacrosse Conference tournament. Penn State has earned the No. 3 seed after going 4-1 in conference play and earning a shared conference title with the Florida Gators and Northwestern Wildcats. The conference title is the first in Nittany Lion history.

8842229.jpegPenn State will open their conference tournament play against the No. 6 seed Vanderbilt Commodores. The Commodores and Nittany Lions met in Happy Valley earlier this season, Penn State won the showdown, 20-14.  Penn State will look to improve its defensive efforts against the Commodores. The 14 goals they allowed against Vanderbilt is tied for second most allowed this season, they allowed 20 in a loss at Maryland.

"I think overall, you know defensively, we just have to be ready to make more of an impact, not sit back and wait, but try to get out and make things happen. I think sometimes we get a little on our heels a little bit, so we have to be ready to be maybe a little more aggressive. We've continued to get better defensively, but Vanderbilt can score, they see each other well, they feed each other well, so being able to get in front of the cutters and stop their transition will be key for us," coach Missy Doherty said.

The 4-1 record in conference play is the best under Doherty in her three years in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions recorded solid victories against top conference foes Florida, Johns Hopkins and Ohio State, all of whom were ranked in the top 20 at some point during the regular season. Florida was ranked No. 2 when the Nittany Lions defeated them. Penn State outscored its ALC opponents this season 68-62, which showcases how talented this conference is.

Against Vanderbilt on March 17, Penn State started slow but dominated late to earn the victory. Maggie McCormick paced the team. McCormick, a sophomore attacker, recorded six points against the Commodores, scoring five times and assisting on another. McCormick has seven points against the Commodores in her career.

"Maggie is awesome. She is just a great person, a great competitor, she is very unassuming. Ever since her freshman year, she just doesn't get fazed by pressure," Doherty said. "People will pressure her behind, they will put double teams to her and it just doesn't seem to really faze her. Having someone like that as a freshman, and then a sophomore, has been great for our attack. She has really stepped up when we need her to be a little more aggressive, were always trying to challenge her with new things and she has been really receptive to what we would like her to do. But, you know, having that leader down there especially as a sophomore has been great for our team."

The win against Vanderbilt was the beginning of a 7-2 run to finish the 2013 season for Penn State. It was also the team's first conference win in 2013. The Nittany Lions are looking to advance past the semifinals for the first time under Doherty. Last year, they fell to the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays In the first round. In Doherty's first year, Penn State advanced to the semi-finals before falling to the Northwestern Wildcats.

Penn State has a career record of 3-0 against Vanderbilt under Doherty. They have outscored the Commodores 43-33 in those three games, and have controlled the pace of the game against their conference foe. Although the Commodores have been struggling going 2-14 and 0-5 in conference play this year, Doherty knows how important it is to not overlook any competition in postseason play.

"Well if there is anything good thing that I can bring out of the Princeton loss it would be [not overlooking teams]," Doherty said. I think we know that we have to be ready to finish our shots. We didn't shoot very well at Princeton. We have to take advantage of every play that we have. Any team that is ready to play is ready to play. We know Vanderbilt is coming in and wanting to make a run at the tournament, so they're not going to be backing down from us, for sure. I think they're up for it. I think they're ready to improve from our past game this weekend and they're pretty fired up to get better."

The Nittany Lions will look to continue an offensive attack that features several players. Along with McCormick, junior Mackenzie Cyr, senior Molly Fernandez and sophomores Kelly Lechner and Tatum Coffey have played major roles in the offensive gameplan. The four have all scored over twenty goals this season and help bring a balanced attack to the Nittany Lions.

"I think to compete at a high level, you can't just have two or three scorers, you really need to have a balanced attack and I think going into this season we were always wondering how big our young players would come up, how mature they would play, how much of an impact they would make and it's been nice to see as the season progressed some young people really be impact players and you can kind of see that in our offense," Doherty said.

The Nittany Lions also have a core of young players that have grown up throughout the season. Three freshmen, in particular, have played significant roles for Penn State during the regular season. Jenna Mosketti, Ally Heavens and Madison Cyr have all registered 15 goals or more in 2013, and much to the pleasure of their coach, they show no signs of slowing down.  Doherty said she regardless of their youth, the young players are ready to go.

"You know, I think they're just competitors. I mean, I think it's one of the reasons why we've been able to be successful, is they're just ready to compete," Doherty said. "They came here to Penn State wanting to compete at the highest level and, thankfully, they've done that for us this year. I don't think you change in preparation, we've been preparing to make our mark on the season all year, and this week will be no different."

"It's been just great to see the maturity in our young players. Obviously, we've played some great teams with great pressure and they really have to be able to handle that pressure," said Doherty. "We were wondering at the beginning of the year how mature they would be, and they love the pressure. I think they come up with big plays at big times, they're not fazed by the team were playing, they just want to compete. You see Kelly [Lechner] having kind of a monster year for us at midfield. Jenna [Mosketti], the freshman, being the four time rookie of the week for our conference, when our conference is so competitive, I think is awesome. Across the board [Mosketti] is just solid in every category."

Penn State will have to improve its performance on the road if it hopes to advance to the semi-finals or the finals of the ALC tournament. After going 10-7 away from home in Doherty's first two seasons, the Nittany Lions have gone 4-5 in 2013. Their most recent loss came at the hands of the Princeton Tigers, 14-9.

Along with improved defensive play, goalkeeper Emi Smith looks to improve on her latest performance against Princeton. The freshman played just over 27 minutes, allowing nine goals and taking the loss. Doherty believes Smith will be ready to go come game-time.

"I think it's a tough position to be in," Doherty said.  "To be able to handle that pressure as a young player is hard, but were behind her 100 percent and we know that she can have an amazing game on Thursday and were going to just be ready to prepare to do that."

"Luckily we had a good experience down at [Johns] Hopkins a couple weeks ago, so, you know, the field brings back some good memories," said Doherty.  "It's tournament time, it's postseason time. You know, our girls have been in exams all week and ready for them last week, so those will be over, thankfully. We're ready to go and we know how big this tournament is and were coming down there to give it our best, so it's not really hard to get up for our conference tournament."

The game is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. 

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