By Ryan Berti, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After 84 days of tough practices and even tougher competition out on the turf, just two more days and one more game remains on the regular season schedule for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State will take on Big Ten rival Michigan in Ann Arbor Saturday at 11 a.m., with the final whistle marking the end of the regular season and the beginning of postseason play.
The regular season has been one full of spoils for the Nittany Lions as they boast a 14-2 record and top-five national ranking, but the squad has not become content with the mere success of regulation. Looking at a team that has continually progressed further through the NCAA playoffs in each postseason, including a Final Four berth last May, the Blue and White are ready to make a run and end the season on the highest of note.
But before then, there's still work to do.
Head Coach Missy Doherty says while her squad is ready to make a splash in the postseason, there is still room to improve. The matchup with the Wolverines provides both a quality matchup against a conference opponent right before the gauntlet of the Big Ten Tournament as well as a chance to tune things up.
"It's our last chance to prove what kind of regular season we want to have," Doherty said. "Every Big Ten game is a huge game for us and Michigan's really no different. We're playing there on their senior day so it's going to be a tough test but we want to get better from the Maryland game and we're taking the opportunity to try to do that."
In terms of where the team can make adjustments, Doherty says they can always get better across the board. In order to be an all-around threat, the team needs to continue to progress on their biggest strengths on both the offensive and defensive end.
"I think it's just making strong individual defensive stops and being ready for the next thing the attacks bringing. I think we want to continue doing well on the draw because getting possession is key, and then make sure offensively everybody's ready to score. We don't want to just rely on a couple of people, we want to make sure we have plenty of threats offensively."
The only way the team gets better in its matchup with Ann Arbor is of course by giving its all. The postseason tournaments may be just around the bend, but a lack in focus can cripple teams with high hopes late in the year.
Doherty plans to squash any and all chances of her team to slack off in that department. With an arrival early Saturday morning onto the Michigan campus, the Blue and White's mindset will be on giving it their all with their attention directed towards nothing but what lies in front of them.
"I think just effort level," Doherty said on what the team needs to bring in their matchup with the Blue and Maize. "Whether it's on the draw whether it's on ground balls whether its pushing our brake, it's just giving that little bit of effort to make sure when we walk off the field we can tell ourselves we couldn't have done anything more.
With a maximized effort, Doherty says the team's current pedigree can take them far. When asked how to describe her squad in a single word, the coach chose one that is essential to all great squads.
"I would probably say consistent, and that's such a great thing," Doherty said. "I think we've had consistent effort through the season. There hasn't been any game where we haven't worked hard and we're hoping we can bring our consistent effort on Sunday."
If the Nittany Lions can stay consistent, continue their all-around effort and not forget to focus on what lies ahead, Penn State has a chance to have yet another prosperous postseason and can potentially finish the season on their own terms. Until then, Michigan lies ahead, and the team plans to make the most out of what is left of the regular season.
"I think our regular season has shown that we can be competitive with any team in the country," Doherty said. "You're never going to reach that point of perfection but every game throughout the season has been different. Every game has shown us little things we need to do better, but I think we're ready to compete in postseason. We're a team that's going to work hard and give everybody a game and we're kind of excited to see what's next."