Penn State women's lacrosse is officially on location, with Wednesday's travel
day seeing the Nittany Lions arrive safe and sound in Boston ahead of Friday's
NCAA national semifinal matchup at Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxboro.
Surrounded by Penn State coaches, staff and student-athletes, the Nittany Lions departed East Area Locker Room around 2 p.m. only to be met with the cheers of an enthusiastic crowd, sending the group off to the airport in style.
Penn State flew charter to Bedford, Massachusetts before hopping on the bus to arrive at the hotel, situated right in the heart of the city.
Earlier this week, head coach Missy Doherty as well as Nittany Lions Erika Spilker, Madison Carter and Maggie Gallagher all met with the media to preview Penn State second consecutive trip to the NCAA national semifinals.
Making a back-to-back appearance in the final field of four remaining teams for the first time in nearly 30 years, Penn State is battle tested and poised to make the most out of this year's opportunity.
Penn State punched its ticket to the NCAA national semifinals with a tough 14-12 win against Princeton last weekend in the NCAA quarterfinals. For Doherty though, grinding out a gutsy NCAA Tournament win against the Tigers, having to embrace the feeling of both emotional and physical levels of the tight game is tremendous preparation headed into Friday evening.
Friday's matchup presents a familiar challenge as the fifth-seeded Nittany Lions prep for top-seeded Maryland, a perennial NCAA national semifinal contender having made it in each of the last nine consecutive season.
During the regular season matchup it was the Terps who pulled away in the second half for a 16-14 win. Regular season familiarity though, isn't something that Doherty considers as giving the Nittany Lions a major advantage.
"I think when you get into that situation, you can see it in the tournament this year, everybody is beating everybody, you never know which game so you really have to be focused on yourself," Doherty said. "Regardless of who we are playing, we need to be ready to play but it's always exciting, we know the tradition of Maryland and we're certainly ready to bring our best and establish our own traditions."
Penn State is well underway in establishing those traditions with Madison Carter topping the Nittany Lion sophomore single-season record list with 69 goals to surpass a record last set in 1983. Carter's tally is second to junior Katie O'Donnell, who has 61 on the year and senior Steph Lazo, ranked third on the squad with 45 goals.
Perhaps what's made Penn State so exciting to watch this year though, is in the element of surprise, with new Nittany Lions stepping up with major contributions in at clutch moments.
Particularly evident in last week's win, freshman Maria Auth highlighted the outing with a career-day, scoring four goals to go along with an assist.
"She played fearless and came in and made huge plays and I'm so happy for her that she stepped up for the team," Doherty said. "That's what this championship journey is all about, that next person being ready to step up."
Looking toward Maryland, Doherty noted postgame last week that Princeton and the Terps have similarities in that that they too have a plethora of offensive options.
"Maryland has a lot of scorers it is their strength and certainly approach is more of a team approach it can't be one person stopping one girl on that team, it has to be really everybody keyed into what's going on," Doherty said.
With the top-ranked scoring offense nationally, Maryland is averaging 16.96 goals per game.
Draw controls will also be key for the Nittany Lions, as Carter also noted postgame last week that possession is key to generating offensive opportunities.
"It's definitely going to be a battle, Maryland is really great at getting the draw too so it's going to be a grind out there," Carter said.
Outside of Maryland though, Penn State is also making time to savor the moment along the way.
"Like Missy said, it's all about being in the moment and kind of taking in every experience," Spilker said. "We have the banquet, we have pregame practices and those kinds of things, so it's just taking in every moment, getting excited for that and then moving on to the game and being in the moment there."
Fourth-seeded Penn State and top-seeded Maryland meet Friday at 5 p.m. in Gillette Stadium, with the matchup streaming live on ESPN3.
Reach Arielle at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent