By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State field hockey head coach Char Morett-Curtiss took to the microphone for Fall Sports Media Day Wednesday morning to preview the upcoming season, which kicks off Friday on the road at Old Dominion.
Catch up with Morett-Curtiss for a closer look at five takeaways from the media session.
To start the season off with a bang, Morett-Curtiss put in place a rigorous plan to ensure and encourage improvement from last year, focusing on building fitness levels and positive attitudes.
"We had an outstanding preseason," Morett-Curtiss said. "I thought the players came back ready to get going, they were fit. It's nice that they kind of had a little bit of a head start on their conditioning factor."
Morett-Curtiss also noted that a main focus this year is increasing speed, with a consistent, high-tempo playing style as the result.
"We've implemented a little bit of a different format," Morett-Curtiss said. "We limited our time on the field, spent a lot of time in video, and just really working on an aggressive style of play to get the season started."
While planning preseason to focus on an assertive attack technique this season, Morett-Curtiss also keyed in on expectations for a few key returners.
Juniors Moira Putsch and Aurelia Meijer, both forwards, had impressive seasons statistically at Penn State with goals and assists. For Morett-Curtiss, Putsch and Meijer will be key in 2017.
"Moira (Putsch) had a tremendous year, as did Aurelia last year, so we're really looking for those two to get the ball on goal."
As Morett-Curtiss strongly believes though, there's always plenty of room for improvement.
"They did a nice job in the previous scrimmages putting the ball around the goal but not putting the ball in the goal," Morett-Curtiss said. "Fortunately, they've had some assists, but you know, we're going to work a little bit more this week on honing our corner."
The sunshine was also on Penn State's side, allowing for a smooth week of preseason while Morett-Curtiss and the staff put together final preparations ahead of the season opener.
"It was a great week, the weather was very cooperative, so you always appreciate that," Morett-Curtiss said. "We got a lot accomplished and I think it really reflected in our two scrimmages [against James Madison and Syracuse]."
Facing the Challenges
With a successful season ending in with a disappointing loss in the first rounds of the NCAA tournament last year, Morett-Curtiss and the team knew there's still work to be done.
After an 11-3 record and high hopes going into the tournament, Penn State left feeling defeated. With those three losses against Princeton, Maryland, and Northwestern, all whom Penn State will face again this fall, Morett-Curtiss plans to use her strategies to prepare the team for whatever may come.
"We're still working on our defense to play as a unit, and then we really want our midfielders to be very aggressive getting in to the attacking line," Morett-Curtiss said.
Penn State recently traveled to Syracuse for a scrimmage, having already met James Madison earlier in preseason. Despite showing some nerves and uncertainty with the first scrimmage of the season, Morett-Curtiss had the team work with a sports psychologist to regroup, boosting the squad for a much improved showing at Syracuse.
"I think what happened is they all crashed at once and they weren't really there to support their players on the field, so we didn't really have any options when it came to playing the ball out," Morett-Curtiss said. "So big, big improvements stretching the field, ball speed was something else we addressed, so I think that they made those changes and it was very clear against Syracuse."
Their strong points moving foward? The team has many, as Morett-Curtiss is proud to point out. "We always say build up our layers, get ahead of the ball, so we're trying to put our fitness into the game, which we think could be a big advantage for us."
Keeping the Big Picture
Although Penn State struggled with some challenging opponents and rough losses among last year's highlights, Morett-Curtiss likes to emphasize the importance of taking it one game at a time, and putting the past in the past.
"As we say every year, it's 2017 now, just like last year it was 2016," Morett-Curtiss said.
The focus now remains on the start of the season this coming weekend, against Old Dominion and Virginia.
Growing the Game
With the Big Ten Network broadcasting Penn State field hockey, Morett-Curtiss and the team appreciate the exposure it brings to both the school and the sport. From a recruiting standpoint, the elevated exposure brings new, excited potential summer campers , who are often enthusiastic about being amongst the Penn State student-athletes they were able to watch on TV. Morett-Curtiss also emphasized the importance of field hockey being on a national stage more frequently than just every four years for the Olympics, all helping to further expand the growing sport.