By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Nearly halfway through the season, the Nittany Lions are slotted No. 3 in the latest NFHCA Coaches Poll, with a 7-1 record on the year.
A valuable asset on Penn State's side is its offensive attack, something the Nittany Lions are well-known for, in both conference and nonconference games. Any fan in the stands can see it, as Penn State takes the field in shape, fit, confident and fierce. High-intensity play and stamina is a crucial component of their training, thanks to head coach Char Morett-Curtiss.
"What I've seen since preseason is our ability to play the play up out of backfield," Morett-Curtiss said. "With the midfielders using each other a little bit more, we've been really good about getting numbers up against our opponents, and executing some counter-attacks."
With some challenging matches
ahead, and a heavy Big Ten conference slate, taking place mostly on the road,
Morett-Curtiss aims for strong cohesion on the attack, and she's pleased to
have seen the team's cohesion elevate.
"Our focus is working on our connectedness and really just playing our passing game," Morett-Curtiss said. "We did a really nice job with that against Iowa, so just keeping the composure and knowing we want to put a priority on the possession."
Penn State's momentum has continued to crank up notch with every game, with an impressive uptick in penalty corners and goals. Between a strong forward line and a resilient defense, Penn State has put its opponents defensive lines to the test, exceeding their contenders in shots on goal in nearly every match, in addition to registering shutouts in four of seven games.
It's hard for Penn State's line of attack to lack that high momentum with a roster composed of explosive offensive players, including Aurelia Meijer, Gini Bramley, Maddie Morano, Katie Dembrowski, and Moira Putsch, who currently leads the team with six goals and seven assists on the year.
While there's no doubt to the fans in the stands that the Nittany Lions have a certain spirit about them, what's truly admirable is Penn State's growing connectivity on and off the field. Junior Katie Dembrowski, who didn't back down her aggressive playing style during a tough game against Delaware, owes her successes in the circle to her fellow teammates.
"Something pushing us through the season is definitely our connectedness," Dembrowski said. "We're all really close, and I think that shows on the field. We're all there to support each other, both passing and vocally."
The Nittany Lions have been keen with striking on penalty corner opportunities this season, an important element of pressing on goal for Morett-Curtiss.
"We want to have our forwards more engaged with opportunities when the backs can get them the ball," Morett-Curtiss said. "We're hoping for more penalty corners."
On the offensive line, Dembrowski has been a key player in slamming shots at the goal and finding openings, currently tied for second on the team with five goals alongside Bramley.
"We've also been really good at drawing corners, which is how we've been getting some great shot opportunities," Dembrowski said. "We had really good ball movement coming up the field, so we've been able to find those openings by getting the ball up quickly and once you get the ball in the circle, taking a shot."
With two home games approaching, and the remainder of the season predominantly on the road, the Nittany Lions have nowhere to go but up with their tempo on the attack. The competition is only getting tighter, with conference teams already vying for a Big Ten title ahead of the Big Ten Tournament.
"We really need to get Gini [Bramley] involved in the attack, she's been nursing an injury, and she's healthy now," Morett-Curtiss said. "What we've talked to the forwards about is really being ready for shots, and being ready for rebounds. Not waiting for the perfect shot, get the ball in the back of the cage."The Nittany Lions host Northwestern Friday, Sept. 22, at 5 p.m. before closing out the weekend hosting Michigan at noon Sunday, Sept. 24 at the Penn State Field Hockey Complex.