By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The first day of autumn brought a warm evening for the Nittany Lions, who squared up to the Northwestern Wildcats for their second Big Ten contest of the season.
The pressure of Big Ten competition could be felt.
Since 1992, Penn State leads the all-time series 29-6-1 with Northwestern. Last season, they fell to the Wildcats 5-3. Combined with the first Nittany Lion loss of the season in the most recent game against Delaware, motivation was all they needed.
Both teams jolted forward with energy at the start of the half, but Penn State exceeded in force, a positive change of pace from the trend of second-half dominance seen from the Nittany Lions so far this season. It didn't take long for Penn State's possession of the ball to reward forward Shay Cannon with the first goal of the night just before the five-minute mark, followed by two shots on goal off penalty corners all in less than 10 minutes.
By the 20th minute, Penn State's forward line continued to keep the momentum going, converting passes into plays and shots at the net. The Nittany Lions attempted a total of seven shots on the goal, including two apiece from Aurelia Meijer and Cassie Kline, all denied by Northwestern's goalkeeper.
"We kept the goals for the game today very simple," Morett-Curtiss said. "Possession, individual defense and finishing in the circle. Again, we had so many chances in the circle in the first half that, just like our Delaware game, just weren't coming through."
The Wildcats converted on a play off of a penalty corner, finding space for their first goal at the 29th minute of the first half. The Nittany Lions made an effort to bring the ball back to the hands of their offense, but fell short of chances as the whistle blew to signal the end of the first half. The half wrapped up at 1-1, with both teams also tied in penalty corners and saves by goalkeepers.
"We know that after we score, they're going to come out strong in the next few minutes," Cannon said. "So we know that we have to stay strong and play smart. Sometimes they get down the field, but we're a strong outletting team, we know we can come out with it."
The Nittany Lions took no time bouncing back when the second half kicked off. In the first five minutes of the half, Penn State earned a quick penalty corner, where Cori Conley used her speed and handled the ball to set up forward Moira Putsch for a strike at the goal to bring the score to 2-1. The Nittany Lions earned two more penalty corners, where one shot opportunity was deflected by the Wildcat keeper.
"We worked on penalty corners and we put Cori up on the line today," Morett-Curtiss said. "Moira [Putsch] has really just been getting her stick in there and does a great job in front of the goal."
Penn State, with heads held high, held the advantage, sending Bes Bovelander an assist as Aurelia Meijer slammed the ball into the back of the cage. The Nittany Lions were dominant at 3-1, with 20 minutes left in the match, and kept the engine going on Northwestern's side of the field.
"The energy was really contagious," Putsch said. "A little frantic at times, I think there's some things we can still work on, but I think it was really exciting for us to get the win out of it.
Northwestern was able to come back and pressure Penn State's defense, locking another goal onto the scoreboard for the Wildcats. The Nittany Lions attempted to battle back when their next attempted goal was disallowed, and Northwestern took possession for the goal to tie the score, 3-3.
"We know Northwestern never gives up," Morett-Curtiss said. "They're very competitive and well-coached, they just keep coming back with more."
With three minutes remaining and a tied score, the pressure was mounting, and Penn State is known for doing well under pressure. The Nittany Lions remained composed, when Putsch converted a penalty corner to a fourth goal with just over a minute left, ending the game with another win for Penn State.
"I thought the energy was very good today," Morett-Curtiss said. "Gini [Bramley], Moira [Putsch], Shay [Cannon], everyone went in and had good energy. We had a good week of practice, got our legs back under us, and I think hopefully we'll be good for Sunday."Penn State will welcome the Michigan Wolverines to the Field Hockey Complex Sunday, Sept. 24.