By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The long-awaited Big Ten slate finally arrived, as the Nittany Lions secured their first conference victory against the Iowa Hawkeyes Friday at the Penn State Field Hockey Complex.
Penn State took possession and launched into Iowa's defense at the blow of the starting whistle, but it didn't take long for Iowa to put pressure the ball and bring it back to Penn State's half.
"We expected Iowa to come out strong," head coach Char Morett-Curtiss said. "I asked the girls in the locker room what they remembered about Iowa, and that was it."
The first quarter of the match was a true toss-up, with the ball on both sides of the field and turnovers for both teams. In just the fourth minute of the game, Iowa attempted a shot at the goal, with a swift block by Penn State goalkeeper Jenny Rizzo. The shot was followed by two consecutive corner penalties for Iowa, where the Hawkeyes placed two more blocked shots at Rizzo. Even when the Nittany Lions fought back with an opportunity from forward Gini Bramley, the first attempted goal of the night was stopped by the Hawkeye keeper.
"I thought they had momentum in the first fifteen minutes of the game," Morett-Curtiss said. "We were just not making good decisions at first, which surprises me, but we made some adjustments and kicked in some speed."
As the half progressed, Iowa's offensive line proved to be a challenge for Penn State as the Hawkeyes pressed on, finding two more opportunities for shots on goal, but Rizzo wouldn't crack, blocking both.
"The backfield works well together," Morett-Curtiss said. "They can interchange really well and Jenny [Rizzo] had some great saves."
Penn State's Cori Conley proved to be a key piece of the defensive line, offering little space for Iowa's offense to get too close to the circle.
"We just had to make sure we were really communicating in the backfield, making sure we were marking our girls and making good outlet passes to our forwards," Conley said. "I thought we did a really good job holding it down and not letting them get an easy ball."
The Nittany Lions earned their first penalty corner of the game in the 23rd minute, followed by an immediate second. Penn State remained energetic on the attack, despite two more shots blocked by Iowa's keeper.
Although unsuccessful in conversions, the Nittany Lions pushed on with force, managing to keep the ball in the away team's half. Penn State continued to pressure the goal and despite a blocked shot by Aurelia Meijer, it wasn't long before the Nittany Lions found an opening with a penalty corner. Senior Shay Cannon perfectly set up her teammate Moira Putsch for the first goal of the night.
The Nittany Lions came into the second half with fueled with new fury. In the second minute, Putsch slammed a goal past Iowa's defense, thanks to an assist by Meijer.
"We definitely improved with ball speed in the end of the first and into the second half," Morett-Curtiss said. "I think there was more composure and stretching out across the field."
Penn State's offense kept the engine going, progressing with some aggressive play in the second half. The chances kept flying in as the Nittany Lions placed more attempted shots at the goal, until Maddie Morano finally slammed a shot into the back of the net, marking her fifth goal of the season and Penn State's third goal of the game.
"I think our unity as a team improved," Putsch said. "I think since we felt more connected, I could have more space to move into different pockets. In the second half, we definitely opened it up for each other."
Penn State battled on to close the second half, leaving Iowa with little opportunity to mount a comeback. The match wrapped up seamlessly at 3-0 with yet another shutout, making it the third consecutive season that Penn State has defeated Iowa.
"We got our first taste of Big Ten hockey this season and we know it's just a really physical time of year," Conley said. "We're really looking forward to keep pushing at that level."
Big Ten play will resume on September 22, when Penn State will put Northwestern up to the challenge.
"It's always great to win that first Big Ten game," Morett-Curtiss said. "It's a very tough conference, top to bottom, so we have to take care of some business on the road."The Nittany Lions will head to Spooky Nook Sports in Lancaster, Sunday, Sept. 17th to meet defending NCAA national champion Delaware.