By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A stellar goalkeeper. An aggressive forward line. A fierce defense. At 10-2 on the year, Penn State is halfway through its Big Ten slate following a weekend featuring a pair of wins.
The Nittany Lions bounced back after their first home loss, shutting out Michigan State 1-0, followed by a second-half comeback against Kent State, winning 5-3 just days later.
Penn State junior Moira Putsch is no new face to the field. The starting forward is ranked among the best in program history and top 10 in the NCAA national standings in assists. Only proving it against Kent State, she converted three assists into goals after contributing two unassisted goals of her own.
For Putsch though, her focus isn't centered around individual achievement, rather positioned toward team success.
"I think we're growing as a team game by game," Putsch said. "Each game has definitely been a learning process for us, whether the outcome was a win or a loss, as a team we're definitely taking every game into account and what we can learn from it."
Putsch isn't the only experienced Nittany Lion leading the team this year as junior Gini Bramley dominated in possession, with fellow junior Aurelia Meijer also a key contributor in recent matches, netting a goal against Kent State and an assist against Michigan State.
"They're the players that just have the most experience," Penn State head coach Char Morett-Curtis said. "They've played these teams a number of times so they just have that confidence, they displayed those leadership skills. Shay [Cannon] and Skyler [Fretz] have been doing a really good job as captains. I thought that in our Michigan State game we played so well as a team, we we were really cohesive as a unit and really brought our backs into play, too."
The Nittany Lions have strong veterans on defense too, including junior Jenny Rizzo in goal and redshirt junior Cori Conley on defense, both who have played crucial roles in sending the ball up the field to give chances to their teammates.
"The backs had a really strong performance against Michigan State," Morett-Curtiss said. "I'm not sure if having a conference opponent was a little more meaningful to them, so I think defense is playing more cohesively again."
Penn State stands at 4-1 in conference matches so far, but they're not letting their record speak for itself. The Nittany Lions will still head to Ohio State and Maryland, returning home for Rutgers before heading out to Indiana.
For now, the Buckeyes are all the Nittany Lions are thinking about, guided by the leadership of an experienced core.
"Ohio State gives every team a good game no matter their record, so it's really important for us to come up and play our game," Putsch said. "There's some things we want to work on for Ohio State specifically, but it's really important for us to keep growing and working off of what we built."
Although proud of the recent performances, Morett-Curtiss allocates a substantial amount of practice time for taking former game film into account, working off of visuals, as well as making sure the Nittany Lions are resting adequately to prepare for a tight schedule on the road.
"For us, it's looking at the film from the weekend, bringing the mids and backs into our attack, and getting our forwards to get better pressure lines on the ball so that we can create more counterattacks," Morett-Curtiss said. "For us, I think it's going to be the challenge of getting ourselves rested and ready for a quick turnaround."
As Morett-Curtiss has noted, there's a cohesive bond that is unique and hard to find in many Division I programs. Perhaps part of the environment created by its leaders, Putsch and her fellow upperclassmen will continue to lead their teammates with a sense of positivity and energy."We're setting goals for each game and everyone is making a really conscientious effort to get off of that." Putsch said. "It's that point in the season, midway, where we can either go up or down and I think we're headed in the right direction."