By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Between Penn State field hockey's Big Ten semifinal and football's regular season meeting at Michigan State this weekend, East Lansing doesn't know what it's in for.
The Nittany Lions advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals following a 5-1 win against Iowa this past weekend. With the victory, Penn State is slated to meet Maryland at a neutral site Friday on Michigan State's campus.
Penn State and Maryland will meet for the second time this season, following a tough loss to the Terrapins earlier this season in October. The Nittany Lions fell short in a 2-1 double overtime loss, but head into the second matchup more than confident they have what it takes to put the pressure the second time around.
"I think we embrace the competition, I really do," head coach Char Morett-Curtiss said. "We want to get to that game on Sunday and we obviously want to have a better showing than we did the first time around with Maryland, and we need to be competitive right from the start."
Since their October loss, the Nittany Lions won their final two Big Ten regular season outings before cruising past the Hawkeyes. The energy on the field was hard to miss, as Putsch and fellow offender Aurelia Meijer agreed.
"I think especially after the Iowa game, our pregame has never been that good," Meijer said. "Everyone was dancing around and happy, it was pouring outside and everyone was having so much fun. Everyone's really excited to go into postseason and play more games."
In nearly 31 years under the direction of Morett-Curtiss, Penn State has earned the most Big Ten Tournament titles in the conference. In the last eight years alone, Morett-Curtiss has led the Penn State to three Big Ten regular season titles, in addition to three Big Ten Tournament championships, most recently coming by way of a 2-1 win against Maryland to capture last year's Big Ten Tournament crown.
"It's a great tournament atmosphere," Morett-Curtiss said. "It's exciting that the football team is in town and I think there will be a lot of Penn State fans on hand. The good thing is we've played at Michigan State this year already and it's a whole new turf that we got to try out."
Confident that Penn State's positive attitude and progress across the season will lift them in their second appearance with Maryland, Morett-Curtiss is pleased with the preparation.
"We recognize that our gameday warmup was not really a focus," Morett-Curtiss said. "The energy wasn't there, so we addressed that at halftime and after the game, but I think that their energy is back and they understand how important it is to play as a team. We've also gotten a lot better at our press, counter-attacks and outletting, so I think that we're more prepared going into this game."
The squad's main focus this weekend though, comes down to possession, an element they have applied with confidence in their most recent outings.
"Possession is so important. We threw the ball away too much the first time we played Maryland," Morett-Curtiss said. "We've really improved our possession this past week, especially against Iowa. We showed a lot of composure and speed with the ball, so I think that's been a real positive for us, just our ability to possess the ball around the field."
For Putsch, the excitement and team cohesion is only rising.
"Everyone's really, really excited and focused," Putsch said. "I think we are doing the little things that are really coming together for us. Having everyone involved in and outside of field hockey, we're really connected right now, which is really important for us."Putsch was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, on top of earning her first All-Big Ten first team honor this season, alongside teammate Skyler Fretz and second team All-Big Ten honorees Katie Dembrowski and Jenny Rizzo.