By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As NCAA Tournament play approaches, the Nittany Lions are eager meet a familiar opponent, set to open the first round against Delaware. Penn State fell short in its first loss of the season in the first meeting against the Blue Hens during the regular season.
"The last time we played them was not one of our best games and we've grown so much from that point in the season," sophomore midfielder Maddie Morano said. "I think we're all excited to put that progress into play and put them up to the challenge. I don't think we're completely letting that loss go, we're keeping it in the back of our mind as motivation and re-focusing what we did in those games to improve upon it and just bring everything we have to the table for this weekend."
The Nittany Lions powered through both the regular season and the Big Ten Tournament with a 16-4 overall record, ready to bounce back from a loss in the Big Ten finals.
"We're always trying to learn a lot from our last game," head coach Char Morett-Curtiss said. "I really like the way that we competed in the Big Ten Tournament this year, starting with our Iowa game and finishing all the way with Michigan. We had a lot of 70 minutes of intensity on the field, but I feel that we really need to do a better job of our awareness of positioning on the field, our vision of our options as well, so we've been working on doing a better job with possession.
"This season marks Penn State's 32nd all-time appearance at the NCAA tournament. Last season, Penn State fell to Princeton in the first round, but the Nittany Lions feel confident their progress in tempo and aggression will show at their second showdown with the Blue Hens.
"I honestly don't feel pressure and I don't think the team feels pressure," Morett-Curtiss said. "I think we just are hungry for this opportunity and anticipating playing Delaware again. [The earlier meeting this season] wasn't our best performance of the season and I felt that we controlled a lot of the game but didn't really put the focus inside our 25's in the game, so that's really what we've been working on this week at practice, that inside-25 defending and inside-25 attacking. We're excited we have another shot."
Penn State's playing much differently than it did early in the season though, highlighted by continuous improvements that have only elevated the level of team confidence.
"I think you see when we're playing from the beginning of the year, we've really improved from the beginning of the season," Morett-Curtiss said. "It really makes the team feel that confidence. We've been very aggressive at the start and at the end of the game so we haven't really had any of those lulls in the game with regard to our tempo and intensity, which I really like. We've been working hard, but we have to work smarter."
Among continuing improvements, Penn State has devoted film time to focusing on improving defensive play.
"We need to do a little bit better job backing into our defensive end. Staying up, pressuring the ball. But we've definitely improved from an attacking standpoint and with our communication with each other."
For Dembrowski, it's all about showing up, as NCAA Tournament time has arrived.
"This past weekend was tough for us and I think it's really motivated us to go into the tournament and show up strong and show people we're in it to win it," Dembrowski said.Penn State will travel to Storrs, Connecticut to face Delaware at 2 p.m. Saturday.