Recently in Field Hockey Category
By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Every February, thousands of Penn State students and members of the community gather at the Bryce Jordan Center for one of the biggest weekends of the year.
Penn State's THON takes center stage Friday, as more than 700 students will dance for 46 hours straight to raise money for childhood cancer treatment and research.
One of those dancers is Penn State field hockey's own Delani Higgins, who will dance on behalf of the Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) along with four other Penn State student-athletes from the same organization.
For Higgins, dancing has been her goal for a while, dating all the way back to her high school days in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania.
"I've always wanted to dance in THON," Higgins said. "My high school had a mini-THON and I danced every year in that. I've always gone to athlete hour here as well with my team, which was a really cool way to be a part of THON."
Higgins has learned a lot from former Nittany Lion Carly Celkos, her teammate on the field hockey team who graduated last year. Celkos represented SAAB as a dancer in THON 2017, and she has been a source of guidance for Higgins as the senior prepares for a big weekend.
"Carly told me to get involved with my committee, rules and regulations, and that helped me figure out that I really wanted to dance," Higgins said. "I told Liz Johnson (Student-Athlete Welfare and Development Director) that I wanted to dance and I did whatever I had to do to make it happen. I raised enough money and now here I am."
Higgins and Celkos have also been texting back and forth, with the former dancer giving some key advice to Higgins about THON and the week leading up to it.
"[Celkos] told me to stay hydrated, especially in the days before dancing and then making sure I have the right shoes and get enough sleep so that I can make it through the full 46," Higgins said. "She said to stay in the moment and have fun because it's such a special event. I can't think about what I'm feeling, only who I'm dancing for."
While the whole 46 hours will be packed with dancing, making friends and interacting with the THON children, Higgins is looking forward to a few specific events.
the pep rally and the final four hours are what I'm most excited for," Higgins
said. "For the pep rally, being part of my team and having them support me is
going to be really cool. The final four is always amazing, getting to hear from
all the families that have been effected by this disease and helped by THON.
It's really emotional and a remarkable moment."
Penn State SAAB has two THON families, one of which is very close to Higgins and the field hockey team. The team's athletic trainer, Renee Messina, has a daughter who battled pediatric cancer. Both Renee, Isabella and the entire Messina family have been a huge part of the Penn State field hockey family over the years.
"I'm very close with the Messina's and not just because they're our Four Diamonds family," Higgins said. "Renee took me through my ACL recovery and all that went into that so we really bonded through those experiences. Being able to dance for that family and represent that family is a huge honor for me."
Higgins also views THON as a chance to represent Penn State athletics, something she is used to doing as a student-athlete but looks forward to doing so in a less conventional way."You always see these athletes being so strong on the field and representing athletics just shows that we're involved in so much more than just sports," Higgins said. "We really are a part of this community."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As is tradition, Penn State's Student-Athlete Advisory Board hosted its third annual SAAB Lip Sync Battle to benefit THON at the HUB earlier this week.
A total of nine Nittany Lion teams put on a show in the Freeman Auditorium to benefit Penn State's annual 46-hour dance marathon, which kicks off February 16 in the Bryce Jordan Center.
Following a full slate of performances, a panel of esteemed guest judges featuring Penn State sports medicine's Dr. Roberta Millard, Mike Herr or better known around campus as, "Mike the Mailman" and Penn State cheerleader Francis Alvare made their selections.
Penn State's men's swimming team took home the golden microphone this year with their rendition of Flo Rida's "Low." Men's volleyball and women's volleyball finished second and third, respectively.
"We've been working on this since October," said SAAB THON chair Tess Kearns (track and field/cross country). "Teams started signing up right before winter break so that was a lot of fun seeing who was coming together and the acts they were doing."
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.
By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Charlene Morett-Curtiss' name isn't one that goes without recognition in the sport of field hockey or let alone in Happy Valley.
It comes as no surprise that Morett-Curtiss is known across the
country for her experience and success at the helm of the Nittany Lion program. In her 31st season, Morett-Curtiss is the longest-tenured field hockey coach in the Big Ten and sixth-longest tenured head coach at a single school in Division I field hockey.
A 1979 Penn State graduate, Morett-Curtiss continues to be one of Penn State's most decorated female student-athletes, as a dual All-American field hockey and lacrosse Nittany Lion. Owning a scoring record for 21 years, Morett-Curtiss broke records that set a foundation for female student-athletes to come. After Penn State, she moved on to compete at the international level. As a two-time Olympian she earned a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. That's just a small snapshot of her international career.
Beyond the international experience and her Penn State legacy as a athlete, it's not her resume that stands out to those she has coached along the way. Rather, it's the ways in which she has impacted their lives, with so many Nittany Lions leaving with Penn State field hockey forever ingrained in their hearts.
"You can really see her passion," junior back Cori Conley said. "How much she cares is so visible. There's something really special about the way she coaches."
Justifiably, many honorable awards have been bestowed upon Morett-Curtiss across her tenure as head coach. She has been voted Mideast Region Coach of the Year seven times, Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year once and Big Ten Coach of the Year six times. Most recently, she was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
"She has really taught us to have a passion for everything you do when you're striving for something," Conley said. "It's in her motto, 'play with heart.' If you have that love for what you're doing, constantly push for it no matter what."
Morett-Curtiss' coaching chapter began with some notable stops at Old Dominion, Boston College, and USA Field Hockey before returning to Happy Valley.
"Coming back to Penn State was my dream job. It was an opportunity to recreate my experience as a student athlete at Penn State," Morett-Curtiss said. "One of my philosophies is to always maintain a sport-academic balance and to enjoy all Penn State has to offer as well. There has to be that healthiness of your mind and your body so that your body can handle the stress of the competition and training. I was very fortunate that my experience here was very balanced."
Her passion for the game and her teams is also reflected among her fellow assistants. Assistant coach Stuart Smith, who has been with the team for seven years, is fueled by Morett-Curtiss' coaching style and mentorship.
"There's a reason I don't want to go anywhere else and it's because I think I have the best head coach in the country," Smith said. "She's such a role model for me, I really see Char as a family member. In Division I, you gravitate toward those head coaches who are going to push you on the field and who the girls are going to look up to. The girls take their goals and mentorship from here into their lives."
For Laura Gebhart, a 2015 Penn State field hockey All-American alumna, Morett-Curtiss was a mentor through all four years at Penn State, including two of which she served as team captain.
A member of the 2013-14 U.S. Women's National Team, Gehbart has since returned to her hometown in Lancaster county, where she coaches field hockey at a local high school on top of her full time job, keeping her love for the sport alive through her involvement in several USA Field Hockey national organizations and clinics.
"I came into a really core group of players and a really mature program that has done amazing things," Gebhart said. "Being with the Penn State field hockey team was one of the most impactful experiential learning experiences of my life."
Reflecting on the encouragement that Morett-Curtiss provided off the field, her commitment to helping student-athletes succeed is evident in a long list of Nittany Lions with academic honors and achievements.
"I considered Char, LB [Lisa Bervinchak-Love] and Stu [Smith] a part of my family. They've been with me through a lot of stuff through my life and they continue to be huge parts in my life," Gebhart said. "I think that's a huge component of Char's success, not just on the field but her relationship with her players. She keeps in touch with so many of her alumni and any time you're back, it's a given that there will be some meaningful quality time involved. You see in the end and on the alumni side, that she cares about everybody and loves us so much."
Gebhart was also on the team when Morett-Curtiss guided the Nittany Lions a coaching milestone, a 400th career win and a memorable moment the entire team.
"That was a super powerful moment and I was also there when we got to celebrate our 50th Anniversary of Women in Sport," Gebhart said. "Char continues to be an advocate being on the forefront of women's collegiate sports. This program is the way it is because of her."
With more than 500 career wins, Morett-Curtiss ranks fifth all-time in Division I wins. She is one of only six Division I field hockey coaches with more than 400 wins and proudly spearheaded Penn State's transition to the Big Ten in 1992. Since becoming a member of the Big Ten, she guided her teams to the top of the conference record books in Big Ten Tournament titles, wins and regular season winning percentage.
For someone like Smith, much like Gebhart, he sees firsthand the lasting relationships that Morett-Curtiss creates with all of her former student-athletes.
"People come out just to see Char, it doesn't matter where we are on the road, it's pretty amazing," Smith said. "It's not only the kids who had 'rockstar' status that come back to see Char, it's the kids who really looked up to her for that extended period of time and the kinds of goals she instills in them as a player to take on life after field hockey."
For Heather (Atkinson) Gallagher (1991-93), it's a testament to the relationships that Morett-Curtiss maintains with her student-athletes long after they graduate. Gallagher was co-leader in assists on the 1993 squad the posted a 20-2 record, reaching the NCAA semifinals, a special experience for she and her teammates.
"I know now that I'm older, graduated and everything that Char was the one who told me to work hard, be dedicated and truly love the sport," Gallagher said. "My freshman year everything was so intimidating, but I grew so fond of her as time went on and I appreciated her impact on my field hockey career."
Gallagher's love of the sport didn't end at Penn State, as she continued to play long after her eligibility expired, eventually sharing the Penn State experience with her sons, who both became Nittany Lions. As family, they now make regular visits to Happy Valley for football games, field hockey games and of course, to visit Morett-Curtiss.
"She makes an effort to stay in touch and meet up after a game and it's always so great to see her," Gallagher said. "I have so many memories with the team because of her and still keep in touch with my teammates. She hasn't changed at all since I played, she's still the same, passionate coach. I'll will never forget our conditioning and drills and how hard we worked on and off the field."
Relationships have always been crucial to Morett-Curtiss, who says her best friends to date are the teammates she played with and the people she met through her athletic career as a Penn State student-athlete.
"We train hard every day, we have that competitive mentality and intensity of practice, but there always has to be that element of fun," Morett-Curtiss said. "You have to enjoy what you're doing and you have to enjoy who you're doing it with."
For current Nittany Lions like Conley, Gini Bramley and Moira Putsch, Morett-Curtiss serves as both an encouraging and motivating figure on and off the field, while always reminding them of the importance of the close-knit bond between them."We were in the locker room at an away game and she came in and started dancing with us," Putsch said. "It was so funny because we don't usually see that side of her, but it's who she is. I'll never forget that."
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.
Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Despite a steady rain, Penn State took to the field with an admirable amount of energy Sunday afternoon at the Penn State Field Hockey Complex, marking the beginning of Big Ten Tournament play.
"Our team came ready to play," Morett-Curtiss said. "They had great energy from the locker room. There's no way they let the conditions deter their focus on this game and I think we had a great passing game to get the ball rolling."
Katie Dembrowski opened up the scoring for the Nittany Lions in the seventh minute with a seamless penalty corner conversion, assisted by midfielder Madison Morano. While Penn State maintained possession, the Nittany Lions put eight shots on goal in just 15 minutes.
Finding success in drawing several penalty corner opportunities, an important factor of offensive play for Morett-Curtiss, the Nittany Lions were only able to score on one of five first half opportunities.
"I always thought Iowa was very skilled, and had grit," Morano said. "We knew it was going to be a challenge, but we knew that if we played together we would pull it off."
With a 1-0 lead headed into the second half, the Nittany Lions capitalized offensively to smother any opportunities for the Hawkeyes, while opening up the scoring.
Gini Bramley sparked the offense with an unassisted goal as the Nittany Lion energy levels started to rise.
With 12 minutes left in the game, sophomore Bes Bovelander set up teammate Emily Klingler to take care of the third goal of the match. Moments later, Putsch didn't waste any time, assisting on Bramley's second goal of the game, giving the Nittany Lions a firm advantage with a 4-0 lead.
The Hawkeyes looked to rebound with a goal off of a penalty stroke but the Nittany Lions didn't see that as a roadblock.
Penn State took over for the remainder of the game, scoring their fifth and final goal of the game off a penalty corner capped off with a swift shot by Aurelia Meijer.
"We were expecting a big challenge coming into the game with Iowa, especially being a Big Ten Tournament game," Bramley said.
For Murano, although the Nittany Lions would have liked to finish a bit more, it was a relentless team-approach that Penn State deployed to advance to the Big Ten semifinals.
Morett-Curttis, it was the team effort that proved key in the win.
"I give credit to the team for making a great team effort," Morett-Curtiss said. I thought our press was outstanding. I thought they put really good pressure on the ball, and our defense did a really nice job of not giving out a lot of penalty corners."
The Nittany Lions will prep for the Big Ten semifinals coming Friday, Nov. 3. Penn State will take on Maryland in the semifinal matchup traveling to East Lansing, Michigan for a 1:30 p.m. outing.
By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Between senior night, a THON-dedicated game and ESPN's College Gameday just a few blocks away, Happy Valley was bursting with activity as Penn State field hockey hosted Rutgers to wrap up their regular season home schedule.
Maybe it was the swirling excitement, or maybe it was pure motivation as the Nittany Lions seamlessly defeated the Scarlet Knights to earn their fifth conference victory.
Junior midfielder Gini Bramley was impressive on the field, quickly switching possession and sending the ball to Penn State's forwards. Penn State capitalized offensively in the first five minutes, as forward Moira Putsch offered another attempt at opening up the scoring, followed by Madison Morano, giving the Nittany Lions three shots.
Unable to take possession of the ball until the 14th minute, Rutgers earned the first penalty corner of the game, converting a shot into a goal for the Scarlet Knights. The Nittany Lions didn't let the disadvantage hold them back, despite heading into halftime with a 1-0 deficit.
"We knew they were going to come out strong," Bramley said. "It is a Big Ten game, so we knew it was going to be something we needed to battle."
As the teams returned to the field, the Nittany Lions rang in the second half with two consecutive penalty corners. With an assist by Mary Nell Smith, sophomore back Bes Bovelander converted the second opportunity into Penn State's first goal to tie up the match.
"As I said to the girls at halftime, we have been in this position before with Rutgers, where we've come back after halftime," head coach Char Morett-Curtiss said. "We made a great adjustment with opening up the field. We just were able to get pressure on the ball and create turnovers, which was one of our goals."
One goal, with some help from the most enthusiastic and most packed stands at a home game yet, was all the Nittany Lions needed to spark the scoring.
Putsch didn't waste any time, pounding in a second and third goal just moments later for a three-goal outing, thanks to assists from teammates Katie Dembrowski and Bramley.
"Mo [Putsch] had an amazing game, she played so outstanding," Morett-Curtiss said. "I thought Shay [Cannon] and so many of the seniors played so inspired tonight and they really set a great tone for us."
Rutgers nearly snuck an opportunity with a shot at the post, but Bramley wasted no time to carry the ball the entirety of the field to Putsch, who slammed another goal in the back of the cage.
The Nittany Lions dominated as the clock ticked to zero, leaving little opportunity for the Scarlet Knights to trim the deficit, outshooting Rutgers 15-5.
"I think this set us up really well for Indiana now that we won and are more comfortable again, it's just going up from here," Bramley said.
Hosting the Scarlet Knights on senior night, Penn State honored seniors Skyler Fretz, Shay Cannon, Delani Higgins and Cassie Kline, who all took to the field for their final regular season home game.
Cannon reflected on her last regular season home game of her collegiate field hockey career following the game.
"We practiced really hard this week with a game plan," Cannon said. "We wanted to get back to Penn State field hockey, we felt like we haven't been able to get goals. Today it worked out because we stretched the field, we were able to find our teammates and goals happened. It's sad, I can't believe this is my last season here. I love my team, we have each other's backs and I wouldn't have wanted to go through this with anyone else."
The Nittany Lions will hit the road to face the Indiana Hoosiers for their final game of the regular season Sunday, Oct. 22 in Bloomington, Indiana.
By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the game of field hockey, there are 11 players on the field. On offense, a left and right wing, two inner forwards and three midfielders. On defense, three backs. In the net, one goalkeeper.
In most cases, the competition between goalies can be tense, especially in cases where a team possesses two goalkeepers with equal potential to be the best in the league.
Penn State's goalkeepers are a special case.
With two stellar goalies on the roster, there's hardly tension between juniors Colleen Conway and Jenny Rizzo. Rather, it's their love for Penn State and the game that has resulted in one of the most tight-knit friendships on the team.
Their teammates and coaches are also in agreement - it's a relationship you can see and hear, from across the field and even miles away. The two can be found laughing or joking around before and after games, or getting pumped up for a tough outing with some football, just the two of them.
"It's a very unique relationship," head coach Char Morett-Curtiss said. "What I love about it is it's very sincere and genuine. There's such mutual respect and admiration, and the reason for that is they both work extremely hard. They both work hard at their positions."
Rizzo and Conway didn't know what was in store for them when they recognized each other on campus in passing prior to the start of their freshmen seasons.
"In the summer it was interesting, because I think we did see each other more as competition than possible friends," Conway said. "Once the season came around, we really got along and became supportive of each other and realized that would be a better way to go about it. Now she's one of my best friends on the team."
Rizzo was recruited early in high school by Penn State, arriving from her hometown in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Conway, who is from Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, joined her in committing to the Nittany Lions a bit down the road.
"We got to know Jenny over such a long period of time through her club coach from home and we were a bit worried about bringing someone else in for the right fit," assistant coach Stuart Smith said. "When we saw Colleen play, we were blown away by her capabilities and her personality. It's not easy to recruit goalkeepers in the same class and everybody gets nervous about it because they think they'll just fight each other for the starting job. What I love about these two is that they're best friends."
Morett-Curtiss and the rest of the coaching staff recognize their similarities as well as the strengths both Nittany Lions possess in the net.
"Colleen is very aggressive, whereas Jenny is aggressive but has a bit more calculation to her," Morett-Curtiss said. "We've had connections with goalies in the past but I think these two are very unique. Especially because I think more recently, society and culture has sadly focused a lot on individuals and less on the team. I think Colleen and Jenny are both in it for team success."
It's not uncommon for the team to hear Conway on the sideline screaming Rizzo's name, cheering her on with each save.
"Goalies spend a lot of time together apart from the team just working on their own position and they don't integrate with the other field players as much, so it's right in your face that their competition is right there," Morett-Curtiss said. "They are so supportive of each other, verbally encouraging each other."
Their similarities don't stop at their personalities, as both keepers also have a twin sibling. Rizzo has a twin brother and Conway has a twin sister.
"Jenny is pretty similar to my twin," Conway said. "We get on each other's nerves sometimes but then we're right back at it. She's like my twin away from home."
For Smith, coaching two keepers with such a special bond and support system has been enjoyable, rare and even easy.
"I've worked with national teams and I've never seen keepers get along the way they do, just because there's always such competition, Smith said. "They are so close, they make me laugh every day," Smith said. "They're both in my office all the time looking over film and they both want to get better. The level of growth has been fantastic. I love it when they come to talk to me about what's going wrong, they're always in and they're both such good people."
Evident in their friendship, the duo had nothing but good things to say about each other, both on and off the field. Instead of viewing each other as competition, both chose to make the most of their relationship, which has only helped them grow as teammates.
"Colleen's ground game has grown so much and I think that's helped me because I'm learning from her," Rizzo said.
Rizzo earned a spot on the Team USA U21 National Team, which has provided her the opportunity to compete and attend practices and clinics throughout the year. It's also an experience she uses to help others around her grow.
"A lot of times when I'm struggling with something, I go to Jenny and ask her take on it," Conway said. "Especially when she comes back from USA stuff, I want to know what the best of the best are working on. If I'm struggling with a drill, I'll watch Jenny to see what skills she uses and kind of work off of it."
For Morett-Curtiss and her staff, the bond between Conway and Rizzo largely contributes to the rest of the team's bond as a whole."The team sometimes sees us as goofballs I think," Conway said. "We're definitely comic relief and we lighten the mood for the team," Conway said.
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."
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