Bell, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's Jenny Rizzo said last week that it is both good and bad to face a familiar face in the NCAA Tournament. It is good because the team knows what to expect, but bad because it is hard to beat a good team twice.
On Saturday at the Penn State Field Hockey Complex, the Nittany Lions proved how difficult it truly is to defeat a top 10 team twice in a 2-1 loss to the Princeton Tigers.
"I think they definitely came out stronger than the last time we played them," Rizzo said. "I think their defense was phenomenal today. They read our corners a little bit more than they did the first time, so I think they did a good job of scouting us."
The Nittany Lions, who ranked first in the Big Ten and fourth in the NCAA standings for goals scored per game (4.05) were shut down in the first half by the Tigers' defense. None of Penn State's five shots in the first half were the quality looks at the cage that the offense had been used to getting all season.
"Princeton's defense was the best defense we have seen all year," Penn State head coach Char Morett-Curtiss said. "We have been preaching to our kids all year about being low and [Princeton] just did a phenomenal job of taking away lanes that we wanted to attack. I thought Princeton played a great defensive game today. We couldn't get into the circle and draw the corners to get the quality shots that we wanted to get."
Princeton broke the 0-0 tie 10 minutes into the second half. Cat Caro sent a ball into the circle just ahead of Ryan McCarthy. McCarthy reached her stick in front of her to get the ball and started to fall to the ground. As she was falling, Rizzo got low to protect the cage, but McCarthy was able to get some air under her shot sending the ball into the top left corner of the cage.
The Tigers (11-7) tacked on another goal by Caro on a penalty corner with just 10 minutes remaining in the game.
The Nittany Lions (17-3) were finally able to get on the board with a little more than three minutes left in the second half when Moira Putsch assisted Aurelia Meijer on her 11th goal of the season.
Despite a late scramble by the Penn State offense, the Nittany Lions ended their season, losing the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"In the NCAA Tournament, anything can happen," Morett-Curtiss said. "We sort of had a slow start. We had the right intentions, but we didn't give a good pass or we didn't receive the ball well. We had the right ideas. I just feel like we should have come out even stronger in the second half. It just took us too long to get the momentum built up."
Penn State will be losing its four seniors Carly Celkos, Kirsten Gochnauer, Emilee Ehret and Brooke Birosik. In her postgame press conference, Birosik struggled to control her emotions after playing her final game as a Nittany Lion.
"I am sorry I am just upset right now," Birosik said. "I wouldn't have wanted to go to any other school. I just love Penn State so much. It hasn't set in yet that that was my last game."
Without its four seniors, the Penn State field hockey team would not have had one of its most successful seasons in the program's history. The four seniors combined contributed 14 goals, 19 assists and 47 points in the 2016 season.
"This team would not have had the success that we had this year if it wasn't for the four seniors," Morett-Curtiss said. "When we started in the spring they were very committed. They were passionate about how hard they wanted to work. They wanted to turn this season around and get back to playing Penn State field hockey. They were incredible leaders throughout the entire year including today. I couldn't be more proud of the senior class. They really elevated this program in a short time."
Although Penn State struggled to accept this loss, the team already knows that they have to look forward.
"I know this team was capable of anything," Rizzo said. "We saw that last weekend with the Big Ten Championship. But looking forward, we just need to have a strong spring. We need to work on a lot of things I'm sure, but we just need to move on from this and look forward to next season. We grew so much from last season to this season, so I know we will just grow more for next season."