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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUsports.com talks with Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour to review a superb 2014-15 season for Penn State Athletics.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's 2014-15 season was one marked by excellence on the field, in the classroom and in the community. GoPSUsports.com takes a look back at the campaign in a season highlight reel.
Penn State has won 92 Big Ten titles, including 21 in women's soccer (16 regular season).
By Tony Mancuso
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just four months into his tenure as commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, Jim Delany recalls an idea brought to the table by former Illinois President Stan Ikenberry.
It was October of 1989 when Ikenberry, who spent time as a senior administrator at Penn State earlier in his career, broached the thought of adding an institution to the Big Ten for the first time since Michigan State was invited to become a member in 1949.
The Big Ten then began a formal research process of an institution that would bridge a Midwestern league to the East.
The Pennsylvania State University was on the table for discussion as a superb academic institution with a rich tradition in athletic success.
Delany, whose sister attended Penn State as a graduate student, didn't need much convincing. He knew the level of potential a partnership between Penn State and the Big Ten could foster.
"The Big Ten hadn't changed in many, many decades, but I thought if the opportunity to expand presented itself it was a no brainer," Delany said earlier this week. "Excellent academics. Excellent athletics. And pointed towards the East Coast, I thought there was a lot of potential there. That was my recommendation at the time."
The process moved forward with the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten institutions discussing the topic before news broke just before the holidays in December of 1989 that Penn State could be on its way into a new conference. Under the direction of athletic director Jim Tarman at the time, Penn State had been competing as an independent in football for more than a century, and the rest of the department had been a member of the Atlantic 10 since 1976.
When the news initially surfaced, women's volleyball head coach Russ Rose, who along with field hockey coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss are the two current Penn State head coaches who were on staff in 1989, was giving a presentation at the annual women's volleyball coaches convention (AVCA) about the importance of NCAA Tournament at-large bids for teams in smaller conferences.
"I remember talking in front of the group about the importance that not all of the at-large bids go to the bigger conferences and that there were good teams in other conferences even though they didn't have the same notoriety, said Rose. "We have a lunch break. I turn on ESPN at lunch, and I see that Penn State is going to be a member of the Big Ten. I come back. I say to some people that I would like to retract what I said about at-large teams."
The formal process concluded with a vote in Iowa City on June 4, 1990, at which time Penn State was officially accepted as a member of the Big Ten Conference. Twenty-five years have passed in a partnership that allowed both the University and conference to reach unprecedented heights on the field and in the classroom.
"From a broad perspective, at the time, my view was that it was a tremendous fit for both sides. And history has proven that," Delany said. "With all the other expansions around the country, I'm not sure there was one that benefitted both institution and conference as much as this did, largely because of the characteristics of Penn State were so well matched with the characteristics of the Big Ten."
The positive news zipped throughout campus shortly after the vote in Iowa.
"I remember hearing about the announcement from Mary Jo Haverbeck, from the Sports Information office," said Morett-Curtiss. "She told me about us going in and how it was going to have a major impact for women's athletics at Penn State."
It was an announcement that changed the landscape of funding and development for all of Penn State's 28 programs at the time, and it was a day Morett-Curtiss remembers quite well.
"Ironically, I had gone for a run that day on the trails near Sunset Park and as I'm running, I see someone walking in front of me and it was Joe Paterno," Morett-Curtiss said. "And it was that day, so I said to him, 'hey what's going to happen?' He said, 'I think this is going to be a really good thing for Penn State and the exposure all of the programs are going to get.'"
The women's volleyball program captured Penn State's first Big Ten title in 1992, marking volleyball's first of 16 conference crowns.
Penn State's teams felt the impact of the Big Ten conference almost immediately.
"What it did for us when we joined the Big Ten is that it No. 1 it resulted in a reassessment of the levels of commitment we had to the various programs," Rose said. "We became fully funded when we joined the Big Ten. Prior to that, we were not fully funded. And we were not fully staffed. Entering Big Ten, collectively, for all of the sports resulted in us having a new commitment from the University to try and be competitive. From a volleyball perspective, we had been competitive prior to that, but playing in the Big Ten in women's volleyball made us better because the level of competition was better than we were experiencing in the Atlantic 10."
At the time, women's volleyball had just one assistant coach on the staff alongside Rose and nine scholarships to field a roster. Joining the Big Ten boosted the program to full funding and 12 scholarships.
"As I look at it now, we could have had some great teams if we had funding in the early years," said Rose. "That was just the way that it was. When you take a job, that is the job you took. When we joined the Big Ten, a lot of us got a better job without having to move. But it's way more competitive. Recruiting is a lot different than what we had experienced in the Atlantic 10."
The same can be said for what Morett-Curtiss experienced within the field hockey program.
"The financial support from a scholarship standpoint was huge right away," said Morett-Curtiss. "And knowing our field that we were going to build was going to be a first rate facility."
The investment for success around the Big Ten stood out during Penn State's transition. Every institution and athletic program strives to be the best. It's a trait that has not changed during the department's 25 years as a member, and it's something that will be a trademark of the Big Ten for decades to come.
"The level of commitment to being good across the conference, everybody cared," said Rose. "I don't believe every conference across the country has that sort of commitment in all of their sports. I think that is one of the things that makes the Big Ten really unique. If they offer it, they care and they want to be relevant."
Penn State's time in the Big Ten has been marked by excellence in the classroom and on the field of play. In all, Penn State's programs have accounted for 92 Big Ten championships from 15 different programs - 76 regular season and 16 post-season. Additionally, more than 170 student-athletes have accounted for nearly 300 individual Big Ten titles.
Penn State student-athletes have earned more than 5,000 Academic All-Big Ten recognitions since it joined the conference, with its three highest totals during the past three years, led by 296 in 2012-13.
"Penn State's entrance into the Big Ten not only changed the intercollegiate sports landscape, it also changed our academic landscape and our future. Our size, our academic reputation and our athletic tradition matched up well with Big Ten schools," said Penn State President Eric Barron, who also noted that all Big Ten schools are flagship universities for their states. "The academic side of the Big Ten is known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and the institutions together have annual research expenditures topping $10.2 billion -- more than the Ivy League and the University of California System combined -- and they educate a total of nearly 600,000 students. The benefits from being part of such an outstanding and prestigious organization with such an expansive footprint across the nation are immeasurable."
The women's volleyball program earned Penn State's first Big Ten crown during the 1992 season, just one year after the team began competing in the league. The title marked the first of Penn State's superlative 16 Big Ten titles in women's volleyball, in addition to seven NCAA Championships since 1999.
Like women's volleyball, the women's soccer program has been a benchmark of success in conference play. The program became the department's 29th varsity sport in 1994. Since then, Penn State has won an unprecedented 16 conference titles, including a string of 15-straight from 1998-2012.
The football program claimed the Big Ten title in its second season of competition during an undefeated Rose Bowl championship campaign in 1994. Coach Joe Paterno's '94 squad became the first Big Ten team to ever post a 12-0 record. The '94 crown marked the program's first of three Big Ten championships to date (2005 and 2008).
The fall season of 2005 stands out as a monumental period in Penn State's history within the conference. Nittany Lion teams clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days. The list included field hockey, football, men's soccer, women's soccer and women's volleyball. Since the fall of 2005, Penn State teams have won 51 Big Ten championships (5.1 titles per year in a 10-year span).
Penn State clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days during the fall of 2005, including one for the women's volleyball team.
It's impossible to quantify how the partnership between Penn State and the Big Ten altered the recruiting landscape for the teams on campus and how the recruiting gains equated to success on the field of play. But pitching a world-renowned education with an elite conference affiliation cultivated relationships with premier student-athletes.
"The name recognition was big for football, but when you see how many of the Universities and programs have been successful on a national level, I think that has greatly helped," Morett-Curtiss. "Exposure for all of the Universities within the conference has helped us all grow. Combining the academic side of what these Universities have with the athletics, it's a very powerful combination when we go out recruiting student-athletes."
A big piece to the exposure of Penn State teams during the past 25 years was the launch of the Big Ten Network on Aug. 30, 2007. More than 800 Penn State sporting events have aired live on the BTN since it launched. The benefits of the conference's TV network, which is in more than 60 million homes, increased visibility across the country for the department in a way that cannot be measured.
"The Network was a major step for us," Morett-Curtiss. "Just having the opportunity to have games on TV so that little girls can watch and learn about the sport. It's helped, not only exposure for the program, but it's helped the sport grow. It's just a phenomenal avenue for us to showcase our University and the sport."
The BTN's impact goes back to what Rose talked about as one of the immediate impacts his program felt - funding. Not only did the BTN infinitely increase exposure for Penn State teams, it has played a paramount role in increased revenues for each institution.
"Certainly, the Big Ten Network has been instrumental in generating funds for the Universities and the conference and the bowl revenue sharing has resulted in more money for all of the schools and the conference," said Rose.
In 2008, Penn State captured its third Big Ten title in football en route to a trip to the Rose Bowl.
While the competitive atmosphere is intense between teams across all of the conference's sports, each member institution understands that the individual success aids in the growth of the collective conference.
"I think the relationship has been a really positive one," said Rose. "There are a lot of similarities between the various Universities."
"Everybody in the Big Ten shares what they do and why they do it; best practices," said Dave Baker, Associate Athletic Director for Business Operations. "We share lots of ideas, at least from the business manager and ticketing perspective. We learn things from one another. And there aren't secrets. We all work together and try to help each other out...We all don't do things the same way. We all have limitations, but we are all looking to help one another out for the betterment of the conference.
"Some people would find it hard to believe that people in the Big Ten root for other Big Ten teams in the postseason, but we do. We follow what is going on...It is a cooperative spirit and a partnership."
Baker is one of just a handful of Penn State administrators and coaches who have been with Intercollegiate Athletics during the past 25 years. That list includes Jan Bortner, who was head coach of the men's tennis team in 1990 and has since transitioned into a role as an associate athletic director. Among the key changes Baker felt from the business operation centered on travel. Bus trips were the norm for Penn State teams in the Atlantic 10, but the geography of the Big Ten led to more plane travel.
A quarter century has passed since initial discussions of a new relationship took place and bonds were formed. Many things have changed significantly for Penn State, the conference and intercollegiate athletics nationwide, but it's been 25 years marked by growth stemming from a vision in 1989.
"Pennsylvania is a very important state. It served as a bridge to the East for us. It made our football offerings stronger," said Delany. "It has been excellence with national championships in a variety of sports. And I have always felt that the 1994 Penn State team was the best team in the country; no disrespect to Nebraska. When you look at the players that team had (five first team All-Americans on offense) and what that group accomplished. That team was the national runner-up. That was a tremendous football team. I've seen some very good basketball teams both on the men's side and the women's side. And obviously, the wrestling and volleyball programs have been dominant on the national scene."
Penn State has won a total of 27 national championships since joining the Big Ten, including three in 2013-14, and the department's collective success speaks for itself.
By no means was the integration in 1990 an easy one, but the partnership between the University and Big Ten is a match that enabled both sides to mutually prosper in a way neither side could have envisioned when the formal vote concluded 25 years ago today.
The wrestling team began a string of four-straight Big Ten titles in March of 2011.
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By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Playing its first season in the Big Ten Conference, the Penn State women's lacrosse team knew this year would be filled with challenges and triumphs. The team battled hard, winning 16 games for the first time since 1989 and making the NCAA Quarterfinals for the third time in four years.
Nevertheless, the team's greatest feat came in the form of a first for the program and its conference. Despite the competition, the Nittany Lions were crowned the first-ever Big Ten Champions. With all of these accomplishments, it is clear that this program is destined to excel.
"It was a really fun year," said head coach Missy Doherty. "I think from day one it was a really good energy on the team. When we started, we had to shift a couple players due to injury and asked a lot of some young players. I think they really did their job stepping up, and thankfully we had some really great wins this year. We're Big Ten Champs, and I certainly think we have a lot to be proud of."
The growth and dominance of the team's defense is one aspect Doherty and the rest of the Nittany Lions are especially proud of because at the start of the season, it was not a strong point. Injuries required a lot of shuffling, and when all was said and done the team's core defenders were made up of a number of former attackers.
Sophomore Natalie Schmitt shifted to defense, as did Abby Smucker. The two really bolstered the Lions on the back end and had to make numerous adjustments as they gained a greater understanding for the position throughout the season.
Smucker, who seemed to captain the young defense, really stood out as her performances solidified the team. She was even named the Big Ten Tournament MVP for her play, showing just how hard she and the rest of the defense worked to improve.
This strong play from the D, in addition to the team's balance offense, played a key role in the team's success, especially in the newly formed Big Ten Conference.
"I think that we're really a tough conference, and I think we're continuing to grow with all the exposure that we get through the Big Ten Network," said Doherty. "It just really feels like our sport is taking off across the country, which is awesome. So, we had some great exposure. I thought the tournament was exciting, and our season finale against Maryland was really exciting. I think everyone can see that we're a really competitive conference."
With teams like Northwestern and Maryland as conference rivals, winning the Big Ten Tournament was all the more special for the Nittany Lions. Penn State had to work hard and play its best games possible to come out on top, and that is exactly what it did.
The Nittany Lions will forever be the first Big Ten Champions, and that is an accomplishment that can never be taken away from them.
"I would probably say winning the Big Ten Tournament," said Doherty of the team's biggest accomplishment in the 2015 season. "It was the first year for our conference and we went in with really great teams. We beat Northwestern twice, which was a really amazing feat given their history and how good they are. I think that was a big step for us, and then getting a tough draw for NCAAs and making it through the Virginia weekend was just another really good weekend for us."
These big wins and strong play would not have been possible without the dominant Nittany Lion offense. Captain Maggie McCormick led the way with 67 points, becoming Penn State's all-time leader in assists with 137 in her four-year career. She registered 43 this season alone.
McCormick was not the team's only offensive weapon, as it had nine players reach at least 10 goals. Tatum Coffey, Steph Lazo and Madison Cyr each had 43, 41 and 38 goals respectively. When one player was shut down, Penn State always had another attacker ready.
The Lions were dangerous all season long. They played a number of close games, were ranked nationally on a consistent basis and were the first Big Ten Champions. The team will lose nine seniors next year but returns a majority of its starters. The future of Penn State lacrosse is as bright as ever.
"I think after this year specifically, we've begun to establish ourselves as a top team nationally," said Doherty. "I think sometimes it's hard to keep pushing open doors and keep turning corners, but I think this year, especially with our Big Ten win and our wins over some really great teams, really helped establish our program as a team that's going to compete for those top spots. The girls know the energy we put into this season and how hard we worked. They're ready to do that again."
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff WriterUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Sometimes the unknown is frightening, but other times it is exhilarating. The unfamiliar in sports can offer new challenges, new levels of competition and new levels of play. As the Penn State women's lacrosse team travels to take on North Carolina for the first time since 2009, it is ready and excited for the opportunity. The Nittany Lions will bring their best.
To get to this position, the Lions have had to take down Johns Hopkins and Virginia. Both games were intense, close matchups. Nevertheless, with Penn State's (16-4) play as of late, winning 11 of its last 12, it is prepared for any challenge, especially a challenge like the Tar Heels (16-3).
"We're really excited," said head coach Missy Doherty. "It's been a great year for us so far, a lot of really exciting games. I think with the Big Ten Tournament Championship and playing Hopkins and Virginia in the first two rounds of NCAAs, we've really been tested here with some really tough games. It makes us more excited for the next game to see what we're going to bring, and certainly playing North Carolina, who we haven't played yet before, is going to be a fresh new test for us this weekend."
Key to the Nittany Lions' success this season has been its deep offense and reliable goalie, Emi Smith. In the team's second round game alone, Smith made 14 saves. Her efforts have continued to keep the team in close games.
Scouting UNC, the Tar Heels have a similar offense to that of the Nittany Lions. Like Penn State, they do not rely on one scorer and have 10 athletes with double-digit goals. While that fact may seem daunting to some, the team's defense will be more than ready. It gets to practice against its own offense, which has nine scorers who have accumulated at least 10 goals this season.
"I think defensively we really need to focus on the cutters and the one-v-one defense," Smith said. "Watching their film is really a big factor for it, and having such a good attack on our side is a huge contribution because they can help us prepare for a team like UNC. Our attack is just as good as UNC's attack, and that's huge for our defense because we can practice all week long and prepare for their attack. So, I definitely think going into this weekend is just watching film, running through their plays, running through the shots that they take and overall just playing our aggressive defense."
For this game, the team is not relying on just what its coaches say about UNC. Doherty has instructed each of the Lions to prepare their own scouting report of the Tar Heels, forcing them to get a closer look at their opponent prior to the game.
"Our coaches sent us a template, and we're all creating our own scout for the team, which we haven't done before," said junior Madison Cyr. "It's giving all of us the opportunity to learn the style of each player that we're getting ready to play against."
In this Elite Eight matchup, Penn State will rely heavily on its midfielders. The team has seen tremendous effort from them, both offensively and defensively, all season long. They particularly stepped up after the team lost captain Kelly Lechner to injury, and Doherty has been particularly pleased with all of them.
Five of the team's top scorers are midfielders and each has reached the 30-goal mark. Tatum Coffey leads the way with 42, followed by Steph Lazo who has 41, Cyr who has 36 and Katie O'Donnell and Jenna Mosketti who each have scored 30.
"It's a huge advantage because if one player gets shut down, we have so many more to work with," said Cyr of the scoring depth. "We're not just counting on one player to win the game or score the goal. We have so many people and so many different styles of attacking, whether it's a feed or one-v-one."
This group does not only score. Their defensive play has also been huge this season, and they will look to once again bring their best on Saturday. Coffey has the most caused turnovers on the team with 23, while Mosketti and Cyr lead the way in ground balls. These players bring balance to the team, which has been a big asset to the Nittany Lions.
Even with its skill, Penn State enters this Elite Eight game as the underdog. The No. 7 Nittany Lions know this game against No. 2 North Carolina will be a battle, but they are not letting rankings effect their preparation or how they play. This team has each other's backs. They just need to continue communicating and relying on one another.
"I think our team is great," said Doherty. "They get along really well. The camaraderie has been amazing. The team kind of mojo has been just fantastic all season. With these big games, as a coach, you really hope your team takes over and the players take over, and they've made my job so much easier with their drive and their work ethic and their leadership this year."
With the opponent aside, making the Elite Eight for the third time in four years is an accomplishment these Nittany Lions are proud of. This year, they don't want to end at this level. They want to continue playing together, continue winning and continue their season.
"It's kind of surreal," said Smith. "I mean my freshman year we went to the Elite Eight, and last year was kind of an upset because we lost first round NCAAs. But, I think this year we're definitely excited because we're going. That's a huge thing for us because I have a feeling we don't want to stop, and going into UNC that's a huge aspect because we want to make it to the Final Four."
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fresh off its Big Ten Tournament win, the Penn State women's lacrosse team is already preparing for the next part of its season. With the NCAA Tournament beginning Friday, the Nittany Lions know they have a clean slate. They are ready to show their skill and prove their dominance.
With this year's appearance, the Blue and White have locked up their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament run. Every year the Lions have made improvements, and this year was no exception. Right now, they have momentum and confidence on their side.
Penn State (14-4) knows it is a national competitor, and the team is looking to go as far into this tournament as possible. In order to do that, the Blue and White will first have to down Johns Hopkins(14-3), a previous conference rival. With such familiarity with their opponent, the Nittany Lions are ready for the challenge.
"They're very physical," said head coach Missy Doherty of Hopkins. "They work very hard. They hustle everywhere. Nothing comes easy against them, so we're going to have to work just as hard and assert ourselves on both ends of the field."
On the offensive side of the game, the Nittany Lions will look to its leaders, including senior captain Maggie McCormick. McCormick leads the team in points with 63 and is also one of the strongest voices for this Penn State squad.
Eyes will also be on senior Tatum Coffey, sophomore Steph Lazo and junior Madison Cyr. All three have over 30 goals this season, adding depth to the team and making Penn State's offense all the more dangerous.
"Hopkins is always a fun team to play because we know that we're going to get one of their best games," McCormick said. "They're definitely going to test us and going to push us. They're a really hard working team, and we know we're going to get a battle out of it. We're going to have to play our best to beat them."
The Nittany Lion offensive will only be a portion of the recipe for success in this first-round game. Doherty and the team know that Hopkins is a squad that shoots the ball, meaning the defense will need to be solid. Saves in this game will be crucial, and senior Emi Smith will need to come up in big ways once again.
Smith, who was named the Big Ten goalie of the year, is no stranger to this pressure. She is more than ready to take on the Blue Jays. In fact, she's looking forward to the matchup and is ready to have fun doing what she loves. The junior just needs to make sure she maintains her focus for all 60 minutes.
"At some points there's times where I don't see a shot for about 10 minutes because our attack and midfielders are doing such a great time with handling the ball," said Smith. "I think my challenge is going to be maintaining my focus throughout the entire game and being a positive factor for my teammates."
As in the Big Ten Tournament, NCAAs are one-game elimination style. Nevertheless, the Nittany Lions are not planning to exit any time soon. With a Big Ten championship and successful season, they have momentum on their side.
This tournament gives Penn State a chance to start new. It knows what has worked well and what has not. Now, the team wants to just go out and show everyone what Penn State lacrosse is all about.
"We're really excited," said McCormick. "When we go finals are going to be over and everyone's going to be able to focus on lacrosse and the team. It's going to be fun. As a senior it's a little bit bitter sweet, but you don't want to think about the fact that the end is kind of nearing. You want to prolong this journey as much as possible, so we're really looking forward to it, especially the seniors."
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With a Big Ten Championship on the line, the Penn State women's lacrosse team entered the tournament feeling confident. The Nittany Lions took down Northwestern in the second round, bringing them one step closer to the trophy. While the team was excited, the job was not done yet. Penn State still needed one more win.
When Ohio State (13-7) took down previously undefeated Maryland, the Lions (14-4) prepared for the challenge and trusted in their abilities. After 60 minutes of play, Penn State emerged as the conference's first winner by defeating the Buckeyes, 13-11.
The Nittany Lions are Big Ten champions.
"I don't know if it sunk in yet," said head Coach Missy Doherty. "I think it was a great game. I just love that competing aspect of it, but certainly being the first Big Ten winner is such an honor. We have such a great tradition in our program that goes so far back. Our alums are so proud of our program and have done well in the past. It's nice to really put Penn State on the map with our first Big Ten Championship."
Key to the win was Penn State's offense, which has dominated throughout the entirety of the season. Senior Tatum Coffey led the way with her four goals, but in all the team saw scoring from seven different players in the final. This balance up front made the Blue and White a difficult team to beat. They challenged Ohio State's defense, went to the net and came away from the game shooting at 52 percent.
For Coffey and the rest of the senior class, this game was crucial. With so little time left to play in their careers, every second counts. They wanted to leave it all on the field, which is exactly what they did.
"I honestly had an epiphany," Coffey said. "It was a moment that just hit me, and I realized that I'm a senior. I'm never going to be in this position again. So, I let that take over me and decided to be a leader out there and pump everyone up."
Going into halftime, the Lions had a three-goal lead. Nevertheless, the team knew it would not be an easy task to finish the game, especially against the Buckeyes.
Ohio State controlled play in the opening minutes of the second, tallying three consecutive goals to even the scoring. The Nittany Lions called a timeout to regroup, but they were never concerned. Staying calm proved to be key.
"Right when they quickly scored three goals on us, we stayed confident and composed," said Abby Smucker. "We knew that we had to pick up our defense a little bit more, but I was confident in the way our defense was playing. And, having Emi [Smith] back there in the cage was critical for us."
All season long, Smucker has anchored the Nittany Lion defense. Doherty has labeled her the team organizer, keeping the Lions cohesive in the back. Her play in the semi-final and final helped boost the Lions and did not go unnoticed as Smucker was named the tournament MVP.
Also stepping up for the Lions was Emi Smith in the cage. She made seven stops that kept the Lions ahead. Her biggest save of the game came with just over a minute to play. Had she not made the stop, the Buckeyes would have pulled within one. The dynamic of the game would have shifted.
"She just came up with some really crucial saves," said Doherty of Smith. "I think she's been solid all year, but when the game is on the line I think she gets better. Especially in that last minute coming up with such a huge save, it was really that last step we needed to seal up the game."
As time evaporated, Penn State realized the magnitude of what it had done. This team battled through tough losses, through injuries and through close games to get to that point. The work it had done all season long finally paid off.
"It shows that we can bounce back," Smith said. "It shows that we can improve on the losses that we've had, and we can always learn from the things we don't do right. There's always room for improvement, and I think the team really shows that. We have improved a lot over this season, and I think that's why we came up big here. We just focused on the things that we do well and emphasized that."
From the start of the year, this team knew the season would be special. It worked hard day in and day out for this opportunity. Now, the Nittany Lions could not be more proud of their accomplishment. They will forever be the first Big Ten Champions.
"We really the whole year tried to work on proving who we are, and we made a statement today," said Coffey. "I'm so proud of my team for doing that. We really just knew what we needed to work on, knew what we needed to do, and we went out there and did it."
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the Penn State women's lacrosse team arrived in New Jersey yesterday afternoon, it watched the final minutes of the first-round game Northwestern would eventually win. With their opponent now know, the Nittany Lions will aim to do what they did for the first time in twelve years a second time this season. If Penn State wants to win the first-ever Big Ten Tournament, it will need to defeat a strong Northwestern team yet again. This team is more than ready for that challenge.
The last time these two teams met, Penn State (12-4, 4-1 B1G) opened with determination. The team dominated the first half and was able to shut down the Wildcats (12-5, 3-2 B1G) with solid defensive plays. Nevertheless, head coach Missy Doherty has made sure her team knows this game will be different. There is more on the line in a tournament situation. Every team will be bringing its best.
"I'm really emphasizing to the players that it's going to be a different game," Doherty said. "It's not going to be the same game. They're going to be coming at us a lot harder. I think it's always hard to play a team that you just beat because there's a little bit of this hidden drive in the team that just lost. So, you really have to go in and match that drive. We have to be ready to not just play like we played last game and win. We have to be ready to play a different game with different energy and win a different way."
Even with a new mindset, it is clear that this Nittany Lion team is confident. It finished the regular season playing the most competitive teams in the country, especially during its final outing. Although the Blue and White fell to Maryland during the final regular-season game, they showed they have the ability to keep up with the best teams.
Throughout the entirety of the season, Penn State has been working toward that goal of being known as one of the best. It has downed teams like Northwestern, Stanford and Loyola Maryland. Furthermore, the Nittany Lions were just three goals shy of handing the Terrapins their first loss of the season.
"I think it definitely helps us because they're the No. 1 team in the nation," said sophomore Steph Lazo of the Maryland game. "The fact that we only lost by three and we put up a fight against them, it's really nice knowing we can hang with big teams. We're a top-ten team too. I think it definitely boosts our confidence a little bit knowing we can play to that ability and we can hang with the best team."
A major factor this season, which will continue to determine games in the post-season, is the draw. Possession is key, and the Nittany Lions know they will need to find ways to get the ball throughout the entirety of the game against Northwestern.
During its last match with the Wildcats, Penn State was edged out in draw controls, 16-10. The Nittany Lions know that cannot happen again if they want to move on to the tournament final. It is understood by the entire team that it will need to find ways to win possession.
"Just taking the draw I know that it's a really big factor because you can't really do anything if you don't have the ball," said junior Jenna Mosketti. "So, that's something that we've been working on in practice, and I think it'll be good."
Mosketti is the team's draw control leader, with 54 on the season. However, winning the ball will not only be up to her in this second-round game. It will need to be a team effort in order to have success.
"It comes from both ends, the defensive line all the way to the attack line," said Lazo. "It's not just Jenna [Mosketti] trying to get the ball. It's not just Tatum [Coffey] taking it as well. It comes from everyone. You just have to be hungry for it, and you just have to want it and get it."
As the Nittany Lions prepare for their evening matchup with the Wildcats, they know and understand what they need to do to have success. Each member of the team wants to leave its mark. History will be made this weekend, and Penn State wants nothing more that to come out on top.
"We've proved who we are, and I think that was a goal from the beginning of the season, to prove who we are in the Big Ten and in the country," said senior Tatum Coffey. "So, I think coming into this tournament we're not looking back. We're going into these games not thinking about our past games. We're going into it fresh and new. A fresh start."
No. 1 Maryland (5-0 B1G)
Points Leader: Taylor Cummings, 81 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Megan Whittle, 56 goals
Assists Leader: Taylor Cummings, 28 assists
Heading into the tournament, Maryland remains undefeated and the top team in the county. The Terrapins final regular season game came against the Nittany Lions last week, which was a battle to the very end. Junior Taylor Cummings and freshman Megan Whittle lead the team, both of whom also earned All-Big Ten team honors this week. With the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Maryland earned a first-round bye and is schedule to take on Ohio State in the second round.
No. 2 Penn State (4-1 B1G)
Points Leader: Maggie McCormick, 61 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Steph Lazo, 34 goals
Assists Leader: Maggie McCormick, 40 assists
Like Maryland, the second-seed Nittany Lions earned a bye in the first round of the tournament. Although the team is coming off a loss to Maryland, Penn State has the utmost confidence in its abilities. With Northwestern's win over Michigan, the Nittany Lions will take on the Wildcats in a rematch of the game played earlier this season. The Blue and White will rely heavily on senior Maggie McCormick and sophomore Steph Lazo for scoring as they attempt to move on to the tournament final.
No. 3 Northwestern (3-2 B1G)
Points Leader: Selena Lasota, 65 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Selena Lasota, 57 goals
Assists Leader: Corinne Wessels, 17 assists
Fresh off its first-round win over Michigan, the Wildcats will be ready to take on Penn State. Even without a bye this team is bound to come out strong, especially because of the opponent. Northwestern fell to the Nittany Lions for the first time since 2003 and are hungry for the tournament upset. Freshman Selena Lasota and junior Kaleigh Craig, who has 34 goals and 40 points on the season, lead the Wildcats' offense.
No. 4 Ohio State (2-3 B1G)
Points Leader: Jackie Cifarelli, 64 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Katie Chase, 50 goals
Assists Leader: Jackie Cifarelli, 48 assists
Just like Northwestern, the Buckeyes will be coming into the second round fresh off it first win of the tournament. Ohio State downed Rutgers, 17-7, and will now look to go up against the best team in the country. Playing against Maryland, the Buckeyes will need to rely on their offensive producers, Jackie Cifarelli and Katie Chase, for points. When the two teams met earlier this season, Ohio State fell to Maryland, 13-8.
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff WriterUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With the Big Ten title on the line, the Penn State women's lacrosse team prepared to go up against an undefeated Maryland team. The Nittany Lions knew they were in for a challenge, but they would not go down without a fight.
Following a slow start, the Blue and White returned to the field for the final 30 minutes of play trailing the No. 1 Terrapins, 8-3. Unfortunately, after a tough battle and hard-fought second half, Penn State suffered its first conference loss of the season. Despite outscoring the Terrapins in the final minutes, the No. 8 Nittany Lions (12-4, 4-1 B1G) fell to No. 1 Maryland (17-0, 5-0 B1G), 13-10.
"I thought it was a good game," said head coach Missy Doherty. "We came out, and the first half was really tough. We couldn't manage to get the draw. That made it hard to get any goals. So, I think in the second half we did a much better job of getting the draw, and turning the game around."
The Nittany Lions came out as a different, more aggressive and determined squad in the final half. They worked to swing momentum in their favor. The team could not find a way to win the draw in the opening 30 minutes but was determined to make a change. It knew possession would be key to winning the game.
Leading the way for the Nittany Lions in that aspect of the match was junior Jenna Mosketti. She secured six draw controls alone, helping the team win the draw in eight of the second half's 13 attempts.
"I don't know if it was as much words as it was just a better effort there in the second half," said Doherty. "I mean Jenna came up really big, coming up with some huge draw controls in the second half. She really helped us change the momentum around. Then the offense got a little bit more aggressive going to goal and finishing their shots."
In addition to the draw, Mosketti registered a hat trick, assisting her team in as many ways possible. Sophomore Steph Lazo also recorded three goals, and captain Maggie McCormick continued building on her assists record, adding five more to her total.
Throughout the game, the Nittany Lions saw goals from six players, as Madison Cyr, Katie O'Donnell, Tatum Coffey and Ally Heavens all added goals of their own. Nevertheless, the Blue and White were unable to capitalize from the free position, which ultimately hurt them in the end.
Also taking away from the team's momentum was an injury to goalie Emi Smith. The junior played the first 42:34 of the game, allowing nine goals and stopping seven attempts before being helped off the field. Freshman McKenna Coyle stepped into the cage for the final 17:26. She made three saves and allowed four, giving a strong performance as well.
"I think McKenna came in and did a really solid job for us," Doherty said. "I think from a motivational standpoint, it hurts a little when someone like Emi leaves the game. But, thankfully McKenna came in and stepped up and came up with some pretty big saves."
Overall, the Nittany Lions' performance showed that they can play with the best in the country. The loss gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Had they come out a little stronger, not putting themselves into such a deficit, the outcome could have been different.
Penn State may not have captured the Big Ten title yesterday, but they know they have the ability to beat a team like Maryland. That confidence will be huge in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, which will be the team's next challenge.
"I think we've seen that we can compete, and we have to do that for 60 minutes," said Doherty. "We had a little bit of a slow start, and against a team like that you need every advantage. But, I think the way we competed for the full game was awesome. I'm really proud of the team."
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