By Ryan Berti, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
How teams finish often translates directly into the final
score, showing who was able to put the game away and be better than their
opponents in the most crucial part of the game. While Penn State's spotless 5-0
record speaks for itself in that department, often times it's the front end of
the game where the Nittany Lions leave the biggest mark.
In four of the five games played this season by the Blue and White, Penn State has struck first with the opening goal in each of those games. The only game the team was unable to do so was on the road against Duquesne, at which the Nittany Lions responded by scoring 10 of the remaining 13 goals scored in the first half which included a stretch of six unanswered goals.
Head coach Missy Doherty credits, among other things, the strong-minded nature of the team as the players don't second-guess themselves out on the field.
"Our offense has to be ready to play aggressive and do the simple things well. I think sometimes our decision making is a little slower, but when its fast and we're decisive about what we want to do we really have some people that are hard to stop," Doherty said.
In the first half alone, Penn State only outdoes its own second-half scoring by a single goal, but when it comes down to how much it overmatches its opponents, the numbers are pretty lopsided. The Nittany Lions have put up 40 goals on the year in the first 30 minutes of action, which is good enough to double the competition at just 20 total goals in the first. When it comes down to sheer volume of shots, it's all Penn State again as they lead in total first half shots 80-50 and shots on goal 63-32.
That production stands out in the first handful of minutes as well. When looking at the first 10 minutes of play, the Nittany Lions outscore their challengers at a 14-4 clip, allowing them to usually have a commanding lead right out of the gate.
A good deal of that kind of output can likely be chalked up to winning the battle at draw control. Penn State has won every first half battle from the draw this season, doing so at a whopping 2.5-1 ratio (46-19).
"The draw control has been a huge, huge factor this year for us in a lot of those games, because when you get possession, obviously you have a better chance to score," Doherty said.
Despite the vast early success, the team says dominating early is not something it necessarily preaches, as everyone's eyes are set on the long haul.
"I think we're bought into this 60 minutes sort of philosophy, it just so happens that we've been able to start some games off efficient," Doherty said.
But of course, the team says it's still a big boost early on that allows them to get settled in.
"It's not like we're always stressing that we have to be the first one to score, but it's always nice to get the ball in the net first, kind of get the momentum going," senior Steph Lazo said.
Coach Doherty says holding onto that full game mentality with an early lead can sometimes make the task at hand that much harder though, as her team needs to be careful not to let too much off of the throttle.
"I think the early lead is nice, sometimes I think it's deceptive if you get it quickly but its only been four minutes into the game we still have 56 minutes to go," Doherty said. "You have to buy into those full 60 minutes."
The team has been able to do just fine in that department, even if some games get closer than the team would like, as the team continues to produce throughout each game into the closing minutes.
Even with the fast starts, the squad knows that in order to win, they can't take plays off and play like every second counts, because during the course of a game you never know what is going to end up being the deciding factor.
"You never know what plays gonna win the game," Doherty said. "Sometimes when you look back on the full 60 minutes, that first 5-minute stretch was where we won the game. So I'm always telling them that and to take advantage of every second because you never quite know what's going to give you the edge."
Penn State will travel to Baltimore to take on Loyola Maryland on Saturday, March 4. The opening draw will commence at 3 p.m.