By Ryan Berti, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Monday afternoon, the women's lacrosse team joined the men's Lacrosse and track and field teams to speak to the media at the first session of Penn State's Spring Sports Media Days. With just under two weeks until the regular season opener, here are some takeaways from the team's comments.
Looking to Build off 2016
After a season that saw the Nittany Lions make a trip to the Final Four for the first time since 1999, Penn State finished last season with a ton of momentum and will look to pick up where it left off.
Coming off No. 4 ranking in the nation to end last year, the squad has an increased confidence and believes it can play with the best of the best.
"That process starts all over again this year, to get to the point to where no matter what team that we're playing, we really want to get out there and prove that we belong amongst the top teams in the country," head coach Missy Doherty said.
Penn State will open the season with four straight games in Happy Valley, where it has gone 29-6 over the past four years. If the Nittany Lions can generate enough steam with a solid start to the year, it should allow them to capture last season's magic and carry it with them through a schedule has the team facing a slate of eight of the country's top 20 preseason teams.
Chemistry and Experience Fuel a Seasoned Starting Lineup.
The Nittany Lions return eight of its 12 starters off last year's squad, keeping intact the majority of the starting lineup, especially on the defensive end.
"Returning a really big defensive group for the most part has helped us experience-wise and staying on top of things," Doherty said. "On defense, we're really ready to come out and stay on top of things and on offense we're still trying to gel as best we can."
Team captains and seniors, Erika Spilker and Abby Smucker, believe the fact the group has been able to prove it can go deep and knows what it's like to play in big games can help add on to the team's experience.
"It gets you the experience of being able to play the top teams and playing against other people who are the top players in the nation," Spilker said.
"[We can] just make it known to the underclassmen that there's no pressure when you get there, it's just another game. You approach it the same way," Smucker added.
Team Ready for New Playmakers
While only four starters were lost this past offseason, they made up the majority of the midfield and the goalie for last year's squad. Coach Doherty said while the team has a solid foundation, the offense will need to develop a little more in order to find some more players she can count on in clutch situations.
"I think the midfielders we lost, they were playmakers," Doherty said. "To be successful for the course of the season, we probably need two or three more people to really be those 'go-to's' that when crunch time comes, they take over and score points like those seniors that we lost did."
Doherty also said she has seen a lot of good competition from the possible netminders Cat Rainone and Madison Cunningham, and that she believes the veteran defense in front of the net will help them tremendously.
"With the experience we have coming back from defense, it helps that goalkeeping position," Doherty said. "It's not like they're going to have young players in front of them, they're going to have some pretty experienced players."
End Goals Won't Take Away from the Journey
In their national semifinal matchup with North Carolina, Penn State fell by just one goal to the eventual national champions and came as close as it gets to a national title bid. Now, with a team that has a lot of its essential core still remaining, the team is hoping to accomplish some big things.
As a rising program that is gaining national attention as a top-five ranked team in the preseason, coach Doherty said it's more important for her to focus on the play and the big moments that can come from it rather than a "guarantee" or the "end game."
The seniors, who have seen this team achieve better results each year, also want the team to succeed, but for them it's the journey that matters most.
"This is one of the hardest working group of girls that I've ever played with," Spilker said. "Just learning together and growing as a team is what I look forward to the most every season, and then hopefully that gets us to some goals we want to hit later in the season."
Penn State Lacrosse is a Family
Sunday night marked a big night for the Penn State men's lacrosse team, as one of its alums, Chris Hogan, helped lead the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl berth. The former Penn State midfielder hauled in nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns, giving not only himself, but also Penn State Lacrosse, a lot of national attention because of his incredible story.
Members of both the men's and women's lacrosse teams watched Hogan put on a show and said they were inspired and proud of what he has accomplished.
"Every time he caught it we were cheering for him," coach Doherty said. "Now you see someone who keeps making the best of the moments he's been presented with and what a great example for Penn State and Penn State Lacrosse."
"That was so exciting for us to see," Smucker said, while also mentioning Hogan's fiance, Ashley Boccio, also played lacrosse for the Blue and White. "It's great to see a Penn State Lacrosse family making us so proud and making the Penn State name out there in a positive way,"
There was no mention of whether there will be some form of official Penn State Lacrosse Super Bowl viewing party, but no matter how the teams view the game, Hogan can count on having the support of his lacrosse family back in University Park.