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Aug 28, 2013
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the Nittany Lions prepare to take on the Old Dominion Monarchs and the Virginia Cavaliers this weekend, they understand that expectations are high.
The team was ranked sixth in the NFHCA preseason poll, which is not only its highest preseason rank in the past five seasons, but also the highest preseason rank among all Big Ten field hockey teams. Furthermore, student-athletes Brittany Grzywacz (Collegeville, Pa.), Whitney Reddig (Lititz, Pa.) and Laura Gebhart (Mount Joy, Pa.) were named Big Ten Players to Watch. Nevertheless, despite these positives, the team knows it will have to make adjustments to compensate for the loss of its previous seniors.
"Honestly, it's one game at a time because of the personnel we lost last year," said Charlene Morett, who is entering her 27th season as field hockey head coach. "Whenever you have those major changes there's a little bit more work to do in the areas that are obviously significant to the outcome of the game."
In order to maintain success, the Lions will look to their strong group of upperclassmen, such as redshirt junior Natalie Buttinger (Kitchener, Ontario). Morett expects Buttinger to have a break out season this fall, which will showcase her great skills and quickness.
"I worked really hard all spring and stayed here for most of the summer," said Buttinger. "I've just been putting in that extra effort, and I know that it'll be beneficial and pay off."
Another player expected to have a tremendous season is Gebhart, a junior captain who was named to the U.S. Women's National Field Hockey team this past spring. Additionally, Gebhart was chosen as captain of that team and spent her summer training in Germany. The experience she gained on that team is expected to transition over and help further enhance this Penn State squad.
"Laura obviously knows the game," Morett commented. "What we need to do is work with Laura on not doing too much, but she keeps good energy on the field and is extremely supportive of her teammates."
"When she came back from training all summer it was evident she was prepared, ready to get right into it and challenge her teammates, but always with a positive spin," Buttinger added.
Even with this strong group, the Lions will have their work cut out for them, especially at the start of the season. On Friday at 5 p.m., the team will play Old Dominion, a squad that was ranked eighth in the NFHCA preseason poll. The Lions will then resume play on Saturday against Virginia, the seventh ranked team, at 1 p.m. While the schedule may seem daunting to some, Morett enjoys this type of start to the season.
"It gives a purpose to preseason and prepares us for conference play," Morett said. "I like our schedule, and the girls expect it. It's sort of been that way every year,"
Buttinger agreed with her coach's remarks, believing that a tough early schedule is perfect preparation for the competitive nature of Big Ten games. The Lions feel very ready to compete with these highly skilled, tough teams, despite their exhibition loss to Maryland last Friday.
"The Maryland game was very telling in how we need to do a better job of organizing ourselves defensively," Morett stated. "I think that's going to be a big focus for us going into Old Dominion."