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By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With an impressive 6-0 start to the season, Penn State rose to No. 2 in the most recent NFHCA Poll, but isn't dwelling on its early success. The Nittany Lions are looking ahead with a new challenge on their minds, gearing up for the Big Ten opener at home before hitting the road.
First up for the Nittany Lions? Iowa.
For Penn State, the Hawkeyes are a fierce opponent to kick off the Big Ten slate. With a slow start to this week's earlier 5-1 win at Bucknell, Penn State is looking to lock in with conference play approaching.
"With Bucknell, I think we had a lot of scoring opportunities and we weren't focused to find the back of the net," head coach Char Morett-Curtiss said. "Our focus should've been a bit sharper in the circle and opening up the play instead of playing into the Bucknell defense."
Morett-Curtiss has been focusing on implementing both adequate training and rest in addition to film study in preparation for the Hawkeyes.
Penn State's other Big Ten outings include home matchups against Northwestern and Michigan before hitting the road for trips to Michigan State, Ohio State and Maryland, wrapping up with a home finale against Rutgers and a trip to Indiana.
"With Princeton and Bucknell behind us, it's great to get our focus on the start of the Big Ten," Morett-Curtiss said. "It's obviously going to be very competitive opening up with Iowa, they're a strong team. They come to play, they compete."
Equipped with standout play from goalkeeper Jenny Rizzo, she'll guide the Nittany Lions into conference play having totaled 10 saves in Penn State's roadwins at Princeton and Bucknell.
"We know it's our first conference game," Rizzo said. "It's just another game, but it's an important game, and we just want to come out strong and set the tone for good play."
Earning both Big Ten and NFHCA Offensive Player of the Week honors this season, forward Gini Bramley has continued her solid play, all backed by a strong sense of faith in her teammates.
"Being there for my teammates, they're leading for the ball and I just want to give them that perfect pass so we can get some outcome in the circle, to keep our win streak alive," Bramley said.
Iowa aside, the Nittany Lions also travel to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to meet defending NCAA national champion Delaware at Spooky Nook Sports. Home to the official training location of the USA Field Hockey Team, and to many of the Nittany Lions, Sunday's outing will be a refreshing trip back home to balance a heavy away schedule for the remainder of the season.
"We love playing in the Lancaster area because so many of our girls are from that area," Morett-Curtiss said. "It's a great field hockey community, so we have a lot of alums in the area. It's a great hometown feel for us and being at the U.S. training facility has a little bit of a prestige to it."
With a roster featuring at least half of the Nittany Lions calling home somewhere in close proximity to the Lancaster area, Bramley and Rizzo, are both from the Lancaster-Hersey area and familiar with the setting.
"It's fun because you see familiar faces, like friends from nearby colleges and family," Bramley said.
While it's always special to compete in front of a hometown crowd, Penn State is focused on keeping one foot in front of the other, taking each game as its own challenge.
"Our focus is on Iowa and the Big Ten this Friday," Morett-Curtiss said. "Both teams have a lot of spirit and physicality, it should be a great game."
The Nittany Lions will take on the Hawkeyes Friday, Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. in the Penn State Field Hockey Complex before heading to Lancaster to meet the Blue Hens Sunday, Sept. 17 in a 1 p.m. matchup.