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PARK, Pa. - Ahead of its fifth NCAA quarterfinals appearance in the last six years, fourth-seeded Penn State women's lacrosse is set to host Princeton
Sunday afternoon in the final matchup of the year at the Penn State Lacrosse
"We're so excited about our win from last weekend and knowing we have Princeton coming up, we know we have a lot things we need to work on to make sure that we play our best game Sunday," head coach Missy Doherty said. "I think the girls are really driven by that, we've recognized the things that we need to make sure we get better and they've been really diligent in practice so far in making sure they are working on those things."
It has been an all-in mentality for the Nittany Lions since the very start of the 2017 season, one that guided by stead leadership, has resulted in calm composure amidst not only challenges, but uncontrollable changes too.
"I don't think we'll face anything for the rest of our season that we haven't faced already, in the regular season, Big Ten's or games we've been in," Doherty said. "That grind of competing for 60 minutes, there has been a different element this year with the 90-second shot clock so there's no more stalling, no more really long possessions."
With the introduction of an entirely new element in the 90-second shot clock, as Doherty puts it, anything can happen and any one team can always be in the mix, something that the Nittany Lions have simply embraced.
From shot clocks to the usual ups and downs and shifts in momentum, perhaps what's proven to keep the Nittany Lions calm under pressure comes from an unparalleled focus on what's internal.
"First half on Sunday, we played really well offensively and defensively, but more so on the offensive end," IWLCA First Team All-American Steph Lazo said. "We were a huge power house, we were up 8-1 at one point because we were playing our game, we were focused on what we were doing and we didn't let any of the outside stuff kind of play into that."
For senior three-time captain Erika Spilker, that type of composure is different from any team she's ever been a part of.
"We don't get rattled," Spilker said. "If one thing goes wrong, it's not the end of the world, and that goes with the leadership. Because we're all pretty confident in ourselves personally and each other, it helps with the composure because if one thing goes wrong, we're going to learn from it and move forward."
Coming off of its highest scoring performance in an NCAA Tournament round two win against JMU that put the Penn State composure to the test last weekend, Penn State will look to keep it rolling, headed into yet another win or go home matchup.
That's nothing the Nittany Lions aren't used to though, coming off of last year's berth to the NCAA national semifinals.
"I think it definitely helps that we made it last year," Lazo said. "We all kind of remember that feeling of working hard to get to the final four and we want nothing less than that. We're super focused, we're ready to go and ready to play on Sunday."
As Doherty noted last weekend though, there are no easy games when it comes to NCAA Tournament time, as Princeton brings a new set of challenges when it comes to pregame preparations.
"Their scoring is pretty spread out amongst a lot of different people," Doherty said. "They make it really challenging just to pick one or two people." "They come down hard in transition, they're fast. We need to be ready to stop their offensive break."
Atop Princeton's potential scoring threats is Olivia Hompe, an IWLCA First Team All-American who was also named the 2017 Ivy League Attacker of the Year. Leading the team with a program single season record-setting 107 points, Hompe has accounted for 72 goals and 35 assists through 18 games, averaging a national-best 4.00 goals per game.
"Every time we play them every year, it's always just a gritty match," Doherty said.
Penn State and Princeton have already met in the regular season, with the Nittany Lions earning a 13-8 win on the road, but the two teams are also fairly familiar postseason opponents. Most recently, it was Princeton knocking off Penn State in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at Virginia.
That's in the past though, as Penn State looks toward another successful week of practice before putting it all out on the Penn State Lacrosse Field for the final time, seeking a second consecutive NCAA national semifinals appearance.
Reach Arielle at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent