Penn State women’s lacrosse easily shattered the program record for goals in a single season Sunday in its 14-12 win over Princeton. A big chunk of that scoring (293 tallies, to be exact) has come from the uber talented duo of Madison Carter and Katie O’Donnell.
Mad and K.O., as they’re called by their teammates, looked like they could be sisters sitting side by side at last weekend’s postgame press conference, their blonde hair braided neatly behind blue headbands.
A year after earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, Carter led the Big Ten in goals with 69 this spring — good for ninth nationally. As she completed her hat trick against the Tigers, Carter broke Marsha Florio’s 1983 mark for the most goals scored by a sophomore in Penn State history. O’Donnell, a junior out of West Chester, Pa., who currently sits in third place in the conference with 61 of her own, has flourished in her first season as a captain.
Carter and O’Donnell absorbed plenty of hits on their way to the team’s second straight Final Four, as the Tigers recorded 40 fouls to Penn State’s 13. But they’re both crazy tough and kept crashing the net in a hectic back and forth finish. O’Donnell went down hard with a tweaked ankle midway through the first half, but it wasn’t long before the All-Big Ten midfielder was sprinting and spinning like herself.
“We’re good. Stronger than ever,” O’Donnell said. “Credit to our athletic training staff taping me up real quick to get me back out there as soon as possible. I wasn’t worried. At that point in the game, adrenaline kinda takes over.”
In front of a hometown crowd at last year’s Final Four at Talen Energy Stadium, O’Donnell and the Nittany Lions came up just short of knocking off the eventual national champs, North Carolina, in a 12-11 thriller. There’s no doubt this year’s group can draw on the experience it gained against the Tar Heels under the Commodore Barry Bridge when it arrives at Gillette Stadium this Friday.
O’Donnell’s currently tied with Colleen O’Hara for 13th on Penn State’s all-time goals list with 132, and she’s always a threat to make a defender look silly. Her filthy sideways shot past Princeton’s All-American goalie Ellie DeGarmo tied things up at 9, but it was a late insurance goal that helped her join Carter with a hat trick and ice the game for the Nittany Lions.
O’Donnell, Carter, and Big Ten Attacker of the Year Steph Lazo have combined to scored 12 of Penn State’s 17 game-winning goals this season. There aren’t many trios in college lacrosse as lethal as this bunch with the chips on the table.
“We’ve been working well together, we’ve been really flowing, and these games leading up to the semifinal have really prepared us,” Carter said. “Lacrosse is a game of runs. We’re just really good at being consistent and not letting the ups and downs of a lacrosse game, which is bound to happen, get to us.”
On top of her scoring prowess, Carter is downright dominant on the draw control. The Davidsonville, Md., native ranks ninth in the NCAA in draw controls per game (6.2) with 123 on the year. Lazo, who essentially plays the role of point guard for the Nittany Lions, loves to feed the ball to Carter and watch her go to work.
“We’re locker buddies, 24 and 23,” Lazo said. “Mad’s special. She’s an amazing player and she’s always open. I don’t know, she’s just an easy target to hit.”
Carter said Lazo also serves as the team DJ on bus rides. “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2” is one of the songs on heavy rotation. “As a team, we listen to a lot of Kanye. We’re kinda basic with some of the pop hits going around. I don’t really listen to my own music, I just listen to whatever [Steph] puts on,” Carter said with a laugh.
If Penn State is going to upset top-seeded Maryland, where head coach Missy Doherty won three national championships as a player, it’ll need some younger Nittany Lions to answer the bell like attacker Maria Auth did against Princeton. Auth finished with a career-high five points, including four goals, on the afternoon.
“You never know who’s gonna step up in those huge games. For Maria to be a freshman and come in and do that, it’s awesome,” Carter said. “We’re so excited for her. It was great to have her just get our offense going.”
The Nittany Lions are sure to come out aggressive in Foxborough, but if the defense isn’t there to back them up, the Terrapins’ ultra balanced attack could cause some headaches. Thankfully senior Cat Rainone will be standing between the pipes, fresh off a spectacular 13-save performance in the Elite Eight.
“That last save she had there at the end, I was like, ‘Stop jumping, stop jumping, we’ve still got eight seconds on the clock,'” O’Donnell said beaming. “She had some big momentum saves and really kept us going, kept our energy up, and we were able to build off that and take it into the offensive end.”
Though Maryland emerged victorious, 16-14, in the last meeting between these two programs on April 20, Penn State couldn’t be playing better lacrosse right now. You can catch them live on ESPN3 at 5 p.m. Friday before Navy and Boston College go toe-to-toe in the second national semifinal.