Field Hockey Prepped For Big Ten Tournament After Successful Season
Penn State field hockey wrapped up one of its most successful regular seasons in recent years with a record of 14-2 — its best since 2005. It finished the season ranked No. 6 nationally and will be the two-seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Big Ten season also got off to a bang with a dramatic 4-3 comeback win over Iowa from 3-0 down on the road. The Nittany Lions finished up Big Ten play with a record of 6-2.
The success on the field also translated to more numbers in the stands. Penn State leads the country this season in attendance with an average of 641 fans per game and broke its own single game attendance record at the Penn State Field Hockey Complex, organizing a white out for the crowd of 967 against Maryland.
For as good of a season as Penn State has had to this point, especially after a sub-.500 season in 2015, legendary coach Char Morett-Curtiss was able to put this year in perspective with 31 seasons under her belt now with the Nittany Lions.
“I would say this team, while we’ve been very successful, we still have challenges in our defensive end,” Morett-Curtiss said. “I think my more successful teams would be where we had more balance between our offense, midfield, and defensive lines. Those teams in the past that were successful I would say we had some really strong players communicating. That’s still a work in progress for this team.”
The defense has struggled at times this year, but the offense has been clicking for the Nittany Lions throughout the season.
Penn State is ranked third in the nation in scoring, putting up 4.44 goals per game. The Nittany Lions have four players who have scored double digit goals this season — Brooke Birosik, Shay Cannon, Moira Putsch, and Gini Bramley. The team’s leading scorer, Putsch, is also the nation’s leader in assists per game, averaging 1.06 through the 16 games.
“This team does have a lot of offensive power,” Morett-Curtiss said. “Anytime when you’re successful in a sport where you need to score, having that offensive threat be consistent is something that’s going to help you become successful.”
Penn State will open its Big Ten Tournament on Thursday in the quarterfinals against Indiana. The Nittany Lions took down the Hoosiers 3-2 in the last game of the regular season.
A win on Thursday means the Nittany Lions will set up a semifinal on Friday with either Michigan or Michigan State. Another win would send the Nittany Lions to the final on Sunday.
Three games in four days is a short turnaround for any team. According to Morett-Curtiss, other coaches in the Big Ten are hoping the tournament moves to a two-weekend format to alleviate the fatigue this hectic schedule creates. For the Penn State coach who prides her team on its fitness, however, she likes the tournament schedule the way it is.
“Knowing that this is the format, it’s something you need to replicate in your practices and game preparation,” Morett-Curtiss said. “So we feel pretty good about our fitness and we feel good about the players we can bring in off the bench.”
If Penn State is to make it through the opening two games of the tournament and reach Sunday’s final, it might get a rematch with No. 3 Maryland — the only team to take down the Nittany Lions at the Penn State Field Hockey Complex this year and the hosts of the Big Ten Tournament.
For Penn State to win its seventh Big Ten Tournament, Morett-Curtiss believes the defense will need to step up in these next three games.
“You have to play persistent defense,” Morett-Curtiss said. We’ve improved our defense from the forward line so that we’re not letting them get numbers up, but we have to improve our marking. Our defense wasn’t great against Indiana the first time around. We gave up some unnecessary corners. So being disciplined in defense I would say is probably the most important thing.”
Penn State opens the tournament against Indiana on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. If it wins the quarterfinal, the semifinal will be Friday at 1 p.m. If the Nittany Lions survive to the final, that match will be at 12 p.m. Every Penn State game in the Big Ten Tournament will air live on BTN.