No. 5 Penn State women’s lacrosse (15-2, 5-1 Big Ten) finished its regular season on a high note Sunday, beating unranked Michigan 17-10 at the Big House in Ann Arbor. The victory was Penn State’s 15th of the season, capping off one of the best regular seasons in program history.
Now that the regular season is over, the team’s focus shifts to this weekend’s Big Ten tournament in College Park, Maryland. Penn State earned the No. 2 seed in the conference and a matchup with No. 3 seed Northwestern on Friday, May 5.
If the Nittany Lions defeat the Wildcats, they’ll move on to the final stage of the tournament, where they’ll face the winner of the other semifinal between top-ranked Maryland and No. 4-seeded Johns Hopkins. Here is what Penn State needs to do in order to win the tournament for the first time since 2015.
Keep Scoring Goals
One of Penn State’s strengths all season has been goal scoring, and in order to win the Big Ten, they will need their potent attack to continue to perform at a high level.
Sophomore attacker Madison Carter finished the regular season with 60 goals to lead Penn State and ranked among the nation’s best goal scorers. Junior captain Katie O’Donnell and senior attacker Steph Lazo both followed closely behind with 52 and 43 goals, respectively.
In addition to her 43 goals, Lazo assisted on 37 more to give her 80 points on the season, which also ranked among the best in the nation. These three attackers have produced against anybody they have faced this season, including Maryland, the No. 1 team in the nation.
These three need to keep putting the ball in the back of the net, but they can’t run the offense on their own. Midfielders Abby Smucker, Maggie Gallagher, Taylor Bleistein, and Kayla Brisolari scored 20, 15, 12, and 11 goals this season, respectively. They will need to continue to provide the Lions with secondary scoring in order to win the tournament.
Tighten Up Defensively
Although Penn State won 15 games during the regular season and maintained a top-10 ranking for most of the year, the defense was exposed in the team’s two losses to Colorado and Maryland.
Senior goalie Cat Rainone had a strong season, as did senior defenders Erika Spiker and Natalie Schmitt, but they did look exposed against No. 1 Maryland’s attack on April 20. Maryland didn’t have a 60-goal scorer in the regular season, but they did have five players score more than 30 goals, and two more scored more than 20.
The Terrapins scored 16 goals at the in Happy Valley that night, a feat only matched by Colorado earlier in the season. Since Maryland doesn’t have one standout for the defense to key on, the team will need to treat every Maryland attacker as a goal-scoring threat and work as a unit to stop their attack if they meet in the final of the tournament on May 7.
Although this may seem obvious, Penn State needs to first focus on the task at hand before even thinking about facing Maryland. Northwestern beat the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten tournament last year, so Penn State will be looking for revenge this Friday in College Park.
The team did enact a little revenge against the Wildcats earlier this season with a 14-13 win over them in Evanston on April 14, but knocking them out of the postseason will allow the Lions to fully avenge last season’s loss.
Although Northwestern got the better of the Nittany Lions last season, Penn State has still won four of the teams’ last five meetings. Hopefully, they will stretch it to five of six on Friday night.
Although it’s almost certain that Penn State will make its sixth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance this season, a Big Ten title this weekend would give the Lions an automatic bid into the tournament. Additionally, it would establish Penn State as a national powerhouse and a serious national title contender.
The NCAA tournament will begin on Friday, May 12, and conclude two weeks later at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.