Kelly Daggett Brings Attacking Mentality To Penn State’s Defense
Kelly Daggett’s seamless transition from attacker to defender this offseason provided a young Nittany Lion defense with a commanding voice and veteran presence.
After tallying 39 points her first two years on campus, the junior agricultural sciences major from Bainbridge, PA, put the team first and fully bought in when head coach Missy Doherty propositioned the move.
Now, she’s an essential contributor in a starting trio that also includes sophomore Hayley DeAgostine and true freshman Alyssa Sloane. Daggett has started all 19 of Penn State’s games heading into Friday’s NCAA tournament opener against Penn.
“I feel like I’ve really gained a lot of knowledge on defense,” Daggett said before Wednesday’s practice. “This is something that I hadn’t done since high school, so I took every game and every lesson and every time I got beat and was like, ‘Now I know how to be better next time.’”
Daggett, a four-sport star in high school for Lancaster Catholic, leads Penn State in caused turnovers with 25 so far this season, while adding 30 ground balls and four points (two goals) from her position as a low defender.
One of Daggett’s goals came on a tremendous hustle play late in the first half of a clutch 13-12 overtime victory versus Johns Hopkins on March 22. Daggett took the ball away deep in the Blue Jays’ territory and didn’t think twice before rifling a shot perfectly on target.
“I would say my biggest strength is probably 1v1 defense,” she said. “I’m able to go out and get the ball because I know that the rest of my team has my back.”
When asked which player reminded her the most of the role she played during her college days at Maryland, Doherty was quick to single out Daggett.
“I never stopped talking,” Doherty, a three-time NCAA national champion defender, said with a smile. “Kelly does a great job of leading the defense and talking through things.”
Earlier this season, Doherty called Daggett and DeAgostine the team’s “glue” players — the ones whose names maybe don’t show up at the top of the box score, but are crucially important to the outcome of the game nonetheless.
Penn State (10-9) has lost five of its last six contests, but the win over Northwestern in the Big Ten semifinals ensured the Nittany Lions would make their seventh straight NCAA appearance. Daggett was named to the conference’s all-tournament team last weekend in Ann Arbor.
“We know that we’ve lost a lot of games, but the nice thing is, at this point we have nothing to lose,” Daggett said. “There’s no expectations. We’re not a high-ranked seed, so as long as we go in and we play our best, whatever happens, it’ll be a good game.”
The in-state Quakers (13-4) fell to Princeton in the Ivy League championship before nabbing an at-large bid to the tournament, where they’ll face the Nittany Lions Friday at 5 p.m. at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium on Stony Brook’s campus.
Daggett and the Nittany Lions have made the Final Four in consecutive seasons, falling to North Carolina and Maryland in 2016 and ’17, respectively. The program’s progress is evident, but an improbable return to the semifinals would prove Penn State is here to stay.
“It’s a great memory for us,” Daggett said. “The past two years we’ve gone all the way to Memorial Day weekend and that’s been incredible for us. We keep having to, not hype up the freshmen, but we have to keep reminding them, ‘This is what we do. We get to the Final Four.’”
The Nittany Lions have five true freshmen playing significant roles this season, but Daggett said she and Penn State’s upperclassmen have simply been preaching the importance of “mentality” this week.
“My favorite thing about Daggett is definitely her energy that she brings to every practice, every game,” senior captain Katie O’Donnell said. “Every single play she makes, she’s bringing full force. Whether it’s on the defensive end or she comes over on offense and scores a goal, her celebrations just show it all. She’s ready to go at all times.”