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Penn State Field Hockey Preparing For Home Advantage In Big Ten Tournament

This season has brought plenty of ups and downs for Penn State field hockey.

The team has just three seniors on its roster, led by captain Madison Morano, and its inexperience has shown throughout the year. The Nittany Lions started the season 0-7 while playing some of the top teams in the country, including current No. 2 Maryland, No. 3 Virginia, No. 5 Duke, and No. 9 Princeton. They were outscored 11-4 against those four teams and 20-9 during that seven-game skid.

Since dropping that seventh game in a wild 4-3 overtime loss to Cal, Penn State has gone 6-4 to finish out the year, highlighted by a double-overtime upset over then-No. 8 Northwestern and the Big Ten’s leading scorer Bente Baekers.

The Nittany Lions are coming into the Big Ten Tournament hot, winning their last two games against Bucknell and Rutgers to seal their spot. Penn State will have a key advantage in the tournament as well, with University Park serving as the host this year.

Despite the pressure, the message from head coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss has been the same as it’s been all year: Treat this like any of the other big games this season. With such a young team, that message rings louder then ever as many of the freshmen and sophomores prepare to play substantial minutes in a conference tournament.

“I think that [Penn State has] been prepared throughout this season,” Morett-Curtiss said. “We’ve been playing teams like Duke, Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, Iowa — all these top-10 teams. It’s really just focusing on your opponent and not letting the big tournament atmosphere get to your nerves.”

Penn State will take on Michigan in the first round at 11 a.m on Thursday. The Nittany Lions took a close 3-1 loss to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor earlier in the season, with a disallowed Penn State goal that could’ve made a massive momentum shift adding to the disappointment. But with home turf this time around and big lessons learned, Morett-Curtiss has supreme confidence in her squad this time around.

“We know that we did some good things at Michigan, but we also know that we work on our communication and our defensive skills,” Morett-Curtiss said. “If we can make those changes playing at home, it’s a different level of confidence. We feel good about going into tomorrow’s game.”

The players also believe having a home advantage will make a huge difference. Bree Bednarski, who transferred from Michigan after her freshman year, believes in her team and hopes to make a difference on turf against her old team, especially now that she’s playing more.

“It’s huge because we’re playing [at Penn State], and they’re a great team with great skills…we just have to come out hard against them,” she said. “It’s exciting because I’ve been playing more than in the past, so I feel like I really want to bring it against them.”

Paityn Wirth has been one of the standout freshmen on the team, starting for most of the season, and currently stands as the team’s second leading scorer with 13 points — tied with fellow freshman Jemma Punch.

While the team’s difficult start to the season and their inexperience might lead some to write it off, Morrett-Curtiss recognizes the growth and huge strides Penn State has made to improve. She’s also praised the current crop of seniors in helping lead the Nittany Lions into the place they’re in now.

“When I look at this team, I’ve seen them improve so much and that’s been exciting to see,” Morett-Curtiss said. “I feel like we’re on this upward trajectory — which is obviously a very positive feeling — and I really believe that this senior class has done an amazing job of keeping this team focused on one game at a time.”

Wirth has also praised the seniors for their leadership and stood by them even through the 0-7 run.

“[The seniors] have been awesome. They love us, and we’re like little sisters to them,” Wirth said. “They’ve really welcomed us with open arms and helped with our transition. The beginning of the year wasn’t the best, but not once did I doubt our captains.”

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About the Author

Matt Paolizzi

Since graduating from Penn State in 2021, Matt is (hopefully) manning a successful job and (hopefully) living a happy life by now. In a past life, he was a writer for Onward State and remains a proud alumnus of the best student publication in the country. Check out Podward State too, Onward State's official podcast, that he co-founded alongside Matt Ogden and Mitch Stewart in 2019. It's his baby, give it a wave and make sure it's doing okay. Thanks to da king Sam Brungo and everyone who follows, it most definitely is.

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