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Key Departures & New Schedule Give Penn State Women’s Lacrosse A Fresh Start In 2022

The 2021 season was nothing but challenging for Penn State women’s lacrosse. As a new season gets underway in just about a week, the Nittany Lions will need to place a big emphasis on ball control and defensive strategy if they want to meaningfully improve.

Last season, the Nittany Lions went 4-9 and 0-6 on the road in a season that featured only Big Ten opponents. On the bright side, they picked up three big wins over ranked opponents in Michigan (No. 13) and Maryland twice (No. 7 and No. 9).

Naturally, though, the work is cut out for Penn State as it enters a more fleshed-out schedule that features non-conference matchups, too.

This spring, Penn State boasts 22 returning players, plus a graduate transfer and seven freshmen. The team lost the services of star midfielder Olivia Dirks when she transferred to UNC over the offseason.

The Nittany Lions will also need to account for the losses of big players on defense like senior captain Quinn Nicolai and Sammy Helgeson, whose absences leave an unmistakable void. Nicolai recorded 12 ground balls, forced seven turnovers, and scored nine goals of her own last season, while Helgeson posted 14 ground balls, one draw control, and nine forced turnovers.

This year, newly appointed captain Rachel Spilker will lead a defensive group made up of fresh and inexperienced faces. Spilker was a force on defense during the 2021 season when she posted 13 grounds balls and 13 forced turnovers for the Nittany Lions. Once again, she’ll be called upon to step up in a big way.

Midfielder Samantha Dupcak should play a big part for the Nittany Lions, too. She was just recognized by the Big Ten as a “Player to Watch” for the upcoming season after recording 17 ground balls, 28 draw controls, and 10 forced turnovers throughout the 2021 season.

On offense, the Nittany Lions will need to focus on ball control and crashing the net. Last season, Penn State finished second in the Big Ten by averaging 12.77 goals per game, and the team will surely hope to keep that offense humming.

Kristin O’Neill, who received All-Big Ten honors and earned last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year Award, will need to keep working her magic on the offensive side of the ball. Last season, O’Neill recorded 29 goals, eight assists, 18 ground balls, six draw controls, and 15 caused turnovers. She tallied 10 multi-point games last season, too.

Along with O’Neill, midfielder Mary Muldoon should also be an important player in the success of the team’s offense. Now a team captain, she recorded 17 goals, six ground balls, and five multi-goal games in the 2021 season. With her seniority and experience, Muldoon should serve as a cornerstone on both sides of the ball.

Graduate student Taylor Regan joins Dupcak and O’Neill among the Big Ten’s “Players to Watch” this season as she arrives following a strong career at Virginia. Regan recorded career-best stats last season with 24 goals for the Cavaliers.

Last season, Penn State largely struggled to find its rhythm. Hopefully, new defensive coordinator Katrina Geiger can help turn things around following her strong stint at Georgetown.

Penn State enters the season ranked No. 25 in the ILWomen/IWCLA preseason poll and No. 5 in the Big Ten Preseason Coaches Poll.

Penn State will open the season on February 16 in Philadelphia with a matchup against Drexel. The team’s first four games will be on the road before the Nittany Lions host James Madison on March 9 in Panzer Stadium. Big Ten play begins on March 26 when the Nittany Lions travel to Ohio State.

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About the Author

Sarah Sacker

Sarah is a senior majoring in journalism and a writer for Onward State. She is from Annapolis, Maryland, and is a huge fan of the Ravens and Capitals. Follow her on Twitter @Sarah_Sacker8 or email her at [email protected]

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