UNIVERSITY PARK— Over her 26 years as Penn State’s field hockey coach, Charlene Morett has always challenged her team early in the season.
This year has been no exception.
The team is 6-2 and is ranked No. 6 in the country. The Nittany Lions beat then- No. 3 Old Dominion and then-No. 8 Virginia in their opening weekend, and have since downed Lafayette, Temple, Cornell and Lock Haven.
Both of the team’s losses have been in overtime — to then-No. 6 Connecticut and to then-No. 4 Princeton.
“It gives a purpose for your preseason, and you want to be challenged every week,” Morett said of the tough out-of-conference schedule. “If you’re continually challenging yourself in practice and against top-ranked opponents, you’ll be in good shape heading into Big Ten play.”
The Nittany Lions fell to Connecticut in the quarterfinals of the 2011 NCAA tournament after finishing second in the Big Ten during the regular season, tied with Iowa and Ohio State. Michigan won it. The Lions, however, went on to win the conference tournament, and expectations are even higher this season.
To reach those goals and be standing alone when all is said and done, Morett said that her team will take a “one game at a time” mentality and that there’s plenty of room for improvement each time the team takes the field.
Morett said the players
sometimes lack readiness around the ball and most goals are coming from penalty shots and corners, not the field.
“The ball carrier didn’t have options because not everyone around them is there to give them an option,” Morett said. “We need to stick with our pressing game plan.”
That pressing game plan relies heavily on senior forward Kelsey Amy, who leads the team with eight goals, one-third of the team’s total. She earned first team All-America and All-Big Ten honors in 2011.
But Morett said she wants to see the senior develop a more all-around game.
“She has great individual talent, but we need her to look to set up her teammates, to play the full game,” Morett said. “A lot of her success comes from her corner shot, but there’s so many other elements of her game that she needs to improve on.”
With Amy leading the offense, the Nittany Lions will start Big Ten play at home against Indiana on Sept. 21.
Volunteer assistant coach Jen Long, a Penn State player through 2007 and a first-team All-American, said the difficult non-conference games are a benchmark for where the team is as league games begin.
“I think these girls have handled it great already,” Long said, “and we’re pumped to go forward and get to Big Ten play.”
For sophomore forward Laura Gebhart, preparing for and winning the Big Ten isn’t her only goal. She has set her sights on a national title.
“We’re looking to go all the way,” Gebhart said. “We have high expectations. We’re not looking back, and (we’re) forging ahead.”
Steven Petrella is a Penn State journalism student.