Penn State senior Steph Lazo is living her dream — and she doesn’t want it to end.
The All-Big Ten women’s lacrosse selection said earlier this week that she can still remember attending games as a little girl, watching huge playoff crowds cheer as players sprinted onto the field. She nearly had to pinch herself as a college freshman, when she cheered from the sideline as her Nittany Lions took on Princeton in her first NCAA tournament game.
On Sunday, Lazo will come full circle.
Penn State will once again take on Princeton in the NCAA quarterfinals, at 1 p.m. Sunday at PSU’s Lacrosse Field. Win or lose, it will be Lazo’s final home game. The semifinals and national championship will be played at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
“To know it could be our last game, it’s just making us,” she said, glancing down and pausing for a few moments. “I don’t even know. Now, I’m getting sad.”
Lazo said this is exactly what she signed up for four years ago when she joined the Nittany Lions. She wanted to play in front of big crowds. She yearned to compete against the best. And, more than anything, she wanted to win — on the biggest stage she could.
These Nittany Lions have reached the quarterfinals for three straight years now, but Lazo isn’t satisfied. She wants to make it to the national championship — her team is just two wins away from that — and that little girl inside her from years ago won’t let her forget.
“We’re still dreaming about getting to that final four,” she said. “We’re trying to make that big dream come true.”
It won’t come easily. Although the Nittany Lions already beat Princeton once during the regular season, in a 13-8 victory on March 21, the Tigers boast one of the nation’s best offenses. Penn State goalie Cat Rainone needed to record a season-high 10 saves that game to grab the win; Princeton is ranked in the top 20 in both shot percentage (17th, .458) and scoring offense (15th, 14.67 goals per game).
And Lazo’s not the only one who’s trying to keep her dream alive either.
“When you’re an 8-year-old girl in Little Sticks lacrosse, you’re like, ‘I would love to play in a national championship,’” senior defender Erika Spilker said. “That’s always a dream and we are close, but we really thrive on focusing on one game at a time.”
Penn State hasn’t been in the national championship since 1989, when it beat Harvard 7-6, but it’s been close numerous time before. In the last six seasons, the Lions have reached the quarterfinals on five occassions.
They’re hoping this season is a little different. Lazo and Spilker have watched this program evolve a lot over the last four years, as one tournament berth after another was added to the team’s banner. But there are no second chances in the NCAA tournament — it’s win, or watch that dream come to an end.
“It really means something because it’s survive and advance,” Lazo said, before adding, “And I’m not ready to go home yet.”
NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Quarterfinals
Who: Princeton at Penn State
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Penn State Lacrosse Field
What’s at stake: The winner will play No. 1 Maryland at 5 p.m. Friday in the NCAA semifinals in Foxborough, Mass.