The Penn State field hockey team was cruising through the 2016 season. The Nittany Lions had a stout defense and plenty of punch on offense.
They lost two Big Ten games and finished second in the standings, but were standing over everyone else in the conference tournament.
It appeared the road was laid out for them until they ran into Princeton in the first round of the NCAA tournament, stumbling to a 2-1 loss.
The team has been thinking about that loss ever since.
“I would definitely say it fueled them in the offseason, gave them a little more motivation to their training this summer,” coach Char Morett-Curtiss said Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center at the university’s annual fall sports media day. “It was a very, very disappointing way to lose to Princeton.”
With the return of the team’s top scorers, a solid midfield and defense, they have big plans for this fall. The season opens for the No. 7 Nittany Lions at 6 p.m. Friday at No. 23 Old Dominion.
The team would like to get to that rematch with the Tigers in a few weeks, but there are four games before they pay a visit to No. 8 Princeton.
And Morett-Curtiss, in addition to the usual talk about not looking ahead too far, needs to solve a few puzzles between now and Sept. 10. The teams met for a spring scrimmage, and “it didn’t go well,” the coach said.
“We didn’t show enough competitiveness,” Morett-Curtiss said. “I still forget this team is somewhat young. We do have the bulk of our junior class as the spine of our field.”
The “spine” to which Morett-Curtiss referred is forward Moira Putsch, midfielders Gini Bramley and Aurelia Meijer, and goalkeeper Jenny Rizzo.
Putsch (16 goals), Bramley (12) and Meijer (11) were three of the five Lions who finished in double figures in scoring, along with senior Shay Cannon (11). The only top scorer who graduated was Brooke Birosik (11). The offense as a whole netted 78 goals, as Penn State finished fourth in the nation in scoring.
In the back of the formation, Rizzo started all 20 games last season, helping the defense post four shutouts and allow just 30 goals.
Yet Morett-Curtiss was a little less than confident when talking about her team Wednesday, feeling her team played tentative and nervous in a pair of preseason scrimmages.
The coach is seeking a fast-paced, up-tempo team that can use its speed and fitness, with aggressive midfielders and forwards attacking from a lot of angles.
“We do have some threats around the cage,” said Morett-Curtiss, who is entering her 31 st season and earned her 500 th coaching win beating Maryland for the Big Ten tournament title last November.
At the moment, Morett-Curtiss is not worrying about this coming November, or even the rematch with Princeton. There are too many steps in between.
“I’m hoping they can understand how important it is to take it one game at a time,” she said, “and not look too (far) forward.”
Penn State field hockey
Head coach: Charlene Morett-Curtiss (31st season)
Last year: 17-3, Big Ten tournament champions, lost to Princeton in NCAA first round
Returning starters: 7
Season opens: at No. 23 Old Dominion, 6 p.m. Friday