The Penn State field hockey team spent a lot of time together this past summer.
After a lackluster 2015 season, they hope it pays off this fall.
After the spring semester ended, there was a team trip to Holland, both to be tourists as well as to get in some international competition.
Then, for the rest of the summer, 17 Nittany Lions were on campus for classes.
“It was really fun to throw into the group chat, ‘Hey, does anyone want to go up to the field and shoot around?’” said senior forward-midfielder Brooke Birosik, whose 11 goals led the team last season. “… Summer was a good time just to go up there and just do a lot of reverse chips, drag flicks, shots with the whole team — it was a good time for us all to work on it.”
The had impromptu practices, they would do homework together, go out to movies together, and later in the summer gathered around the TV to watch the Olympic field hockey matches.
The No. 18 Nittany Lions had two good showings in preseason scrimmages the last two weeks against Drexel and Kent State, and the season gets underway for real this weekend. They open against No. 20 Old Dominion at 6 p.m. Friday at the Penn State Field Hockey Complex, then host No. 5 Virginia at noon Sunday.
The three teams with deep connections among them have met to open the season for close to three decades, and it’s always a good measuring stick. It will show how well all that team bonding will pay off on the field.
It should help in keeping everyone connected too.
That also has been an issue, coach Char Morett-Curtiss feels. There have been small group sessions with coaches and position groups, and then large group sessions with the team to get better connections.
“We’re really seeing much more continuity between the backfield to the midfield through the forward line,” Morett-Curtiss said. “There’s just a greater sense of connectiveness amongst the players on the field.”
The team also has had discussions about closing out games. Five times last season they lost leads in the closing minutes.
“That’s something we’ve definitely been talking about and working on,” Morett-Curtiss said, “just that composure out of the backfield a little bit more.”
A key factor last season was the youth of the team, and this year’s group is also pretty youthful with only four seniors but six freshmen and 10 sophomores.
Among the key returnees is goalie Jenny Rizzo, one of the nation’s best keepers.
She trained with the U.S. under-21 program over the past year, played in the Junior Pan American Games in the spring and figures to be in the Junior World Cup in November.
The training with the national program and facing international competition should pay major dividends.
“Her training and just her experience in getting more reps in the cage,” Morett-Curtiss said, “has made a big, big difference for the team.”
Watching those Olympic matches figures to pay off as well. The players took notes, watched set pieces, especially penalty corners, and tried to devise ways to use it on the field. Converting on penalty corners was a major issue last season, netting just four goals in 151 chances.
“We’re really looking for a little more redirection out of our offensive corners,” Morett-Curtiss said.
Just like they had all summer, the team is learning it together.