UNIVERSITY PARK — After opening the 2013 season with one win in their first four contests, it appeared as if the Penn State field hockey team would not be able to repeat as Big Ten champions.
Eight weeks, 12 wins, one loss and 44 goals later, the No. 8 Nittany Lions enter the Big Ten Tournament Friday in Columbus, Ohio, as the heavily favored number-one seed after winning a share of the Big Ten regular season title with Northwestern.
Before last week’s 2-1 loss to Michigan in the last game of the season, the Nittany Lions were undefeated in Big Ten play. Their 12-game streak included wins over No. 3 Princeton, No. 10 Northwestern and No. 16 Delaware.
“We started great, but then we had those three losses and I think that made us want to kick into gear,” junior forward Taylor Herold said, referring to the opening win over No. 8 Old Dominion that was followed by losses to No. 7 Virginia, Temple and No. 4 UConn.
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“We had hard practices after that, and then we started to gain our momentum and we started playing as a team and clicking,” she said.
The Lions face Iowa at 10 a.m. on Friday. Should Penn State prevail, the Lions will play in the championship game on Sunday at noon.
It’s impossible to talk about the Nittany Lions’ turnaround without mentioning Herold. A junior majoring in recreation, parks and tourism management, Herold led the team with 11 goals, tying a career high she set last season. The Fredericksburg, Va., native said she tried to focus on attacking and scoring.
“Being a forward, it’s your job to score goals,” Herold said. “That’s just my main focus. Just to cause corners, look for the open players in the circles, and not only just scoring goals but discipline on defense.”
Herold also plays wheelchair basketball on Wednesday nights at the White Building on campus, led by Disability Recreational Programs coordinator Teri Jordan. Players of all ages are encouraged to participate, whether disabled or not.
“It’s a new thing I got to do this year,” Herold said. “I actually had to do an assignment for class, and I ended up liking it so much that I try to go as much as I can.”
Herold said she spends a lot of time with the coaching staff and credits their ability to prepare her.
“Stu (Stuart Smith) is my go-to guy when I need to practice on things I want to work on. LB (Lisa Bervinchak-Love) is like our mom. If we’re having a bad day, she’s the one we go to if something’s wrong. She’s always there to cheer us on for practice,” Herold said.
“And then Chars (Charlene Morett), our head coach. She’ll be your friend, but she’s your head coach and she’s the one that pushes me to be better every time. If I’m having a bad day, she’ll pull me aside and tell me, ‘You got this,’ or ‘You know what to do,’ or sometimes ‘You’re not having a good practice. C’mon, show me what you got.’”
Herold also credits the senior leadership of this year’s squad, including Brittany Grzywacz, Witney Reddig and Laura Gebhart.
Herold also believes that the team chemistry has changed since last season.
“Last year we had Kelsey (Amy), who was one of the most outstanding players in the entire field hockey league, and we kind of depended on her to get us into the circle. And, not that it wasn’t last year, but this year it’s a total team effort from the backs to the forwards,” she said.
“It’s just awesome to see that it’s not focusing on getting it to the right side and hoping Kelsey gets a shot on goal. Everyone’s playing defense, everyone’s playing offense, and it’s connecting during the game.”
Looking ahead to the NCAA tournament, which begins Nov. 16, Herold said the Nittany Lions need to prepare to play teams that come out fast and must match their intensity in order to win.
“We come out hard, so when a team matches that, it’s going to be a dogfight,” Herold said. “Our coach talks about the first five minutes of the game — we want a goal, we want to get the ball deep and try to get a corner. We try to keep that mentality throughout the game.”