Penn State

Nittany Lions looking to reach women’s lacrosse final four for 1st time since 1999

Penn State’s Steph Lazo as she shoots for a goal during the Thursday, April 28, 2016 game.
Penn State’s Steph Lazo as she shoots for a goal during the Thursday, April 28, 2016 game. Centre Daily Times, file

The Penn State women’s lacrosse team has been here before.

The Nittany Lions have now reached the NCAA tournament quarterfinals four times in five years. They suffered season-ending losses on the previous three trips, falling just short of the final four. This team is looking to break that trend when it hosts No. 7 seed Penn in the quarterfinals Saturday at noon.

The Nittany Lions are tired of losing in the elite eight.

“I think this year we have raised the bar to go to the final four and the national championship,” senior goalie Emi Smith said. “We never talk about it. We just perform on the field and show it.”

Smith and her teammates took a step toward the final four with their 14-13 overtime win over No. 2 Florida in the second round Sunday.

They’ve proven they can play with the nation’s elite teams.

Now, they’re looking to earn a spot in the final four for the first time since 1999.

Unlike their last three quarterfinal appearances, the Nittany Lions will have home-field advantage Saturday.

“I think it’s huge for us because we love playing on our home turf,” said Steph Lazo, who scored the game-winning goal against the Gators. “We love the vibe and feel that our field brings for us.”

Saturday’s matchup will feature contrasting styles of play.

Penn State utilizes a “run and gun” approach and ranks 10th in the nation in scoring with 13.11 goals per game. Penn tries to settle it down more and averages 10.79 goals per game.

“Their style’s different than some of the teams that we’ve played so working through those things, and being able to prepare the team for a different style of play is kind of our test for this week,” Penn State coach Missy Doherty said.

The Quakers are led by senior attack Nina Corcoran.

Corcoran leads the nation with 58 assists, and she’s the only player in the country averaging more than three assists per game (3.05).

Corcoran had three goals and four assists in a 17-7 win over Wagner in the first round and finished with one goal and two assists in a 12-4 victory over Towson in the second round.

“Even when players are just slightly open, she’s able to get the ball in there,” Doherty said. “Our program assist leader graduated last year, Maggie McCormick, so our team certainly is somewhat used to in practice playing against one of the best assisters that Penn State has had, so that helps a little bit to be able to draw some comparisons in the practice setting.

“But it’s going to be tough.”

Doherty feels her team has been tested all season.

The Nittany Lions challenged No. 1 Maryland during a loss in the regular season, and they knocked off No. 2 Florida to set up a chance to clinch a spot in the final four in Philadelphia.

But since getting back from Florida, Doherty’s focus has been on preparing for Penn.

“Thankfully we haven’t had enough time to really overthink what might happen next,” Doherty said.

Ryne Gery: 814-231-4679, @rgery