Women's Lacrosse vs. Johns Hopkins, players

Attacker Aurora Cordingley (45) tries to shoot but is blocked by defender Alyssa Sloane (35) and midfielder Kristin O'Neill (19) during Penn State's women's lacrosse game against Johns Hopkinson Sunday, April 18, 2021 at Panzer Stadium in University Pa. The Blue Jays defeated the Nittany Lions 13-11.

Penn State finished the 2020-21 season with the second-worst record in the Big Ten conference.

With an overall record of 4-9 on the season, the Nittany Lions struggled to find consistency in the winning column.

What made the Nittany Lions’ schedule even tougher, was it featured exclusively Big Ten opponents, five of which made the 2021 NCAA Tournament, with Northwestern advancing all the way to the Final Four before falling to No. 3-seeded Syracuse.

The Nittany Lions lost both matchups to Northwestern in regular-season play by an average margin of 7.5 goals as Wildcats attacker Lauren Gilbert tore apart the Penn State defense with a total of 13 goals over the course of the two games.

Both matchups against the then-undefeated Wildcats were played in enemy territory, which is where the blue and white struggled the most last season.

Six of Penn State’s nine losses came on the road last spring as the team went winless.

Something that contributed mightily to these losses was Penn State’s inability to capitalize on free position opportunities.

The team converted just 34 of 94 free position attempts, a 16% dropoff on average than its opponents’ success rate.

Perhaps the Nittany Lions’ best finisher last season, Maria Auth, finished seventh in the conference in goals per game last season.

Auth’s value was evident every time she stepped on the field last season finishing the 13-game schedule with 34 goals and 12 assists.

With Auth having played her final season in a blue and white uniform in the spring, Penn State will look to replace the leadership, veteranship and production that she displayed over the course of five tremendous seasons.

On the other side of the ball, then-junior goalie Taylor Suplee and then-senior Lucy Lowe alternated goalkeeping duties last season, as neither one found much consistent success.

Suplee allowed 141 goals in her 12 games played, while Lowe allowed 37 in six games.

With Suplee’s recent transfer to High Point and Lowe’s graduation, the team will likely name sophomore Cayden Jarvis as its lead goalie come this spring.

Two other key departures that Penn State will have to replace this season are Olivia Dirks and former captain Sophia Triandafils.

Triandafils finished her senior year with 13 goals and seven assists for the blue and white, while Dirks decided to transfer to UNC.

USA Lacrosse Magazine ranked Penn State at No. 23 on the NCAA women’s lacrosse preseason rankings.

The Nittany Lions were ranked just one spot above conference foe Michigan, a team who they split a series with last season.

While there are many new faces in the locker room, sophomore midfielder Kristin O’Neill will surely look to pick up where she left off after a historic debut season.

The midfielder was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, was selected to the All-Big Ten second team and received five Big Ten Freshman of the Week Awards.

O’Neill will have to lead the Nittany Lions to victory this season with the limited amount of experience under her belt.

However, her stats display just how remarkably talented she is and how quickly she became accustomed to Big Ten lacrosse as only a freshman.

Penn State may need some extra time to develop early on in the season especially on the offensive side of the ball with the losses of Auth, Dirks and Triandafils.

A key name to look out for this season is junior attacker Kara Nealon.

Nealon ranked third in the Big Ten and led the team in assists per game last season.

In a game against Northwestern, Nealon was only one assist shy of what would’ve been a Penn State record, as she posted seven total assists.

O’Neill and Nealon ranked third and fourth in goals per game, respectively, for the Nittany Lions last season and will presumably take the next step up in becoming the lead attackers for the blue and white this spring.

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