Field Hockey vs Villanova, Spisak (4)

Midfielder Emma Spisak (4) chases the ball during the field hockey game versus Villanova at the Penn State Field Hockey complex on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. Penn State defeated Villanova 8-2.

With its first Big Ten game of the season approaching against Maryland, Penn State looks to continue its climb up the rankings by focusing on defense in the midfield and playing with aggression.

Looking back at the Albany and Delaware games from last week, there were several things that went well for the Nittany Lions.

The second half went smoother for Penn State in both games when it started playing more of a possession-based game as opposed to a defensive one.

Head coach Char Morett-Curtiss talked a lot with her team about getting a faster start and being on the aggressive side from the beginning of the game, instead of having to play catch up in the second half.

Penn State also needs to focus on before Big Ten play begins is the midfield.

Morett-Curtiss said the midfield has an attacking mentality but still needs to be able to recover when on defense.

Against Delaware, the midfield was able to string together moments of strong defense and at other times exemplify good offense — but the Nittany Lions struggled to connect performances on both sides of the ball consistently in the middle.

The gap between the defense and the midfielders was too wide, which was the reason Delaware was able to intercept Penn State’s passes in vital transitions.

This is an area Morett-Curtiss said her squad can improve upon by making the blue and white fullbacks and screen players more tactically aware on counter attacks.

Offensively, Penn State has been relatively strong when attacking the opposing team’s backfield. This wears down the opponent, allowing for more scoring opportunities and leads to multiple players tallying goals for the Nittany Lions.

Morett-Curtiss said she has “different weapons” to score this year, such as senior midfielder Anna Simon and sophomore forward Sophia Gladieux, who have scored most of the points this season.

Penn State field hockey, Gladieux

Penn State's Sophia Gladieux (3) during the game with Maryland. Nittany Lion field hockey lost a hard-fought 3-2 game to the visiting Terrapins in the series finale between the two teams on March 14, 2021 at the Penn State Field Hockey complex. Photo/Mark Selders

Junior midfielder Mackenzie Allessie and fifth-year senior midfielder Emma Spisak have also knocked in two goals a piece for the blue and white.

Penn State has been taking its season game by game, focusing next on Maryland which has proven to be an efficient offensive team, and because of this, the Nittany Lions have been working a lot on the defensive side of their game.

“A lot of the focus this week is on defensive zoning and how to pass man to man,” Morett-Curtiss said.

Maryland is a strong, fundamental team that is able to keep its positioning and structure organized.

The blue and white will need to utilize its defense and midfield in hopes of stopping the Terrapins’ aggressive attack.

“We definitely want to work on a more defensive organizational structure for the chance of moving quick transitions to the offense.” Allessie said.

The Nittany Lions tend to get lost on defense trying to protect the ball, but switching back into offense quickly is just as important.

Other than the defense, there is one other thing the blue and white is working on in preparation for the remainder of its season.

The team has been focusing on playing well individually and lacked the communication and teamwork that would ultimately strengthen its defense all across the field, Morett-Curtiss said.

One player specifically who communicates well with the team is Allessie.

Her positive attitude when addressing her teammates and ability to analyze the field allows the junior midfielder to change the game for the blue and white like no one else.

“[Allessie’s] communication is really where we’ve seen a lot of value in her, as well as her attacking abilities,” Morett-Curtiss said.

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