Penn State women’s field hockey vs. Ohio State, team celebrate

The Penn State women’s field hockey team celebrates a goal during their game against Ohio State at the Penn State Field Hockey Complex on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in University Park, Pa. The Nittany Lions defeated the Buckeyes 2-0.

In her 36 seasons leading Penn State, coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss has yet to lead the Nittany Lions to a National Championship.

Now, her team is one game away from playing for its first title.

The blue and white will face North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Friday in Storrs, Connecticut. The team enters the game not conceding any goals in shutout victories over Louisville and UAlbany.

An unassisted goal by Mackenzie Allessie was all Penn State needed to eliminate the Great Danes, who upset Big Ten Champion Michigan in their opening game.

Should the Nittany Lions defeat the Tar Heels, they would face a conference foe with the National Championship on the line.

North Carolina

The top seed in this year’s tournament, North Carolina is no stranger to going deep in the postseason.

The Tar Heels have won nine National Championships, including three in a row from 1995-1997 and from 2018-2020. In the 2007 title, coach Karen Shelton’s squad shut out Penn State 3-0 for its fifth title.

This year’s team is a perfect 19-0, including two wins over Big Ten opponents: 5-1 against Michigan on Aug. 26 and a 3-2 overtime win against Iowa two days later. North Carolina has shut out its opponents 79-20, giving up 1.05 goals per game.

Penn State will have its hands full stopping the Tar Heels’ one-two attacking punch. Forward Erin Matson, a Pennsylvania native, leads her team with 25 goals, including three in its quarterfinal victory against Saint Joseph’s. Freshman Ryleigh Heck has contributed 17 goals as well, while playing both midfield and forward.

The blue and white faced two ACC teams this regular season: a 3-2 win over Virginia on Aug. 26 and a 2-1 loss to Louisville two days later. Penn State would later defeat the Cardinals 5-0 en route to reaching the semifinals.

Maryland

One of three Big Ten schools remaining, the third-seeded Terrapins reached the semifinals following victories over Liberty and Syracuse. Maryland is pursuing its seventh title and first since joining the Big Ten, as its most recent championships came in 2010 and 2011.

Missy Meharg’s team has a balanced attack, with four players having 10 or more goals on the season. Sophomore Hope Rose is the Terrapins’ leading scorer with 14 tallies. The Central Dauphin High School alumna also scored the winning goal in a penalty shootout against Syracuse.

Penn State defeated Maryland 5-1 in the two teams’ earlier meeting on Oct. 21. While the visiting Terrapins took the early lead off a Dani Van Rootselaar goal, the Nittany Lions controlled the rest of the game behind two goals from Sophia Gladieux.

Northwestern

The Wildcats, this season’s second seed, are the defending champions, having won their first championship after beating Liberty 2-0 last season. This year’s team defeated Miami (Ohio) and conference rival Iowa to reach the semifinals.

Tracey Fuchs’ team has relied on its grit as it seeks two titles in a row, winning both of its NCAA Tournament games in shootouts and going 11-2 in one-goal games. Bente Baekers leads the Wildcats with 23 goals and her teammate, Pennsylvania native Peyton Halsey, has contributed 13 as well.

One of Penn State’s three losses came at Northwestern on Sept. 30. Baekers and Halsey lit up the Nittany Lions, scoring all of their team’s goals in a 5-4 overtime thriller. Allessie scored a hat trick for Penn State in the loss.

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