September 26, 2012

30 in 30: Is Penn State Ready for the Next Level?

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com

Look for Maggie McCormick, Penn State's leading returning scorer, to play a little more up top this year, says Nittany Lions head coach Missy Doherty.
© Zac Hardy

Penn State has won two NCAA women's lacrosse titles, in 1987 and 1989. None of the players on the Nittany Lions' current roster were even born when they last hoisted a championship trophy. Coach Missy Doherty would like to change that trend.

"I know when the girls come here, they're going to compete at the highest level in everything. We're getting the girls who don't just want to come to school and play, but play at the best level in the country," said Doherty, now in her third year as coach at Penn State. "The time to develop your program and your expectations is the next step. There are reasons to think it could happen. Things are starting to fall into place."

In 2012, Penn State earned its first NCAA bid in seven years and advanced to the quarterfinal round. They went 12-7, earning their greatest number of wins in a season since 2005. The team started as many as seven freshmen last year, all of which are back. One of those seven now-sophomores is midfielder Tatum Coffey, one of the most exciting players in the country. Coffey (who's featured in the October issue of Lacrosse Magazine, which US Lacrosse members receive in the mail this week) was the only freshman named to an All-America team in 2012 and is the youngest player on Team USA.

But the Nittany Lions play in the American Lacrosse Conference, and they have to go through juggernauts like Northwestern and Florida to get a league title or an NCAA automatic qualifier. Of their 12 wins last season, only two came against tournament teams (Virginia and Towson).

And there are some uncertainties. Doherty said it's a "tight race" to name a starting goalie. She has two options: freshman Emi Smith (Regis Jesuit, Colo.) and junior Melissa Lloyd. Lloyd played seven minutes in one game last season behind former starter Dana Cahill (.486 sv%), who graduated. Both keepers played a full game at Maryland's Fall Play Day on Sept. 23. Smith started versus a sharp-shooting Terps team, Penn State lost by an unofficial score of 16-5. Lloyd played versus Virginia, a 10-5 loss.

"Melissa's playing better than she's ever played and Emi brings some great tools to the goalkeeper position. It might be one of those years when we have more than one goalie playing," Doherty said.

The field defense will be anchored by returners Lizzy Carney (36 GB, 16 CT) and Colleen Shea (27 GB, 16 CT). In the scrimmage over the weekend, the Nittany Lions struggled to slow a very fast Maryland team, but fall ball growing pains are the cost of doing business as Penn State evolves its defense to a higher- pressure model.

Offensively, Penn State is well situated – seven of its top eight scorers return, and they add freshman midfielder Ally Heavens. Heavens, an Under Armour All-American for Garnet Valley (Pa.) High, looked sharp on the crease versus Maryland, finding rare paths to the goal. Heavens and fellow freshman Jenna Mosketti (Fallston) add depth to the midfield and ease the loss of starter Theresa Zichelli (22 goals, four assists in 2012) to graduation.

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"We brought in a really good freshman class, which takes pressure off our midfield. There's less pressure for Tatum and some of the returning people," Doherty said.

Maggie McCormick, the Nittany Lions' top returning scorer (29g, 30a), missed the last game of the 2012 season — a 15-2 loss to Florida in the NCAA quarterfinals — due to a concussion suffered versus Towson in the first round of the tournament, but the sophomore was back in action at College Park. McCormick was primarily a behind-the-cage feeder in 2012, often drawing a faceguard. The Penn State coaching staff wants her to mix it up more in her second season.

"She's a great feeder, great vision and great touch with the ball. We want to push her to some other roles, to be a good cutter and play a little more up top," Doherty said.

The Nittany Lions play a challenging fall ball schedule. In addition to ACC powers like Maryland and Virginia, they are slated to play ALC foes Northwestern and Florida on Oct. 7 at the Play for Parkinson's Tournament in Virginia, as well as James Madison, Rutgers and Drexel, all at home in State College, Pa. On a team with 16 underclassmen, many of whom are likely starters, it's essential to establish who is ready to play on the first day of the spring season.

"There are girls who practice well but are better in games, and to be able to see that in the fall is awesome," Doherty said.


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