Mike Wolf, BTN volleyball announcer, April 14, 2015
Three games into the Big Ten season, and Maryland has continued to dominate the league. The Terrapins are the nation?s only unbeaten team and have not played a game within five goals since conference play began.
However, Maryland is not the only unbeaten team in Big Ten play, as the Terps have company in the form of the Nittany Lions atop the standings in this week?s ?Stick Check.?
Can Penn State keep pace?
In an unrelenting downpour last Thursday night in University Park, Penn State held off Michigan to earn its third Big Ten win of the season and stay unbeaten in conference play. The Nittany Lions have had a favorable schedule to start Big Ten action, facing the two bottom teams in the conference in the first three weeks, as well as Ohio State at home. Now the question is whether or not Penn State is a contender for the Big Ten title or just the beneficiary of an easier schedule to start conference play.
Penn State looks the part on paper. The Nittany Lions are second in the conference in scoring offense (14.00 GPG) and scoring defense (8.62 GAA) and have three wins over ranked opponents. Only Northwestern and Maryland have more wins over ranked competition and the Nittany Lions are three points away from three other victories over Top 20 foes.
Penn State has eight different players that have scored 10 goals or more and one of the top feeders in the nation in senior Maggie McCormick. The balanced attack allows Missy Doherty?s team to succeed even when teams elect to faceguard McCormick and take her out of the offense, as Ohio State did on April 4. The combination of an experienced senior class that includes several four-year starters as well as emerging underclassman like Steph Lazo and Katie O?Donnell puts the Nittany Lions in a position to challenge the Big Ten?s two iconic programs.
After a brief trip out of conference Tuesday night to face Cornell, Penn State travels to Evanston on Sunday for what will be a true assessment of where it sits in the conference hierarchy. As former American Lacrosse Conference members, the Wildcats and Nittany Lions met on a regular basis over the last decade, with Northwestern winning the last 17 meetings dating back to 2003. A year ago in Happy Valley, Penn State played Northwestern to a low-scoring affair, losing by one goal, 5-4. There is reason to believe this could be the year that Penn State ends its lengthy losing streak to the Wildcats.
What has traditionally been Northwestern?s calling card, dominant draw control play, has been noticeably absent this season. The Wildcats have improved as the year has progressed, but Penn State will have the edge on the circle. The Nittany Lions rank 19th in the nation in draws won per game while Northwestern is 40th. Without the edge in the possession game, Northwestern will have a tough time keeping up with one of the top offenses in the nation. Penn State has seven threats on the field at all times and while Selena Lasota and Kara Mupo will likely get their numbers for the Wildcats, McCormick, Lazo, Coffey, O?Donnell, Cyr, Lechner, Mosketti, among others, should put the Nittany Lions in a position to stay unbeaten in conference play.
The regular season finale in College Park against the top-ranked Terps on April 23 will be another story. More to come next week on that matchup, which could decide the top spot in the inaugural Big Ten Tournament.
Performances of the Weekend
Kelly McPartland (MD) - 5g, 1a vs. Princeton
Megan Whittle (MD) - 9g vs. Princeton & OSU
Taylor Cummings (MD) - 3g, 1a, 5 DC at OSU
Brooke Griffin (MD) - 3g, 1a at OSU
Jess Angerman (MICH) - 1g, 5a at ND
Kara Mupo (NU) - 6g at Rutgers & Stony Brook
Selena Lasota (NU) - 6g at Rutgers & Stony Brook
Maggie McCormick (PSU) - 2g, 5a vs. Michigan
Live this week on BTN/BTN2GO
Rutgers at No. 20 Ohio State - 7 p.m. ET Thursday (watch on BTN2Go)