WLAX: Seventh-Ranked Nittany Lions Open Season with Dominant Win Against Albany
UNIVERISTY PARK, Pa. – The No. 7 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions were 5-0 in their last five season openers coming into Saturday’s home opener against the Albany Great Danes. If you thought the 2016 National Semifinalist Nittany Lions would break this undefeated streak, you were wrong.
Penn State defeated Albany 20-9 in Holuba Hall and started their season off 1-0. Penn State used a second half surge to break the game wide open and led the entire game. The Nittany Lions last played the Great Danes in 2011, when they lost 8-7.
Penn State finished last season 14-7 and were 7-2 at home. They reached the Final Four, losing to North Carolina. Albany finished last season 11-6 and was 6-3 on the road.
The Nittany Lions returned eight of their 12 starters from last season. They are led by senior attacker Steph Lazo, who led the team in total points last season with 71. They lost their leading goal scorer Madison Cyr to graduation. Penn State also lost their goalkeeper Emi Smith to graduation and went with senior Cat Rainone.
Lazo, Abby Smucker, Natalie Schmitt, Madison Carter and Katie O’Donnell all made Inside Lacrosse’s 2017 Pre-Season All-American List.
Albany returns attacker Dakotah Savitcheff, who led the team with 64 points last season, and Sarah Martin, who was second with 58 saves. The Great Danes also lost their starting goalkeeper to graduation and went with freshman Georgia Schneidereith in net.
The first half got off to a quick start for Penn State. Their offensive leader and facilitator Lazo notched her first goal of the season just a minute and a half in. Later, in a matter of three minutes, junior midfielder Katie O’Donnell scored three goals and notched the hat trick.
As the rest of the half progressed, Penn State was dominating the time of possession. They were moving the ball patiently around on offense and stymieing the Great Dane defenders. The Albany defenders kept making silly fouls and roughing violations that gave Penn State easy opportunities to score and take possession. Albany’s attacker Kenzie Neal managed to put home a goal, but by the five-minute mark of the first half Penn State was in control. They were up 7-1, thanks to some goals from Lazo, senior Abby Smucker and sophomore attacker and midfielder Madison Carter.
Albany called a timeout with just over five minutes left in the half and things drastically changed. The Great Danes started playing harder and controlling the ball much longer than the Nittany Lions. They ran their offense to perfection and started to pelt Rainone with shots. They managed to rack up four goals, two from Sarah Martin, and cut the score to 7-5 heading into the second half. The Great Danes’ run gave them all the momentum heading into the second half and started to make the Penn State fans wonder if an upset was brewing.
Like the first half, Albany scored less than 30 seconds in to whittle the Penn State lead down to just one. Penn State then rallied the troops and head coach Missy Doherty found a way to get the game back in their favor. The Nittany Lions rattled off five straight goals, including two more goals from Lazo to raise her total to four and two more goals from O’Donnell to give her a whopping five. Penn State began taking back the time of possession. Their first team offense, led by Lazo, O’Donnell, Smucker and Carter moved the ball around patiently and the combination of Lazo to a streaking Carter was deadly. In the second half, Carter boosted her goal count to six and Lazo led the way with seven assists and many right to Carter.
O’Donnell and Lazo kept on scoring in bunches and eventually the lead began to balloon to a point that was insurmountable. Penn State was winning just about every faceoff, thanks to Carter, and running down the field to set up their offense and score just minutes later. When it was all said and done, Penn State had dominated the second half and emerged victorious 20-9. Carter, O’Donnell and Lazo led the way with 16 combined goals and their team defense locked down in the final 30 minutes.
Penn State outshot Albany 45-21 and put a healthy 31 shots on goal. One of the largest differences in the game was Albany’s knack of fouling. They out-fouled Penn State 33-18 and made far too many silly mistakes.
“You need to learn well and grow and I think we did that today,” head coach Doherty said after the game on her team’s transition from the first half to the second. “I think each game will see someone step up.”
The No. 7 ranked Nittany Lions got their season off to a rip-roaring start and could easily move up in the rankings next week. Penn State will continue their opening home stand next week when they host Towson on Saturday.
Matthew Harvey is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and history. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.