The No. 6 Penn State field hockey team (1-0, 0-0 B1G) opened up the 2018 season with a 1-0 win at home against No. 7 Virginia. The Nittany Lions rode a strong defense, led by senior Cori Conley, and a lone first period goal to the victory.
It took Penn State less than four minutes to get on the board for the first time when Gini Bramley took an assist from Abby Myers at the 31:24 mark to give the Nittany Lions an early 1-0 lead. Penn State pressured the Cavalier defense throughout the opening period. Virginia's first real offensive pressure of the first half came at the 19:30 mark but Penn State's defense, anchored by Conley, forced the ball out of bounds.
Lion goalie Jenny Rizzo picked up her first save at the 18:00 mark to keep the Nittany Lions on top 1-0. Virginia's offense picked up the pace late in the half, pressuring the Lion defense and Rizzo but Penn State held strong, maintaining its 1-0 lead as the clocked moved below the 7:00 mark. With 3:33 left, Emily Klingler had a solid shot that allowed Penn State to pick up its first penalty corner of the game. Mary Nell Smith took the corner that led to two solid Penn State shots, but Cavalier goalie Carrera Lucas notched two saves to keep the score close. Maddie Morano had a late shot that Lucas pushed over the cage and the Nittany Lions carried the 1-0 lead into the break.
Penn State outshot Virginia 10-3 in the first half with Lucas keeping the Cavaliers in the game with six saves. Lion keeper Rizzo had one save on Virginia's three shots. Penn State had the lone penalty corner of the first half.
Virginia came out aggressive in the second half with Izzy McDonough getting an early shot on goal that Rizzo deftly pushed aside. Virginia continued to pressure Penn State but the Lion defense, with Conley and freshman Anna Simon anchoring it, held firm to keep Penn State on top. The Nittany Lions found their offense over the next ten minutes, getting three shots from Bramley. Two went wide and Lucas saved another, keeping the game close. Penn State continued to dictate the pace of the game, keeping Virginia on defense as the clock moved below 23:00.
Virginia got its first penalty corner at the 22:30 mark, with Amber Ezechiels taking it for the Cavaliers. Conley blocked her first effort and Virginia got a second corner off the block. Ezechiels took it again, setting up a solid shot by Anzel Viljoen. Rizzo stopped the shot cold with an outstanding block, keeping the Nittany Lions in the lead with 21:20 on the clock. Penn State looked to take advantage of a Virginia green card but the Cavalier defense kept Penn State from mounting a real threat and the clock moved down under 20:00 left with the Nittany Lions hold the slim 1-0 lead.
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At the 18:29 mark, Smith took a penalty corner for the Lions but Penn State did not manage a shot off the effort. Penn State kept the ball on the Virginia side of the field, however, working the clock down under 17:00. With 14:50 on the clock, Myers chased down a slow roller that Virginia was letting roll out of bounds. She knocked the ball back into play, forcing a duo of penalty corners taken by Simon. Penn State had its shot blocked on the first, then missed on two shots on the second corner with 13:00 left to play. Penn State picked up its fifth corner of the game with 12:00 left to play, with Lucas notching two more saves to keep Virginia close. Virginia got a penalty corner at the 8:00 mark but Conley blocked the Cav shot and Penn State took over possession seconds later.
Virginia called timeout with 3:39 left and pulled its goalie. The Penn State defense held firm as the clock moved down below 2:00. With the ball on Penn State's side of the field, Virginia looked to work the ball towards the Lion cage but the Penn State midfield, anchored by Cassie Kline and Aurelia Meijer kept the Cavs from mounting a serious threat. With the clock ticking down below 1:00, Penn State's defense held off a final Virginia effort, forcing a turnover with :10 to kill the clock and ice the game.
"This is a very good win for us over a very good team," said veteran head coach Char Morett-Curtiss. "The team got stronger as the game went on. We had a lot of opportunities on offense and we need to get better converting on those, but Virginia is a good team with a very good goalie. I was proud of the way we our defense hung in there." Morett-Curtiss's defense was anchored by senior Conley. "Cori was outstanding holding down the defense for us," Morett-Curtiss continued. "As a team we played above my expectations and I'm very happy with this win."
Penn State outshot Virginia 17-9 with Cavalier keeper Lucas notching nine saves. Penn State's Rizzo notched her tenth career shutout, tallying four saves in the process. The Lions had five corners to three for Virginia. Klingler and Meijer each had three shots for Penn State while Greta Ell had three for the Cavaliers. The Nittany Lions are now 1-0 on the year, 0-0 in Big Ten action. Virginia starts its campaign 0-1 after the hard fought loss.
Penn State will return to action next weekend, visiting Temple on Friday, Aug. 31, for a 6 p.m. contest. The Nittany Lions host two home games the following week, welcoming Princeton on Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 7:30 p.m. and Kent State on Friday, Sept. 7, at 4 p.m. A three-game week will conclude back at Temple where Penn State will face Duke at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 9, in a neutral site battle.