#LMRanks: No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions (WD1)
|Can Maggie McCormick lead Penn State through to the NCAA tournament once again in 2014? (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)|
2013 Record: 14-7 (4-1 ALC)
Coach: Missy Doherty (4th year)
Record at Penn State: 36-22
Draw Control: 4
A Maggie McCormick (Jr.)
McCormick led the ALC with 87 points (50 goals, 37 assists) last year and earned second-team All-American honors. A strong crease attacker and feeder, she especially worked this fall to make more plays in front of the cage as an adjustment to rule changes that will allow defenders more freedom moving through the goal circle.
D Lizzy Carney (RS-Jr.)
An All-American as a sophomore two years ago, Carney missed all of last season with a knee injury sustained in fall ball but is back to full strength. She anchors a defense that graduated 2013 third-team All-American Katie Guy and fellow starter Colleen Shea.
"It's great to have her back," Doherty said. "We graduated two of our starting defenders from last year, so being able to have her come in and contribute on defense is great. It really helps solidify our defense."
NCAA Tournament Trend
2009 - Did Not Qualify
2010 - Did Not Qualify
2011 - Did Not Qualify
2012 - Quarterfinals
2013 - Quarterfinals
After rebuilding the midfield the last few years, the Nittany Lions finally have some depth in that position. All the starters return, though Ally Heavens is shifting to defense, and incoming freshmen Steph Lazo, Abby Smucker, Taylor Bleinstein and Natalie Schmitt all could make an immediate impact.
Penn State's scoring average last season was among the nation's best. It should only improve this year, as just one of the team's nine players to score in double digits graduated -- Molly Fernandez, who scored 30 goals.
What Rival Coaches Say
"This is my dark-horse team. I think Missy Doherty's passion gets them two to three wins each year that no one saw coming. She is master at motivating and always has her team well-prepared. Maggie McCormick should put up big numbers."
"Strong defensive unit should help lead the way."
"Return the majority of starters who gained valuable experience in 2013. Three-way tie for first place in ALC in 2013 boosts Lions confidence heading into 2014 season."
"The strength of the Nittany Lions came mostly from players that did not graduate so they are on the right track for this season. Their strong players have led since a young age and will only get better in their senior season."
"A great recruiting class should bolster an already strong team."
"They have played together for a while and will reap the benefits of that experience."
"Playing a strong team game, they were much improved last year and could make a challenge for the top spots this year."
"They return the majority of their team, and have numerous weapons on attack. Could definitely see them winning the ALC."
"They seem to find a way to win big games."
"I was impressed with their athleticism. They play fast defensively. They are very aggressive not only on-ball and but also in double teaming and really forcing the offense to react to them. They had solid players in Maggie McCormick and Tatum Coffey that are really dynamic and do a lot of things well."
"Coach Doherty now has a very strong handle on Penn State and what her players are capable of. They are fast and athletic and have a lot of threats. If they can sort out their goal keeping I think Penn State could contend for a National Championship. Lechner is one of the fastest players in the game and with Cyr, McCormick, Coffey, and a handful of solid newcomers and transfers the offense will be tough to stop."
In a Nutshell: Penn State won seven of its last nine regular-season games and posted its best record (14-7) in Missy Doherty's three 10-win seasons, but the Nittany Lions lost in the NCAA quarterfinals for a second straight year. Their 14 wins were the program's best showing since 1999 and they ranked ninth in the nation in points (392) with the help of Maggie McCormick's team-leading 87 points (50 goals, 37 assists).
High Point: The Nittany Lions beat Florida for the first time in five tries, upsetting a Gators squad ranked No. 2 at the time. Penn State trailed by three at halftime but outscored Florida 10-2 in the second half to cruise to a 16-11 win. It marked the team's third straight win and snapped a 24-game regular-season win streak for the Gators.
Low Point: After losing to Northwestern 11-3 in the regular season, the Nittany Lions pushed the Wildcats to the limit in the ALC semifinals before falling 9-8 in overtime. When a third meeting came around in the NCAA quarterfinals, their hopes of turning the corner were squashed with Northwestern's 5-0 run to open the game. The Wildcats went on to win 15-7 to end Penn State's season.
Best Case: Returning the bulk of a young but talented offense, the Nittany Lions' attack proves even more potent this season behind now more experienced juniors and sophomores like Maggie McCormick, Tatum Coffey, Kelly Lechner and Jenna Mosketti. Lizzy Carney returns to the All-American form she displayed in 2012, and the Lions play better than expected on defense to win the ALC title and advance to the Final Four.
Worst Case: Last year's success despite youth turns out to be little more than an enigma, as opposing teams now know who to key in on when defending the Lions. Penn State's defense collapses without All-American Katie Guy and Colleen Shea, and the lack of a clear starter in goal doesn't help. Penn State ends its season in the quarterfinals for a third straight season.
Self-Examination— Missy Doherty on...
Kelly Lechner: "She's super competitive. She's great at executing. She has great speed. She has the ability as a midfielder to make great defensive plays and also make some really crucial offensive plays. Last year she was a bit of a difference maker in a lot of our games. It's good to see her grow, and I'm glad she is only a junior."
Maggie McCormick: "Maggie definitely had a great fall, and she started to do some things she hasn't done before, so it's good to see her getting better and better. She's basically been a crease attacker, our quarterback and our feeder for her first two years, and now with the rule change, where a defense can kind of go behind and mark even tighter, we're challenging her to make more plays in front of the cage and she's doing a great job feeding or challenging from the top and adding a little more to her game."
Lizzy Carney: "She's a great leader for us. She's a fantastic player. She's actually an excellent midfielder, but because we've had a couple more middies come in, she's been able to concentrate on defense, and she does a great job back there. Coming back as an All-American as a sophomore, she's excited to get back in and start helping us out."