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[ Friday, Nov. 5, 1999 ]

Fifth straight Big Ten title no small goal

Collegian Staff Writer

The pressure is on as the Penn State field hockey team tries for an unprecedented fifth straight Big Ten championship this weekend in Columbus, Ohio.

The Lady Lions head to Ohio State for the sixth annual Big Ten Field Hockey Tournament, set to be played today through Sunday on the North Turf Field of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

Since the tournament's inception in 1994, Penn State had been in every title game, losing to Iowa in 1994 and winning nine straight conference tournament games since.

But the road to the top will not be an easy one. Penn State's (17-3, 8-2 Big Ten) title run might go through Iowa and Michigan, the No. 1- and 3- seeded teams, respectively.

"I've never, ever been nervous for this tournament," Penn State field hockey coach Char Morett said in a press release. "We've always had a strong schedule and never had to depend on winning the tournament for an NCAA position."

The tournament begins today with two first-round contests. Ohio State and Michigan State face off at 11:30 a.m. and Michigan vs. Northwestern follows at 2 p.m.

PHOTO: Colin Gillette
PHOTO: Colin Gillette
Penn State’s Kiley Kulina takes a shot against Iowa Oct. 17.

The semifinals begin tomorrow, as Iowa plays the Ohio State-Michigan State winner at 11:30 p.m. Penn State will see its first tournament action of the season at 2 p.m., doing battle with either Michigan or Northwestern.

The semifinal winners will face off for the Big Ten title at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Fortunately for the Lions, they will have Big Ten Player of the Year Tracey Larson on their side. In her last season with the team, the senior midfielder convincingly won the Big Ten scoring title, tallying a career-best 57 points during the season.

Defensively, redshirt freshman goalkeeper Heidi Leuchte finished second in the conference with a .804 save percentage and recorded a conference-high eight shutouts in her first season of collegiate field hockey.

Until Penn State knows what teams it will be playing, it can only prepare for all five potential opponents.

  • Iowa (16-1, 9-1) has given the Lions their share of fits this year. Twice, the Lions have outplayed the Hawkeyes, only to get stonewalled by Iowa goalkeeper Kelly Druley, who led the Big Ten with a .867 save percentage.

  • Michigan (14-6, 7-3) lost to Penn State, but also handed Iowa its only loss of the season. The Lions have beaten Michigan six straight times, dating back to 1997.

  • Ohio State (11-6, 4-6) began the season with a 7-0 mark, the best start in team history. But the Buckeyes found life in the Big Ten to be difficult, struggling the rest of the way. Ohio State swept its series with Northwestern and Michigan State, its first-round opponent, but lost all six games to Iowa, Penn State and Michigan.

  • Michigan State (9-10, 2-8) spent much of the season in the STX/NFHCA National Div. I Coaches Poll, finally dropping out of the rankings this week. In their two games to Penn State this season, the Spartans were outscored, 7-0.

  • Northwestern (4-13, 0-10) has had a season to forget, being the team everyone beats up on. One of the team's few bright spots has been the play of goalkeeper Jessica Yates, whose .783 save percentage was third best in the conference.

    "The Big Ten Tournament is the most difficult tournament in the country, Michigan field hockey coach Marcia Pankratz said. "Having to play all of those top-20 teams in three days is brutal."

    Field hockey

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    Updated Friday, November 05, 1999  2:03:56   -4
    Requested Tuesday, October 10, 2000  16:00:19   -4