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Maryland field hockey weekend preview: Penn State

The Terps head to Happy Valley looking to turn a corner and rise above .500.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland field hockey takes the short trip to State College, Pennsylvania for two games against the Penn State Nittany Lions this weekend.

The Terps have a 2-2 record so far this season, with wins against Michigan State and Ohio State and both losses coming at the hands of Northwestern. All four games were played in Virginia Beach, Virginia, wrapping up the neutral-site contests for Maryland this season.

“We did have an opportunity to see Penn State play [in Virginia Beach],” head coach Missy Meharg said. “They’re very, very fast in their counter-attack, so in that way we’ll be able to have numbers up in our counter-attack. We’re looking forward to it.”

Maryland will play both Friday and Sunday against the Nittany Lions, a team that defeated the Terps in the 2019 Big Ten tournament semifinals the last time they faced off. The Terps lead the all-time series, 6-4. Friday’s game will take place at 3 p.m., with Sunday’s contest at 12 p.m. Both games will air on BTN Plus.

Let’s take an in-depth look at this season’s Penn State squad.

Penn State Nittany Lions (1-2)

2019 record: 8-12 (4-4 Big Ten)

Head coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss is currently in her 34th season leading the Penn State field hockey program. Just like Meharg, Morett-Curtiss is a legend in the coaching industry. Morrett-Curtiss’ 538 wins rank fifth all-time in Division I history — right behind Meharg, who sits at fourth. She was also one of the best athletes in Penn State history, named a First-Team All-American three times during her collegiate career.

Penn State is 1-2 thus far, with its two losses both coming to Iowa by a score of 1-0. The Nittany Lions’ lone win this season was a shootout thriller against Northwestern on March 5, a team Maryland has failed to beat twice. The team’s first game of the season against Michigan was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Wolverines’ program.

Players to know

Bree Bednarski, senior forward, No. 6 — Bednarski has Penn State’s lone regulation goal this season, resulting in a team-high two points. Bednarski should also be familiar to Maryland fans, as she scored the game-winning — and only — goal in the Nittany Lions’ 1-0 defeat of the Terrapins in last season’s Big Ten tournament matchup.

Anna Simon, junior defender, No. 17 — Simon is perhaps the best player on the Nittany Lions’ roster this season. Hailing from Hanau, Germany, Simon was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team in 2019 after leading the team in goals (eight), points (19) and shots (71). So far this year, Simon leads the team with eight shots in three games. The junior has started all 41 matches played since her true freshman campaign in 2018.

Brie Barraco, sophomore goalkeeper, No. 12 — In her redshirt freshman season in 2019, Barraco started every game and did not miss a single second. This year, that trend has continued, with Barraco playing all 200 minutes in the cage for Penn State. Despite having a 1-2 record, Barraco has quietly been one of the best goalkeepers in the entire Big Ten. Her 6.67 saves per game ranks first in the conference, while her .870 save percentage ranks third.

Strength

Defense. Even though the Nittany Lions sit with a losing record through three games, the team’s defense has been stout. The starting defensive combination of the aforementioned Simon and Love has helped limit opponents to an average of one goal per game, which is tied for third in the Big Ten with Maryland, along with other schools. Penn State will have its hands full against a Maryland offense that has scored six goals this season, the second-most in the conference.

Weakness

Goal scoring. It is no secret that Penn State has had a tough time manufacturing goals up to this point. The Nittany Lions only have one individual regulation goal in three games this season. That adds up to 0.33 goals per game, which is eighth in the conference, only ahead of Indiana. Penn State also hasn’t had a lot of scoring opportunities, with only 11 penalty corners, which also ranks eighth in the Big Ten. For comparison, Maryland has 25 this season. Penn State will need to find a way to generate some scoring opportunities to try and knock off Maryland.

Three things to watch

1. Will Riley Donnelly continue her strong start to the season? The junior defender has been arguably the best player on the Terps’ roster this season, earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for her performance last week in Virginia Beach. Her two assists, four points and seven shots lead the Terrapins this season. She also has converted on the Terps’ only penalty stroke opportunity this season.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Donnelly said about being tabbed with the Big Ten weekly honor. “I was more of a defensive player, I guess it was like a shock to me. I never would have thought I would have gotten offensive player of the week for my first award, but it’s really exciting. Overall, I’m just looking for our team to grow.”

2. The Terps will be playing the same team in one weekend for the first time. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Big Ten schedule looks very different. For the remainder of the season, the Terps will play five different opponents twice on the same weekend in the same location. This is obviously a new quirk to the schedule and something that Meharg and her team are embracing.

“It depends on the team and it depends where your team is,” Meharg said on the schedule. “I think for Maryland right now, we’re a little small in numbers. We’ve had some injuries, people are coming back. I’m more apt to stay focused on continuing to do and develop our team this first weekend than try to play a chess match with Penn State A versus Penn State B.”

3. Will a healthy Kyler Greenwalt continue to make a positive impact? The senior midfielder has looked great coming off an ACL tear suffered on Oct. 21, 2018. Despite only playing 66 minutes due to short spurts at a time, Greenwalt leads the Terrapins with two goals this season. Not only has her play positively impacted the team, but her presence alone has as well.

“You can definitely see how much [Kyler] wants it,” Donnelly said. “Being sidelined for an amount of time, you can just see how much she loves being out there on the field and wants to work hard for her teammates every day. That just brings great energy to the whole team and the spark, which was really great.”