Goodman Shaffer: Women’s sports keeping Valley happy

Penn State has given football fans plenty to celebrate in recent weeks with whiteout wins over conference rivals Ohio State and Iowa, but the Nittany Lions are tearing up more than the gridiron this fall.

PSU faithful have the opportunity to see multiple Penn State champions open regional and national tournament action in Happy Valley this weekend.

The women’s field hockey team has captured a league-leading seventh the Big Ten Tournament championship on Sunday, defeating Maryland on the road to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. That is no small feat; the Lions are the only team in the conference to ever win at Maryland.

The victory had some added meaning: it was the 500th career win for former Olympian and Hall-of-Fame coach, Char Morrett-Curtiss, who has also earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors this fall.

The seventh league title is a Big Ten best.

Morrett-Curtiss, a former Penn State All-American in her own right, has been coaching her alma mater for three decades, trailing only volleyball coaches Russ Rose and Mark Pavlik in all- time PSU coaching wins.

She quietly leads a perennial power on a football-obsessed campus, but the Penn State coach is one of the most respected figures in the field hockey community. Her 17-2 Nittany Lions open the national championship tournament this Saturday hosting Princeton.

Across campus, the defending national champion women’s soccer team has followed up its history-making 2015 campaign by earning a share of the regular-season Big Ten title.

The Nittany Lions defeated rival Ohio State, 2-0, clinching a three-way tie for the conference championship, the 18th in program history. The Lions fell to Rutgers in the Big Ten tournament, but still punched a ticket to their 22nd straight NCAA playoff bracket; they’ll host Bucknell in first-round action this Friday at Jeffrey Field.

Penn State’s women’s cross country team finished second at the Big Ten championships last weekend, earning a top-ten national ranking;  the Nittany Lions will be the favorite as they host the Mid-Atlantic Regional this Friday at the Blue-and-White Course.

The women’s volleyball team is working to overcome some adversity this fall. The winningest program in the nation stands at an uncharacteristic 10th in the national rankings.

However, with the NCAA tournament still a month away, the Lions still have time to peak just in time for the playoffs. Penn State’s decade of dominance has undoubtedly raised the bar in the Big Ten, forcing their conference foes to rise to a new level. After a three-game road tour, the Lions round out the regular season hosting Purdue, Northwestern and Illinois at Rec Hall.

Football may rightfully grab the most headlines and the biggest crowds, but Happy Valley is home to a Lion’s share of women’s teams also worth the trip to watch.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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