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Women’s lacrosse: Ohio State seeking a bounceback victory at No. 5 Penn State

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Ohio State freshman midfielder Sage Darling receives a pass in the offensive zone against Rutgers on March 25. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

After starting the season 5-1, the Ohio State women’s lacrosse team (6-7, 0-2 Big Ten) has been stuck amid a doldrum, dropping six of its last seven games.

The Buckeyes’ misfortune as of late can be attributed to various factors that have impeded their path to the Big Ten tournament in May, but none larger than their offense — or lack thereof.

OSU began the season as a dynamic, volatile goal-scoring machine averaging almost 14 goals per game in its first six contests, while holding its opponents to 10 gpg over that same span. Conversely, in their last seven games the Buckeyes have only been able to muster 8.7 gpg.

“We’re still looking for some chemistry,” coach Alexis Venechanos said. “We’re a little bit younger team and people needed experience.”

This downtick in offensive production has come against tougher opponents on the road, including No. 10 Southern California and No. 13 Notre Dame, which both resulted in losses.

The Buckeyes are a relatively young team with plenty of talent throughout the roster. However, the youth has led to inconsistency in their lineups coupled with injuries. One of the key injuries happened most recently when freshman midfielder Liza Hernandez hurt her knee, keeping her out of their previous four games.

Hernandez, at the time of her injury, was the leading scorer — 21 goals in nine games — for the Scarlet and Gray and had impressed not only her team but also the conference. She was able to collect the first four Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards to begin her collegiate career.

The loss of Hernandez has required junior attack Molly Wood to step forward as more of an offensive leader for her team and has now tallied 41 points (35 goals, six assists). Wood has scored multiple goals in all but one game for OSU, but the team hasn’t had great chemistry in creating opportunities for scoring.

“We’ve been putting some different people on attack and seeing if they’re stepping up,” Venechanos said. “They are stepping up in practice and just having the courage to execute when your number is called.”

Going into their two games last week in New Jersey against Rutgers and Southern Cal, the Buckeyes were in prime position to make a strong statement with a signature Big Ten win over the Scarlet Knights and a top-10, non-conference victory against Southern Cal. Neither of these came to fruition for OSU.

“We obviously didn’t have the outcome we wanted. Going into that weekend we really thought we were prepared,” senior captain midfielder Christina Turner said. “We regrouped mentally, did a couple of things physically but it was more of a mental change more than a physical change.”

The Buckeye defense has been a bright spot throughout their recent play, the only problem being they are playing too much of it. While freshman goalkeeper Jillian Rizzo has seen a surge in goals allowed per game, it is mostly due to the increase in shots she has seen. Rizzo still boasts a .470 save percentage, putting her at 32nd in the country.

OSU has had to play more defense because the team has averaged 18 turnovers in the last seven contests, while allowing the opponent to successfully clear the ball into the offensive zone in front of the net 78 percent of the time.

“We need to have the ball more,” Venechanos said. “It’s cleaning up our turnovers. We know we can’t only take 16 shots, 20 shots a game. We need to be in the mid 20s to mid 30s, that’s our goal, and we had to work on that ball security.”

OSU still feels that the fate of their season is still in their hands. The Buckeyes believe that if they can collect some Big Ten wins to build momentum as the regular season comes to a close, they can position themselves well for a run in the conference tournament.

“We are really just trying to play a full 60 minutes,” Turner said. “We haven’t done that yet this year and I think if we play the full game the way we played the first 10 minutes of (Southern Cal) then no one can really stop us.”

The Buckeyes will look forward to a matchup with Big Ten rival — No. 5 Penn State Nittany Lions this weekend. The previous six meetings between the school have been decided by three goals or less, with the Nittany Lions holding the advantage in those contests winning four.

“We expected them to have a balanced attack,” Venechanos said. “In the past we have been able to compete with that and we know what to expect. I think there is some familiarity and it also being a Big Ten game there’s always a little more focus.”

The game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. faceoff in State College, Pennsylvania on Saturday.

“We are going to need to shoot well, we’re going to need good goaltending, just like every other game,” Venechanos said. “That’s what happens when you start playing your conference games. All of those details makes it a little bit more important.”

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