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Ohio State field hockey ‘needs’ to win Big Ten tourney to secure NCAA berth

Photo courtesy of the Ohio State Athletic Department

After three straight wins to cap off the regular season, the No. 15 Ohio State field hockey team heads to the 2011 Big Ten Tournament as the No. 2 seed.

The Buckeyes (11-7, 4-2) will travel to State College, Pa., for the yearly tournament where they will face the No. 7 seed Michigan State at 12:15 p.m. Thursday.

The tournament will run from Thursday to Sunday, with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.

In the teams’ regular season matchup on Oct. 14 in East Lansing, Mich., Michigan State (7-12, 1-5) won, 2-1, in a shootout.

The Buckeyes haven’t lost since they fell to the Spartans.

Senior captain and goaltender Ally Tunitis said the team just needs to stay composed. She said it will take a game-by-game approach to win the tournament, starting with Michigan State.

“We got frustrated because they scored first, but we need to be able to play our way back into games,” Tunitis said. “Just because they go up first doesn’t mean we aren’t strong enough as a team to come back.”

Its previous meeting with the Spartans has helped the Buckeyes recognize its strengths, said OSU head coach Anne Wilkinson.

“They have a really strong midfield, so we need to be able to manage that,” Wilkinson said. “We can generate an attack, but they are tough in the middle.”

To do so, the Buckeyes will look to their defense, led by senior captain Jenn Sciulli, who was recently selected to play in the NFHCA Divison I Senior All-Star game, and junior back Laura Napolitano, who was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday.

“This team is ready,” Sciulli said. “We have three straight wins heading into this and we all know that needs to continue.”

Four of the Buckeyes’ Big Ten wins have come against opponents who were nationally ranked at the time of their games, with two of these wins coming on the road.

“It has been great for this team to go on the road and stay focused with another team’s crowd,” Wilkinson said. “They know what is on the line here.”

What is truly on the line here is the automatic bid to the NCAA Championship, somewhere the Buckeyes have reached in both of the last two seasons.

“The automatic bid would be fantastic and that is what we are going for,” Wilkinson said. “We know winning this tournament is what we need to solidify our spot at NCAA’s.”

The winner between OSU and Michigan State will go on to face the winner of No. 3 Penn State and No. 6 Northwestern at noon on Friday.

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