By Meghan Gill, Redshirt-Senior Midfielder
There is a ton of things to catch all of you up on as we are finally back after a long week in Evanston, Illinois at the Big Ten Tournament. We had a great time both on and off the field at Northwestern with the great view of Lake Michigan from the field, to the opportunity to go to downtown Chicago as well as the Chicago Bears practice facility. Although it didn't end how we wanted it to, we played some great competition and have an even bigger focus and determination heading into the NCAA tournament.
Our trip started with on Tuesday with a short drive to Baltimore and a flight to Chicago. When we arrived, we learned that due to tournament rules we were not allowed to have an official practice. Instead, our coaches found a park for us to get our legs loose with some fun competitions. It started with a simple game of tag, which then progressed to a game we like to call "tail tag." Each team tucks a penny in the back of their shorts to look like a tail. The point of the game is to get all the other teams pennies back into your jail without them getting them back. To say the least, this game got very competitive and after only a few rounds, the coaches had to change it up. The next game the coaches chose was dodgeball! This game really showed who had played the game before as well as brought out some very unique and hilarious techniques of throwing a ball. There weren't many casualties, but Ali Schaefer took a lot of the hits for her team, and one that left everyone on the ground laughing (including herself). After this pre-game practice our legs were loose and we were antsy to play our game against Northwestern the next day.
A major key for us this game was putting a solid 90-minute game together as a whole team. Playing on the lake we knew it was going to be very and windy and in order to put a solid 90 minute game together we had to keep the ball on the ground and keep possession of the ball. We were able to execute our game plan against Northwestern in our first game of the tournament and come out with a 3-0 win.
Our first goal was an amazing corner by Emily Hurd that landed on the foot of Kori Chapic to put us up 1-0 with a lead we wouldn't relinquish. Kori played another key role in our next goal as she sent a long ball over the defense that Maya Hayes judged perfectly, spun on her defender, and volleyed home a amazing goal to solidify the lead going into halftime 2-0. Yet, we were not satisfied with just playing a good 45 minutes, we wanted to show we can compete and put together a 90 minute game. So, the second half we came out with more fire that resulted in Maddy Evans earning a penalty kick, which Christine Nairn slotted home for our third goal of the game and ended a solid game against Northwestern. We knew after the game we would play the winner of Wisconsin vs. Minnesota, but would have to wait as they played in the game after us.
We later found out Minnesota took down Wisconsin 2-0, meaning we were going to take them on in the semi-finals on Friday. Although we played them to a 1-0 win in the regular season, we knew we missed many opportunities to score in that match and were determined to start quick and put a few goals in early to show them that we were better than the 1-0 score line from the first time we played. Coming out in the first half keeping that goal in mind we put one on the board in the first 5 minutes with an amazing volley from the right side by J-Ro that hit upper 90 on the far post bounced off the goalie and into the back of the net! We were held to just that one goal for the first half, but wouldn't be denied in the second.
Ali Schaefer would continue coming up clutch in Big Ten games, as she was able to take a cross from Maddy Evans and get behind the defense to slot a ball into the right side of the net for the eventual game-winning goal. Maddy Evans would then get in on the scoring action after combining with Carly Niness and rocketing a shot past the goalie to give us some insurance in this game. Unfortunately, we were unable to hold on to the shutout with Minnesota putting one away with a little less than five minutes to go in the game. So, we were able to get some good things out of this game, but also learn that we need to continue our focus for a whole 90 minutes and not let in a goal in the final minutes of a game. However, in a tournament you can't dwell on one game over the next, we took our lessons both good and bad and were excited that we were moving on to the finals against Illinois!
Between our games on Saturday the coaches used the day for us to recover our legs and get some sight seeing in Chicago. After a stretch and pool recovery session with our trainer Andra we had the day to either relax in the hotel or go sight seeing and shopping in Chicago. Shopping and our team seem to go hand in hand and it was a fun and exciting day sight seeing in Chicago, especially with a four story Nike store! Yet, our day was long from over. Our coach told us we had a "cool event" planned for the evening, which we later found out was a tour of the Chicago Bears practice facility! As it is said, Penn State has the largest alumni network in the country, and it just happened that the trainer for the Chicago Bears is a Penn State Alumni and good friends with our trainer Andra.
It was an amazing experience for all, even the eagles fans on our team enjoyed the tour! We got to see their indoor practice field, which is named after Bears great Walter Payton, as well as their outdoor practice fields, which are even heated as it gets pretty cold in Chicago in the winter. We then got a tour of Halas Hall, which included their video rooms, locker rooms, cafeteria, training room, indoor pool, cold/hot tubs, and auditorium meeting rooms. Everyone had their favorite part as our manager Alex enjoyed seeing their million-dollar video equipment and learning how fast they can turn over video to the coaches. Erin Kehoe, the biggest Bears fan on the team (as she is from Illinois) loved seeing the meeting rooms and even left a little note to her favorite player Brian Urlacher! Not only did we get to tour the building but we ate dinner in the room that Bears eat everyday! It was fun and amazing experience to see how a pro team operates as well as reminded us to be thankful for what we have as we have a very supportive University and are given a lot of great gear, locker rooms, and soccer fields that some other teams do not. After the trip it was back to the hotel to rest up and get ready for the finals against Illinois the next day.
Game day is one of our favorite days of the week, and game days in which we get to play for a Championship gets us even more excited and pumped up for the game! Sunday was no different as we knew we had to come out and play a full 90-minute game to get the win against an good Illinois team. Unfortunately, they came out a little bit faster and put the first goal away just five minutes into the game. However, we knew the game wasn't over and we continued to compete and were able to pull even before halftime off Maya Hayes 27th goal of the season. Both teams were held scoreless in the second half and we were headed into overtime for just the second time this season. With the wind with them, Illinois came out early and put the game winner away just two minutes into overtime. Although very unhappy with this result, we learned a lot about our team that has helped us to refocus and energize us for our next journey in the NCAA Tournament.
Monday our team got together in Rec Hall to watch the selection show for the NCAA tournament to find out we are the 4th seed in our bracket and play Army for our first game this Friday at 7pm on Jeffery Field. We were excited to find out we had at least one more opportunity to play on the greatest field in the country in some of the best fans in the country!
We all know from experience that this tournament is one and done so we aren't taking any game lightly, and just looking to focus on one game at a time. Today we are getting back to work at practice this week to prepare for Army! For all you fans out there keep an eye out for us on campus as we have many things planned, including soccer games at Paternoville on Wednesday night, free ice cream at East and West dorms on Thursday, and you might even see us downtown and around campus handing out t-shirts and fliers for the game! The game will be free for all the students and Park Avenue Army members with a student ID, as well as free food before the game (6:30 in the parking lots), and counting towards Code Blue points!
We hope to see the students out in full force with a full Park Avenue Army on Friday to help us take down the Black Knights! Just some information for all the fans not just the students out there, the game kicks off at 7pm, with General Admission tickets at $8 a piece, and $5 for children or students without an ID. However, there is great group rate of $3 per person if you have a group of 15 or more fans. We hope to break our last record NCAA attendance of 1,847 as well as Blue Out the Black Knights! It's just like a White Out except we want all the fans to wear your favorite Blue Penn State Gear instead! Hope to see you all on Friday at 7pm at Jeffery Field as we start our journey in the NCAA tournament against the Army Black Nights!