By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion women's soccer team defeated Army, 1-0, on its home turf Friday night, capping off a flawless 9-0 record at Jeffrey Field this season.
In a game where the Penn State offense completely dominated throughout, out-shooting
its opponent 29-3, it was a goal by junior midfielder Christine Nairn in the
final five minutes that propelled the Nittany Lions to victory over the Black
"We always have confidence in each other and we knew somebody's going to step up," said Nairn. "We were just trying everything we could... they [Army] did a great job and fortunately we were able to put one away late."
The offense struggled to find a rhythm early against a stingy Army defense that dropped six players back at all times. The Black Knights hoped to catch the Nittany Lions off guard and score on a counter attack. Though Penn State controlled the ball for virtually the entire first half, they were unable to oust Army's sensational goalie, senior Monica Lee, who made a career high 12 saves in the game.
"I think it was just a combination of compacting the midfield and then their keeper just playing big today," commented sophomore forward Maya Hayes on what the Army defense was doing so well.
The Lions poured on shot after shot towards the end of the half, only to be turned away by the Black Knights' defense with every attempt. Lee made her presence known on every corner kick and breakaway opportunity Penn State had. She slid out of goal on more than one occasion to deny Hayes, the nation's leading scorer. The game was knotted at zero going into half time.
"It was frustrating, but it was great to be surrounded by teammates that you can depend on when you can't put the ball in and score for our team," said Hayes, who tallied eight shots on the night.
The second half proved to tell a similar tale save for a single, critical exception: the offensive blitz by the Nittany Lions had begun to wear Army down. Penn State relentlessly attacked the goal, unleashing a seemingly endless barrage of shots, but to no avail. The Army defense held strong until the final five minutes when sophomore defender Bri Hovington lofted a perfectly placed cross by Hayes to Nairn who controlled the ball and slipped it into the lower left corner of the net.
"In my head I was just saying, 'just put it on goal, put it on goal,'" said Nairn.
"We wanted to push the tempo," added head coach Erica Walsh. "We wanted to be the ones to decide how quickly the game was going to end."
The Black Knights clearly demonstrated why they had compiled 15 shutouts this season. They constrained the middle, forcing Penn State's formidable trio of Nairn, Hayes, and sophomore forward Taylor Schram, to take difficult shots from outside the box and then Lee smothered any ball that snuck by the defense. It was the Nittany Lions' unfettered determination, fueled by the home crowd, which allowed them to emerge triumphantly.
"I thought the crowd was phenomenal," said coach Walsh. "I felt a tremendous energy in here tonight, a positive energy and it kind of willed us to win this game."
The coaches have repeatedly told the players how important it is to win on their home field. The players have united behind their seniors and their captains and shown that they never lose at Jeffrey Field.
The Nittany Lions head to Winston-Salem, N.C., home of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, where they will face Marquette in the second round of the NCAA tournament.