By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Eighth-ranked Penn State women's soccer, a perfect 3-0 in conference play, has set its sights on rival Ohio State for a Thursday night game in Columbus, Ohio.
The Nittany Lions (8-2, 3-0 Big Ten) are coming off of a statement weekend
where they defeated Northwestern and Illinois handily on the road, outscoring
their opponents by a count of 8-1.
Junior forward Maya Hayes led the way with three goals and an assist
through both games, followed by senior Christine Nairn, who scored twice
against Illinois. The defense tallied
its fourth shutout of the season.
The players returned to Happy Valley pleased with their performance, but promptly turned their attention to the Buckeyes as soon as practice began.
"I think our team confidence is pretty high, but I think that we all know that we have much higher goals this year for our team," said sophomore defender Kori Chapic.
"These guys are flying," said head coach Erica Walsh on the team's confidence. "They're enjoying the season, but they're taking one game at a time."
Penn State faces a third consecutive road test at Ohio State (7-3, 2-1 Big Ten), a team that is an undefeated 6-0 at home. The Buckeye defense has allowed just five goals through the first ten games with six shutouts and the offense is headed by Tiffany Cameron, who has found the back of the net nine times thus far. Regardless, the Nittany Lions are excited for the challenge
"It's Ohio State," said senior midfielder Christine Nairn. "We like our matchups with them and we know they are a good team, a strong team and we're looking forward to the game."
Ohio State has yet to face an offense as dynamic and prolific as Penn State's. The Nittany Lions have scored 31 goals by 10 different players in 2012, compared to the Buckeyes' 14, and haven't been held scoreless once this season. The team is confident and understands that the key to overpowering their opponent will be to play their style of soccer.
"I think if we focus on us and focus on the details and our shape and finishing, I think we'll be fine," said Nairn. "This game is going to be a huge game, it's a huge rivalry, but if we stick to what we're good at I think we'll be alright."
The desire to win will also be crucial, as the Nittany Lions will face a hostile environment and a daunting defense, but if the players meet the challenge head on, then they will be tough to defeat.
"I think that this game is really going to be who wants it more," said Chapic. "We're going to have a lot of adversity to deal with and I think that, as a team, when we step up and overcome that, we're a very difficult team to beat."
Depth has been instrumental to Penn State's success of late. Injuries plagued the Nittany Lions early on with losses on defense in the forms of senior starter Lexi Martin and sophomore starter Jackie Molinda. Offensively, Penn State has yet to see junior forward Taylor Schram take the field, who is still suffering from concussion symptoms.
Fortunately, the Nittany Lions have a talented roster from top to bottom. Chapic and sophomore defender Whitney Church emerged as leaders on defense and freshmen Mallory Weber and Corey Perrson have enhanced an already capable attack.
"We have a lot of people stepping up in very important positions," said Chapic. "All making huge impacts right off the bat."
"[Depth] could be the single most important factor in our confidence right now in that there's so many interchangeable parts," added coach Walsh. "They're doing a good job of learning how to play the game rather than learning how to play their position right now."
Penn State's greatest strength lies in its one team mentality. The players know they can trust each and everyone of their teammates to come through in a critical situation.
"I like our unit," said coach Walsh. "I think that's our strength right now is I don't see a weakness in our core and I think that extends through our roster right now."
The Nittany Lions travel to Ohio State for an 8 p.m. start time Thursday night, followed by a home game against Minnesota on Sunday.