By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No.11 Penn State women's soccer (6-2-0, 1-0 Big Ten) battled for 90 minutes to defeat 13th-ranked Wisconsin (6-2-0, 0-1 Big Ten), 2-1, on Jeffery Field to cap off an inspiring alumni weekend in Happy Valley on Sunday.
Junior forward Taylor
Schram may have said it best when she predicted last week that the game against
Wisconsin would be a war both mentally and physically. The Badgers brought their all-too-familiar
physical style of play to the field, which has caused Penn State problems in
the past. It was important for the
players to match their opponent's physicality, while keeping their cool.
"We knew that coming in that it was going to be a rough game," said sophomore defender Whitney Church after the game. "It's kind of a game of two games, one on the physical and one on the soccer, and we knew that we were going to have to come out and at least match their physicality."
The first half set the tone for an even matchup as both teams fought hard to gain an advantage over the other. The Nittany Lions put the pressure on and had a number of opportunities including a penalty kick in the 38th minute that was saved by Wisconsin senior goalkeeper Lauren Gunderson, who tallied six saves in the losing effort.
In the 44th minute, the momentum shifted in Penn State's favor when freshman midfielder Raquel Rodriguez breached the Badger defense with a header off of a free kick from Church, giving the Nittany Lions 1-0 advantage heading into halftime.
The message to the players during intermission was to keep playing their game and not let the physical battle get in their heads.
"We just got to continue to play our game and I think that's exactly what we did," said junior forward Maya Hayes. "At the end of the day, putting the ball in the back of the net is the only way to make a statement."
Hayes, who recently returned from Japan after winning the U-20 Women's World Cup with the U.S. national team, put the Nittany Lions on top 2-0 in the 48th minute when she received the ball in space, dribbled past a defender into the box and rifled a shot in off the right side of the net. It was her first goal of the season and would eventually prove to be the game-winner.
"Coach puts me out there because I like to score goals," said Hayes. "That was the only thing going through my head: get to the goal."
"She's a spark," adds senior midfielder Maddy Evans. "You know what you're going to get from Maya and she's going to score some goals and it's great having her back."
The junior superstar was meant to take a secondary role in her first game back, but found a way to impact the game and make her coach proud.
"We've been very careful in managing [Maya Hayes] this week and she was great today, so good to see her score," said head coach Erica Walsh.
Wisconsin, seeking a dramatic comeback, scored in the 81st minute, but the defense held the 2-1 advantage and Penn State emerged victorious.
It was a special day for the Nittany Lions as they welcomed a host of former players and alumni back to Happy Valley. The energy on the field was apparent and the support made the win even sweeter for the coaches and players, who were honored to play in front of their extended Penn State family.
"It's absolutely incredible," said Evans. "You look up in the stands and you see people you've played with, people you know who've played here in the past and it's really inspiring to see them all come back. We're a true family here."
"At the end of the day we play for those who came before us," said Hayes. "It's awesome to have them here and to honor them and to have them watch us play."
Carmelina Moscato, a Penn State legend in her day, returned as an assistant coach for Wisconsin after winning the Bronze Medal in the 2012 Olympic Games with the Canadian National Team. She expressed her excitement to be back at Penn State for the matchup.
"I'm just excited to see some old faces and rehash some old memories," said Moscato. "That's always going to be something special, it was a great part of my life."
The game also meant a lot to coach Walsh, who earned a statement victory on her mother's birthday.