By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Top-seeded Penn State women's soccer began its NCAA Tournament bid with a statement 4-0 rout of Long Island University at Brooklyn.
The Nittany Lions put on an impressive offensive display as they outshot the Blackbirds 21-3 and garnered 12 corner kicks compared to zero by LIU. Penn State's game plan was to create a lot of opportunities from the start and, though it took time for the players to find their rhythm, they showed why they belong on the national stage.
"We wanted to score early and often," said senior midfielder Christine Nairn. "We didn't come out exactly how we wanted, but four goals from four different people, that just shows how many weapons we have and we can only improve."
The Nittany Lions spent the majority of the first half in the LIU defensive third, but were unable to capitalize until the 25th minute when freshman forward Mallory Weber received the ball in space and crossed to Nairn inside the box, who netted her team-leading 11th goal of the season.
The Blackbirds continued to battle defensively, but were unable to contain Penn State's variety of attack and gave up a second goal to freshman Rookie of the Year Raquel Rodriguez with less than five minutes left in the half. Rodriguez scored off of a pass from freshman midfielder Mallory Peterson and described how she felt heading into her first NCAA tournament after the game.
"Before the game I was really excited and nervous, but once I warmed up, all the nerves just transformed into adrenaline," said Rodriguez. "I try to take that nervousness in a positive way."
The Nittany Lions maintained the offensive pressure throughout the second half and added a third goal in the 77th minute from junior forward Tani Costa. Four minutes later junior forward Maya Hayes scored Penn State's fourth goal of the game to seal the victory. The Blackbirds fought the entire match, but were unable to keep up with the No. 3 team in the country.
"One v. one, the pace of Penn State players is phenomenal," said LIU head coach Tracey Bartholomew. "Our girls battled hard all the way to the end, I'm proud of their effort, but Penn State is a quality program and we knew we needed to bring everything we had to be in that game."
The defining statistic in Penn State's opening round win was four goals from four different players. The Nittany Lions have received production from their entire lineup throughout the season, with goals from 13 different players. The diversity on offense makes it nearly impossible for defenses to hold Penn State at bay.
"It's been a pleasure to work with a team that has such variety in their attack," said head coach Erica Walsh. "Defenses have to figure out what they're going to deal with at this point. Sometimes it's wide players and it opens up lanes for Maya and Christine and other times vice versa, so pick your poison."
The type of depth the Nittany Lions have is what separates good teams from great teams. Having younger players step up in crucial situations is just as important as having the veterans repeat strong performances. Penn State's bench has been there throughout the season.
"It's so many different players stepping up at different times," said coach Walsh on the importance of depth. "I think if you look across the board at the number one seeds, my guess is it's the same situation that they've got depth and they can rely on that depth."
Defense is another key to the success of any talented soccer program. The Nittany Lions run an offensive scheme that sends a lot of players forward, which leaves the defense open to a counterattack, yet Penn State's defense recorded its eighth shutout of the season against LIU. The reason is because young players like sophomore defenders Whitney Church and Kori Chapic and junior defender Bri Hovington have stepped in to face the challenge head on. Church says the key to a thriving defense is the ability to defend as a team.
"It just takes a lot of communication and we have to make sure that we're all on the same page," said Church. "I feel like we did a really good job of that."
"I thought overall the defense was excellent," added coach Walsh.
The NCAA Tournament win provided the Nittany Lions with another experience to add to their resume. Penn State has played some of the top teams in the nation before and the experience will help prepare the players for the challenges ahead.
"We're getting our opponents' best matches," said coach Walsh. "You're going to run up against all sorts of tough situations at this point in the season and you got to have the experience to overcome those moments."
The Nittany Lions will face Boston College in the second round of the NCAA tournament Friday at 7:30 p.m. on Jeffrey Field.
Lions Cruise in NCAA First Round Match
By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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