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Nittany Lions to Grow From First College Cup Final

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. - The Nittany Lion women's soccer team made history on Sunday afternoon at Torero Stadium by competing in its first-ever College Cup Final, but came up short on the scoreboard, 4-1, against North Carolina.

Penn State and the second-seeded Tar Heels entered halftime knotted at 1-1 following a goal from Taylor Schram on a superb pass from Christine Nairn, but the Tar Heel attack was too much in the second half.

8376201.jpegNorth Carolina netted a goal just 48 seconds into the second period before adding two more for a 4-1 victory over the Nittany Lions, marking the Heels' 21st national championship in women's soccer.

The Nittany Lions wrap up a tremendous 2012 season with a 21-4-2 mark.  Along the way, Big Ten Coach of the Year Erica Walsh helped lead Penn State to its 15th-consecutive Big Ten title, fourth College Cup and first ever appearance in the national championship tilt.

"It's hard to feel great after a 4-1 loss especially when you haven't felt that all season long, but what I said to the team after the match is how proud I am of the work that they've put in this season and the leadership presented by our senior class," Walsh said.  "I told them how much I've learned from them this year and how much their legacy means to this program and this university and that will carry us on to next year and obviously they set a whole new standard for Penn State women's soccer, one that Taylor Schram and her class will carry on into next season and try to get back to this spot."

The Nittany Lions will use Sunday's setback as a learning experience.  While everyone on the roster wanted to walk off the field with a championship trophy on Sunday, the Lions will take the experience and grow from it.

"It puts our program back on the map," Schram said.  Like coach said, we were in the College Cup in 2005 and now we're back this year.  Christine, along with our other seniors showed us the way.  They led us through this whole thing and now hopefully next year, my class and I can step up and do the same thing they did and more."

Despite falling behind 1-0 in the opening 1:11, Penn State did a nice job battling its way to a 1-1 tie at halftime.  In addition to Schram's goal, the Lions had two other very good opportunities in the first half, one from Nairn in the sixth minute and one from Maya Hayes in the ninth minute.

But the goal from the Tar Heels just 48 seconds into the second half was the difference maker.  North Carolina seized the momentum on that play, maintained an aggressive attack with fresh legs and played a relentless 45 minutes to finish the game.

"It was definitely challenging," Schram said.  "Every 15 minutes they would sub a new line.  We had a couple of injuries earlier in the year, so it took away from our depth, so it was tough when you're playing against fresh legs second game of the weekend.  We tried to hang in there."

As Coach Walsh said after the contest, giving a good team like North Carolina eight corner kick opportunities is difficult to overcome. 

"Just the volume of the set pieces and the opportunity of the eight corners," Walsh said.  "They're able to expose a space behind our outside backs and we went to a 4-back to try to stop it and that worked for a while but there is just so many weapons that the Carolina team and they were excellent as usual but where there's space they're going to track things down and you're going to give up corners that's part of the three back and that's a risk that we have to be willing to take. Today it didn't pay off, but I thought the second goal was the game changing moment and right after half time we came out we were ready to go and then they put one in the back of our net and it buried us for a short period and then we started the fight again."

The Nittany Lions will head into the offseason with a great deal of motivation after coming up short in the College Cup Final, but the 2012 team took the program to new heights and laid the groundwork for what is going to be a bright future ahead for Penn State Women's Soccer.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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