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Pod Preview: Nittany Lions Face Tough Do-or-Die Weekend

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By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State cruised into the 2016 NCAA tournament's second round by defeating Bucknell handedly, 6-0, in the round of 64.


It was the second-largest margin of victory of any first round match. South Carolina's 7-0 romp of Alabama State was the only match that was more lopsided.


Things get a tad hairy moving forward for the Nittany Lions, however.


Penn State travels to the nation's capital for a date Friday with No. 15 Virginia in what should be one of the most competitive matches of the second round.


Immediately after the match, the hosts, No. 5 Georgetown, will face off against one of Penn State's most familiar foes, No. 22 Rutgers.

The pod of four is arguably one of the toughest to survive in the entire tournament, with all four teams being realistic contenders to reach the College Cup.


Head coach Erica Dambach finds herself in the rare position of underdog in the early stages in the NCAA tournament. The Lions are the only unranked team in the Georgetown pod.


"This is a fun role for our group," Dambach said. "We've talked about it and they're excited to be in that role without the target on their back and go after a team that's got more pressure on them, so I think it allows us to play with more freedom."


"It's definitely less pressure on us, which is awesome," forward Megan Schafer said. "I think that a lot of us aren't used to being in this role, so it's definitely a new experience for us but it's a great role to have, and I'm excited to get on the road."


No. 15 Virginia (14-4-2)- The Cavaliers are coming off a 4-1 first-round victory against Monmouth.


Virginia's best results in the regular season were a win against No. 11 Notre Dame and draws against No. 6 North Carolina and No. 10 Florida State. The Cavaliers also tied No. 1 West Virginia in a preseason bout.


Virginia is led up top by ACC leading scorer Alexis Shaffer. Shaffer has netted 13 goals and tallied six assists in 2016, both tops on the team.


The senior also leads the team in minutes played (1471) this year.


"Just being aware of her, making sure that we're defending players with numbers, that we're not getting isolated," Dambach said.


Virginia is ninth in the country in scoring average at 2.45 goals per game, thanks in large part to Shaffer. Veronica Latsko and Taylor Ziemer are prime contributors as well, with eight and seven goals on the year, respectively.


"We know that they have a really good attack," defender Alina Ortega-Jurado said. "We're trying to stop them early on in the field so they can't really hurt us back in our half of the field."


No. 5 Georgetown (17-2-3)- The Hoyas are one of the hottest teams in the tournament. They've lost only one game in their last 20 matches, and they kept it rolling with a 2-0 win against St. Francis (Pa.) in round one.


Although Virginia is an elite offensive team, the Hoyas are even better.


Georgetown possesses the fourth-highest scoring offense in the country at 2.55 goals per game, led by three players with double-digit goals.


Grace Damaska (14 goals), Rachel Corboz (10 goals), and Crystal Thomas (10 goals) highlight one of the most prolific scoring attacks in the country. Corboz also leads the country with 14 assists.


As good as Georgetown's attack is, its defense is almost as impressive. The Hoyas rank 17th in the nation in goals allowed average (0.64).


The Hoyas played both Rutgers and Virginia earlier this season. They defeated Rutgers 2-1 and Virginia 3-2. Their most impressive win was a 1-0 overtime win against No. 1 West Virginia.


No. 22 Rutgers (12-4-6)- Rutgers and Penn State, as conference rivals, have battled to close finishes over and over for the past year.


The Lions got the best of the Scarlet Knights last season with a 2-0 victory in the NCAA tournament, but Rutgers has had their number this season.


The two foes fought to a 2-2 draw in the regular season, but Rutgers knocked Penn State out of the Big Ten tournament with a 2-0 victory. The Scarlet Knights eventually lost to Minnesota in the championship.


Rutgers defeated Harvard, 3-0, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.


Madison Tiernan leads the Scarlet Knights in goals with 10, and Nicole Whitley has dished out 10 assists to pace the team.


The staple to Rutgers' game is physicality. With 205 fouls on the year, the Scarlet Knights are one of a handful of teams to eclipse the 200-foul mark.


Each possible opponent presents vastly different challenges to the Nittany Lions, but the team proved last year it isn't scared of anyone.


This weekend will feature some close, gritty matchups. Whoever escapes the pod will have a good chance to reach the College Cup.

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