By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - One win and the Big Ten title is theirs.
That's the case for the Nittany Lions Wednesday night as they face off against Ohio State in the regular season finale at Jeffrey Field. A win will ensure at least a share of the Big Ten regular season championship.
As it stands now, Penn State is tied at the top of the conference standings with Minnesota and Northwestern at 21 points each.
All three teams finish the season Wednesday night. Minnesota faces Maryland and Northwestern will be home in Evanston, Ill. to battle Illinois.
If all three teams take care of business, they will share the Big Ten regular season title. Penn State needs a win Wednesday and either a tie or loss by both the Gophers and Wildcats for sole possession of the championship and home field advantage throughout the Big Ten tournament.
The Lions secured home field advantage last season and ran the table in the conference tournament. It's called an advantage for a reason, and Penn State knows how important it is in the postseason.
"Not having to travel is huge," junior forward Megan Schafer said. "It just puts a lot on your body and everything. Being able to sleep in your own bed, it's just a very big advantage."
It all starts Wednesday, where Penn State will be on its own stomping grounds in the first legitimate do-or-die game of the year.
"We get to be on our home field, and we just get another shot," Schafer said. "We kind of talk about the beginning before conference play is its own little season, and then the Big Ten is another season, so to finish out the season, we just want to finish out on a high note. To be able to do it at home, got a lot of excitement for it."
"Going into this season, our first main goal was to win the Big Ten, and to get a chance to do that at home is really exciting and I think we'll be ready," redshirt junior defender Brittany Basinger said.
The forecast calls for low-forties temperature and possible winds, which for most would be a daunting setting. For the Lions, it's just another fall night.
"It's awesome soccer weather," head coach Erica Dambach said. "This is fall for us. This is what we love to play in, and this is Jeffrey Field."
The combination of the freezing setting and a rousing home crowd will be key factors in Wednesday night's match and every match moving forward.
As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes possess a dangerous and aggressive offensive unit that can strike at any moment. Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten in goals (32) and points (92) this year.
Lindsay Agnew leads the charge up top with 27 points, which is tied for the Big Ten lead, on 10 goals and seven assists. She will be the focus of the Lions' defensive game plan.
Dambach stressed Tuesday at practice that Penn State needs to be able to thwart off seven and eight attackers and be able to counter quickly. She acknowledged Ohio State's personality players must be shut down, and that starts with Agnew.
For the home team, the players who have been in these situations before will be called upon to seize the moment.
Last year it was Raquel Rodriguez. This year it has largely been Frannie Crouse, but Dambach believes this is Schafer's time to get hot. Schafer has a five goals this season after netting 13 last year. This may just be the time she breaks out of her offensive slump, and what a time it would be to do so.
"Now that we've gotten to this point, we've got to see our big players step up now," Dambach said. "We've got to see Megan Schafer put one in the back of the net, and this is what big moments are all about."
Schafer herself is ready
for that big moment. Nervousness is not a factor, for she's been here before
and performed admirably. She's ready to go.
"I think when we have that pressure, I think we come out better and more prepared just because everything's on that line," Schafer said. "So it's all in our hands and it's our control. I'm just really excited to finish out the Big Ten season tomorrow night and start on the postseason."