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Seniors Seize the Moment to Bring Penn State First Title

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By Tony Mancuso & Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
CARY, N.C. - The Penn State women's soccer team (22-3-2) is atop the collegiate soccer world after defeating Duke (14-6-5), 1-0, Sunday afternoon to capture its first national championship in program history.


Sunday's triumph at WakeMed Soccer Park also marked the first ever College Cup victory by a Big Ten university.

"Congratulations to all the NCAA and the town of Cary for the environment that you've created today for these student athletes," said head coach Erica Walsh. "Obviously they feel like they have been treated like royalty as they deserve, they worked hard for it. We are really appreciative of everything that you've done to make women's soccer at this level treated in the fashion that they deserve. I thought it was a wonderful event."

Early on in the match, both teams found opportunities to score, but each group went into the locker room at halftime looking for ways to generate better looks the goal. Penn State outshot Duke, 6-4, in the first 45 minutes.

The Blue and White came out firing in the second frame, however. Penn State sent five shots at Duke goalkeeper E.J Proctor in the span of four minutes early in the half, putting great pressure on the Blue Devil defense.

After the offensive barrage, the game slowed down and neither team formulated a shot until the 72nd minute. It was then that Penn State broke the seal.

Mallory Weber received the ball on the right side and made her way to the box. Weber methodically sized up her defender, made a swift move to her left and sent a low cross to the middle of the box. The ball sliced through the Duke back line and found Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez on the opposite side of the goal.

With a quick side step, the Costa Rican World Cup star gained space between her defender and finished far side with her left foot to give Penn State a lead it would not let go.

"This is what I was dreaming about, to score in the final, and it is the most important thing right now," Rodriguez said. "The World Cup was great but right now was all I was thinking of and I could not be more happy or grateful. It is another dream come true. Those dreams aren't more or less they are all special and that's why they are dreams."

It was only fitting that two senior captains combined for Penn State's historic game-winning goal on a day where the third senior notched a shutout in goal.


Rodriguez led Penn State with three shots and two on goal in the match. Her and fellow senior captain Weber were responsible for five of Penn State's 11 shots in the game. The third captain, goalie Britt Eckerstrom, totaled one save and recorded the 23rd shutout of her career.

"The shutout is absolutely not all me it is the whole team," said Eckerstrom. "Starting from the top and working our way down. Frannie [Crouse] and Megan [Ritchey] and Mallory [Weber] have put in to win the ball higher up on the field and then just our back line is spectacular. Those guys put in tackle after tackle and block after block and making really awesome one-on-one blocks. It was a total team effort."

The senior trio capped off their unrivaled careers with their greatest accomplishment to date, giving Penn State its coveted first national title in women's soccer.

"During the game I was thinking about that first (championship) game (in 2012) actually and all I could think of was I don't want that to happen again," said Rodriguez. "Not today, and we still had the opportunity to fight for it and all I could think of was that. I think it fueled us and it was just in the back of my mind."

"We have worked for four years for this and to go out on this note and be the first team to win a National Championship and be that senior class it is indescribable," Weber said. "It is just such a great thing and such a high right now."

The Nittany Lions finished off a remarkable 2015 campaign with 11-straight victories down the stretch, including shutouts in the final eight matches. The Nittany Lions outscored their opponents 20-0 in the NCAA Tournament.

Since allowing two goals to Loyola Marymount in the second game of the year, Penn State went the last 22 consecutive matches without conceding more than one goal. Eckerstrom capped off her best season in blue and white in fitting fashion, as she recorded her 11th shutout of the year. Her 0.47 goals allowed average is the best of her career.

"I thought she was absolutely the best goalkeeper in the nation this year and she showed it week in and week out," said Walsh. "Obviously to win a national championship it becomes all about consistency and she made the big saves but more importantly she drove this team and made them great."

The 2015 seniors finish an unparalleled four years that should land this group atop the list of the most accomplished classes in Penn State women's soccer history.

And this group etched its place in Penn State lore as the first to claim a national championship.

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VIDEO: Women's Soccer National Championship Interviews

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CARY, N.C. - The Nittany Lions are atop the women's soccer world following a 1-0 victory over Duke on a sun-splashed afternoon at WakeMed Soccer Park. The Lions capped off a tremendous tournament run thanks to a goal from senior Raquel Rodriguez and an eighth-straight shutout to end the season. Hear from head coach Erica Walsh and the team's 2015 captains following the program's first national championship.




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VIDEO: Women's Soccer National Championship Press Conference

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CARY, N.C. - Head into the media room to hear from head coach Eric Walsh and senior captains Britt Eckerstrom, Raquel Rodriguez and Mallory Weber following the program's first national championship.





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Women's Soccer College Cup Final Photo Blog

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CARY, N.C. - The top-seeded Nittany Lion women's soccer team (21-3-2) will meet No. 3-seeded Duke (14-5-5) in the semifinals of the College Cup at WakeMed Soccer Park on Sunday at noon (ESPNU).

Take a look through some images from the program's second visit to the College Cup final.

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Penn State College Cup Final Preview Central

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WSOC_Cup_TeamPhoto.jpgCARY, N.C. - The top-seeded Nittany Lion women's soccer team (21-3-2) will play in the College Cup final for the second time in program history on Sunday at 12 p.m. (ESPNU) against third-seeded Duke (14-5-5).

Penn State marched into the national title match with a 2-0 victory over second-seeded Rutgers on Friday evening in WakeMed Soccer Park.  After a forward Frannie Crouse raced down a loose ball for a sliding shot that looped over the outstretched arms of the Rutgers goalkeeper in the 24th minute, the Nittany Lions turned to freshman defender Kaleigh Riehl with a goal in the 79th minute to cement the team's place in the national title match.

The Nittany Lions (2012 and 2015) and Wisconsin (1991) are the only two Big Ten universities that have played in the women's soccer national championship match.

The third-seeded Duke Blue Devils advanced to the College Cup final with a 2-0 victory over top-seeded Florida State in the second match on Friday night.

The Nittany Lions and Blue Devils have played five times before Sunday's national title match, including earlier this season Penn State is 3-1-1 all-time against Duke. The Lions and Blue Devils played to a 0-0 tie at Jeffrey Field on Aug. 28.

Penn State's journey to the national championship match has been a remarkable one. The Nittany Lions have outscored their opponents, 19-0, during the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, Penn State has logged seven-straight shutouts, dating back to Nov. 1.

Of the Lions' 19 goals scored in the tournament, either freshmen or sophomores have scored 17 of them. In total, 10 different Nittany Lions have scored the team's goals in the NCAA Tournament. Penn State's NCAA Tournament opponents have managed just 10 shots on goal during the five matches.

The final chapter of the 2015 season will be written on Sunday afternoon in Cary. Head coach Erica Walsh and the Nittany Lions are thrilled to have the opportunity to compete for the program's first national championship.


VIDEO: College Cup Final Preview Press Conference



By the Numbers:

No. 1 Penn State

 

No. 3 Duke

21-3-2

Record

14-5-5

2.42

Scoring Offense

1.92

0.54

Goals-Against

0.62

0.831

Save Percentage

0.842

63/14

Goals Scored/Goals Allowed

46/15

32/31

Goals Scored by Half - 1st/2nd/OT

24/21/1

4/10

Goals Allowed by Half - 1st/2nd

8/7

Megan Schafer - 1.15

Points Per Game Leader

Taylor Racioppi - 0.83

Megan Schafer - 0.50

Goals Per Game Leader

Kayla McCoy - 0.33

Mallory Weber - 0.38

Assists Per Game Leader

Taylor Racioppi - 0.25

Britt Eckerstrom - 0.844

Save Percentage Leader

EJ Proctor - 0.835

Mallory Weber - 10

Total Assists

Taylor Racioppi - 6

Megan Schafer - 13

Total Goals

Kayla McCoy - 8

Megan Schafer - 30

Total Points

Taylor Racioppi - 20

Britt Eckerstrom - 65

Total Saves

EJ Proctor - 76




College Cup Schedule:
Friday, Dec. 4 - WakeMed Soccer Park - Cary, N.C.
- Semifinal I - No. 1 Penn State 2, No. 2 Rutgers 0
- Semifinal II - No. 3 Duke 2, No. 1 Florida State 0

Sunday, Dec. 6 - WakeMed Soccer Park - Cary, N.C.
- 12 p.m. ET on ESPNU - National Championship - No. 1 Penn State vs. No. 3 Duke



Penn State in the College Cup:
1999 - San Jose, Calif.
- NCAA Semifinals - Dec. 3, 1999 - L, 2-0 to No. 2 North Carolina

2002 - Austin, Texas
- NCAA Semifinals - Dec. 6, 2002 - L, 2-0 to No. 9 Portland

2005 - College Station, Texas
- NCAA Semifinals - T, 0-0 (2 OT) to No. 1 Portland (Portland won 4-3 on penalty kicks)

2012 - San Diego, Calif.
- NCAA Semifinals - W, 2-1 (OT) to No. 1 Florida State
- NCAA Final - L, 4-1 to No. 1 North Carolina


2015 - Cary, N.C.
- NCAA Semifinals - W, 2-0 to No. 2 Rutgers




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Unlikely Hero Cements Lions' Spot in College Cup Final

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11539814.jpegBy Tony MancusoJack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
CARY, N.C. - Freshman defender Kaleigh Riehl could not have picked a better time to add a tally on the season score sheet.

Riehl notched the first goal of her collegiate career in the 79th minute of the College Cup semifinals to seal Penn State's 2-0 win over Rutgers (19-4-3) on Friday and send the Nittany Lions (21-3-2) to their second national championship match in program history.


"Another shutout and another goal off of set pieces, which are too things we have been focusing on so much over the last few weeks," said head coach Erica Walsh. "Obviously, it took a group of 26 players to get here and we had some good players coming off the bench. Just a really strong performance from our group."

Riehl has played exceptionally well at center back all year, but she has rarely looked to score. With elite attacking players littering the Penn State lineup, she hasn't had to. Coming into the semifinal match against Rutgers, Riehl only tallied one shot.

On the largest of stages, Riehl stepped up as she's done all season. This time, it was on the other end of the field.

After the ball bounced off multiple players at the top of the box, Riehl corralled the loose ball and curled a left-footed shot to the bottom left corner past Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Casey Murphy.

Murphy had only surrendered eight goals in 2015 coming into Friday, but Penn State mustered two for the second straight game against the Scarlet Knights.

Sophomore Frannie Crouse propelled the Blue and White ahead in the 24th minute thanks to a rare defensive mishap by the Scarlet Knights. A lazy pass from the midfield to the back line became prey for the streaking forward, as the speedy Crouse beat Big Ten Defender of the Year Brianne Reed to the loose ball and finished over the keeper in sliding fashion.

"I was kind of high and saw that they were going to play the ball back and I felt like I was cherry picking (laughter)," said Crouse. "They played the ball back and unfortunately for them I misjudged how hard they hit it and took it as the ball was played."

Riehl's goal all but cemented Penn State's victory with 11 minutes left. She'll be remembered for her clutch, unexpected goal in the College Cup, but Riehl deserves more credit for her defensive prowess in 2015, which has only elevated in the postseason.

She has led the way in the middle for a defense that has allowed a mere 14 goals in 2015.

Riehl and the back line has been utterly dominant since the regular season ended. Penn State hasn't surrendered a goal in the tournament, and it has outscored opponents, 19-0.

Riehl has been a workhorse on the team all season long. Besides goalie Britt Eckerstrom, Riehl has logged the most minutes of anyone on the team (2,270).

"Kaleigh has a lot of skills," said Walsh. "She plays as a 25-year old veteran instead of a 18-year old freshman. Each and every game, she amazes me with her abilities and her awareness. She's just been a huge key to our success."

The defensive group turned in another outstanding effort. Rutgers was held to five shots and only one on goal in the match. Eckerstrom was needed for just one easy save on a hopeless long shot. Every other Rutgers attack ended in a Penn State steal or blocked shot.

Riehl isn't the only underclassmen who has stepped up when it has mattered most, however. In fact, underclassmen have been the main cogs in this College Cup run. Of the 19 Penn State goals in the tournament, 17 have come from freshmen and sophomores.

The back line rotation features no upperclassmen. Redshirt sophomore Brittany Basinger possesses the most experience in the group. The youngest players on the roster have risen to the occasion all tournament long, and that's why Penn State will be playing for a championship on Sunday.

"This is probably the deepest team that I've had in my nine years at Penn State," Walsh said. "It's reflective of the substitution patterns throughout the course of the season. Kaleigh Riehl scored her first goal ever in her career. You got different players stepping up at different times. You never know which player it is going to come from, so that's probably why this team has been so successful."

Penn State will face Duke in the College Cup Final on Sunday at 12 p.m. in a rematch from earlier this season. The Blue Devils topped Florida State by a score of 2-0 in Friday's second semifinal match. The Nittany Lions and Blue Devils played to a scoreless draw back on Aug 28, but one team will emerge victorious in the national championship bout.

VIDEO: College Cup Semifinal Post-Match Press Conference (12/4/15)

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CARY, N.C. - Head coach Erica Walsh, senior Raquel Rodriguez and sophomore Frannie Crouse talk with the media following Penn State's 2-0 victory over Rutgers in the College Cup semifinals on Friday night.



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VIDEO: College Cup Semifinal Post-Match Interviews (12/4/15)

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CARY, N.C. - GoPSUsports.com talks with head coach Erica Walsh, senior Raquel Rodriguez and sophomore Frannie Crouse following Penn State's 2-0 victory over Rutgers in the College Cup semifinals on Friday at WakeMed Soccer Park. The Nittany Lions move into the national title match for the second time in program history.



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Women's Soccer College Cup Semifinals Photo Blog

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CARY, N.C. - The top-seeded Nittany Lion women's soccer team (20-3-2) will meet No. 2-seeded Rutgers (19-3-3) in the semifinals of the College Cup at WakeMed Soccer Park on Friday at 5 p.m. (ESPNU).

Take a look through some images from the program's fifth visit to the College Cup.


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2015 College Cup Preview Content Central

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w_soccer_hp.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the fifth time in program history, the Nittany Lion women's soccer team will appear at the College Cup.  Top-seeded Penn State (20-3-2) will clash with second-seeded Rutgers (19-3-3) on Friday at 5 p.m. ET (ESPNU) in Cary, N.C., in the NCAA semifinals.

The Nittany Lions have marched to the College Cup in dominant fashion. In the first four games of the tournament, Penn State has outscored its opponents by a margin of 17-0.

"The 2015 team has been really special on the field, but they have been even more special off the field," said head coach Erica Walsh. "The focus in this group has been apparent since day one."

Rutgers has been equally as impressive on defense. The Scarlet Knights have outscored their first four opponents by a margin of 7-0.

Take a look through some preview material leading up to the 2015 College Cup.

VIDEO Previews:
Head Coach Erica Walsh



Player Interviews


Travel Day to Cary


Training Day in Cary


Preview Press Conference



By the Numbers:

No. 1 Penn State

 

No. 2 Rutgers

20-3-2

Record

19-3-3

2.44 (No. 9)

Scoring Offense (NCAA Rank)

1.60 (No. 107)

0.550 (No. 12)

Goals-Against (NCAA Rank)

0.311 (No. 1)

0.520 (No. 29)

Shutout Percentage (NCAA Rank)

0.760 (No. 1)

0.833 (No. 43)

Save Percentage (NCAA Rank)

0.910 (No. 1)

61/14

Goals Scored/Goals Allowed

40/8

31/30

Goals Scored by Half - 1st/2nd

19/21

4/10/0

Goals Allowed by Half - 1st/2nd/OT

4/3/1

Megan Schafer - 1.200

Points Per Game Leader

Colby Ciarrocca - 0.880

Megan Schafer - 0.520

Goals Per Game Leader

Colby Ciarrocca - 0.360

Mallory Weber - 0.400

Assists Per Game Leader

Three Tied at 0.160

Britt Eckerstrom - 0.846

Save Percentage Leader

Casey Murphy - 0.906

Mallory Weber - 10

Total Assists

Three Tied at 4

Megan Schager - 13

Total Goals

Colby Ciarrocca - 9

Megan Schafer - 30

Total Points

Colby Ciarrocca - 22

Britt Eckerstrom - 64

Total Saves

Casey Murphy - 77




College Cup Schedule:
Friday, Dec. 4 - WakeMed Soccer Park - Cary, N.C.
- 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU - No. 1 Penn State (20-3-2) vs. No. 2 Rutgers (19-3-3)
- 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU - No. 1 Florida State (18-2-4) vs. No. 3 Duke (13-5-5)

Sunday, Dec. 6 - WakeMed Soccer Park - Cary, N.C.
- 12 p.m. ET on ESPNU - National Championship



Penn State in the College Cup:
1999 - San Jose, Calif.
- NCAA Semifinals - Dec. 3, 1999 - L, 2-0 to No. 2 North Carolina

2002 - Austin, Texas
- NCAA Semifinals - Dec. 6, 2002 - L, 2-0 to No. 9 Portland

2005 - College Station, Texas
- NCAA Semifinals - T, 0-0 (2 OT) to No. 1 Portland (Portland won 4-3 on penalty kicks)

2012 - San Diego, Calif.
- NCAA Semifinals - W, 2-1 (OT) to No. 1 Florida State
- NCAA Final - L, 4-1 to No. 1 North Carolina



Feature Story

Eckerstrom, 2015 Seniors Seek to Make Last Season a Historic One
By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the astounding history of the Penn State women's soccer program, there's almost nothing PSU hasn't accomplished.

11537156.jpegIn the 22-season lifespan of the program, the Blue and White has captured an unprecedented 17 Big Ten titles, all of which coming in the last 18 seasons.

The Nittany Lions have been a dangerous national contender for years. It has reached the NCAA Tournament 21 consecutive times, including 11 quarterfinal appearances and five College Cups.

Penn State possesses one of the most storied and most successful women's soccer programs in collegiate history, but there's just one thing missing from its stellar resume: a national championship.

For the second time in four seasons, Penn State returns to the College Cup on Friday in search of its first ever NCAA title. Head coach Erica Walsh and the program has endured the heartbreak the College Cup can bring in 2012 when PSU lost to North Carolina 4-1 in the championship match, but the team is confident heading into the return this weekend.

"Having players that have been to the College Cup is so important," said Walsh. "I can already tell a difference in our approach going into the weekend, whereas I think that was a team that was just really excited to get to the College Cup. There was an expectation that that was the level we were going to achieve this year, and the goal we set was to go all the way through and make a championship run."

Three of the five current seniors who were on the roster in San Diego in 2012 are the 2015 captains: Raquel Rodriguez, Mallory Weber, and Britt Eckerstrom. Eckerstrom, a redshirt senior goalkeeper, is the leader of the pack in net. She will be the key for PSU in composing this young group comprised of 70.4 percent underclassmen.

"A huge difference for me was being so young and now I've got five years under me," Eckerstrom said. "From the beginning, you could tell this team was pretty special and instantly we had high expectations. We're here for a purpose and to take care of business."

So far, Eckerstrom has made it her singular mission to lead her team to the College Cup in her final season in Penn State threads.

Through four rounds, Eckerstrom has not allowed one ball past her in the NCAA Tournament. Since conceding a late goal to Illinois in the first round Big Ten Tournament, Eckerstrom has produced 553 straight minutes of shutout goalkeeping. She has also held the opposition to one goal or less in 21 consecutive matches.

Most of the praise should rightfully fall on Eckerstrom's shoulders, but the young back line in front of her has far exceeded expectations in 2015.

"The most important thing for the back four has been their growth together," said Walsh. "Because they're all around the similar age they've been able to grow and make mistakes together and pick each other up. They feel like they can look to their left and look to their right and really rely on the person next to them."

The chemistry between Eckerstrom and her back line has steadily improved week after week, and it's evident that it has never been stronger than right now.

"It starts off the field," Eckerstrom said. "We work as a unit all the time in training so that we're one. We say that before each game in our defense huddle that we're one tonight, and everyone is totally on board with that.

To go along with its stifling defense, Penn State has exploded offensively in the postseason. In the NCAA Tournament, PSU is averaging 4.25 goals per game and 21.25 shots per game.

The combination of a dominating offensive attack and a stout defense in the postseason has placed the 2015 Penn State squad in historic company. Not since the undefeated North Carolina team in 2003 has a club that reached the semifinals in the tournament done so by a wider margin than Penn State's 17-0.

"Going into Friday's match against Rutgers it feels like we're playing our best soccer of the season," Walsh said. "We're peaking at the right time. I'm really proud of the way that our team has approached these last few weeks."

"It started all the way back in the spring of last year," said sophomore midfielder Emily Ogle. "We started working towards this goal and set it as a team goal, and we knew that we were going to have some talent. I think our leaders have been phenomenal with bringing everyone together and fixing the little things so that we're all on board and we're all ready to perform in Cary."

The trio of captains in Rodriguez, Weber, and Eckerstrom have steadied their thirds of the field and brought Penn State to new heights in 2015. One of the winningest classes in Penn State history has accomplished so much, but none of that matters right now, as they have their sights set on the national championship trophy.

No previous Penn State player can say they won the final game of their career, but this team and this class has a fantastic chance to do so. The group can cement their legacy as the paramount class in Penn State women's soccer history with two more victories.



Much more to follow from Cary.




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