By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It wasn't easy, but the No. 1-seeded Penn State women's soccer team
(20-3-2) defeated No. 2 seed West Virginia Saturday to advance to its
fifth College Cup and second in the last four years.
In reality, Penn State and West Virginia entered as two of the most accomplished programs in the country and extremely evenly matched. With the help of an early goal and a rousing home crowd, Penn State bested a physical West Virginia squad.
"That is a really good team that we battled with tonight," said head coach Erica Walsh. "I thought the quality of play overall was fantastic on both sides of the ball. There's so many quality players and that's two good, discipline teams."
Sophomore Emily Ogle got the Nittany Lions on the board early with a goal in the 12th minute. From 27 yards out, Ogle swung a free kick into the middle of the box and WVU goalkeeper Hannah Steadman mistimed her jump as the ball hit off her gloves and bounced through the posts.
After scoring only twice in the first 20 matches, Ogle has now scored five goals in Penn State's previous five games to bring her 2015 goal total to seven.
"Ogle has really come into her own in the attack," Walsh said. "We have so many weapons in that attack, and she's always been the key to our assists but now she's finding her stride in that area. It all speaks to the quality of the team overall."
Following a flurry of chances from both sides the remainder of the half, Penn State struck again in the 39th minute off the right foot of Frannie Crouse. The sophomore received a perfectly placed ball from substitute Ellie Jean in the box and finished in the top left corner to double the Blue and White's lead.
Crouse finished the contest with five of Penn State's 14 shots, each on goal. She has now matched her goal total from the previous season with 10 in 2015.
"The ball was played across and Mal (Weber) was right beside me and it looked like it was going to her," said Crouse. "I knew that I was more open than she was so I screamed to let it go and luckily she let it go and I saw the goalie was a little pressed to the right so I hit it to the upper left corner."
The second half was a chippy one to say the least. West Virginia became tremendously physical, as it's been all year, but Penn State matched the physicality.
Despite encountering six shots in the second half and 10 in the game, goalie Britt Eckerstrom and the back line held their ground for their sixth straight shutout.
"This is a really special senior class for us," said Walsh. "Britt Eckerstrom was fabulous tonight in goal, and all of our seniors have been so special throughout this final run of the season. There's so much to be proud of with this group."
"It takes the whole team," said Eckerstrom. "What a way to finish out a soccer career if we win a National Championship. We finished our time here on Jeffrey Field in pretty good fashion, but we have two more games to go to finish this up."
The Nittany Lions improved their home record in the NCAA Tournament to 36-6-1 with the victory. The Lions notched 14 wins on Jeffrey Field in 2015, which ties the program record set in '05 and '06.
Unfortunately, Penn State will not return to Jeffrey Field this season, as the team will now travel to Cary, N.C., to battle Big Ten foe and No. 2-seed Rutgers in the College Cup semifinals on Friday.
Scouting the Scarlet Knights
Penn State and Rutgers faced off merely 20 days ago on Nov. 8 in the Big Ten Championship. Penn State got the best of the Scarlet Knights in a solid 2-0 win, but Rutgers defeated the Nittany Lions back on Oct. 18 in Piscataway, N.J.
Rutgers won an improbable quarterfinal game against the No.1 ranked team in the country, the Virginia Cavaliers, in PK's to advance to the College Cup. Down 2-0 in the penalty stage, RU fought back and won 7-6 on PK's in the end.
Like Penn State, Rutgers prides itself on its tough, gritty defense. Both teams have yet to surrender a goal in regular time so far in the NCAA Tournament.
Goalkeeper Casey Murphy has been an absolute stud between the posts for the Scarlet Knights in 2015. She hasn't missed one minute on the field, and she's only allowed eight shots by her this season. Her .327 Goals Allowed Average is the best mark in the nation.
However, 25 percent of her goals allowed this year have been surrendered to the Nittany Lions.
Offensively, Colby Ciarrocca leads the way for RU with nine goals and four assists, both highest totals on the team. Aside from Ciarrocca, Rutgers' offensive attack isn't very potent. The Scarlet Knights have scored 40 goals in 2015, as opposed to Penn State's 61.
The beasts of the B1G should unquestionably provide an entertaining, defensive rubber match on Friday in Cary. The winner will face the winner of Florida State-Duke from the opposite end of the bracket on Dec. 6.