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Yet Another Total Team Effort Propels Penn State to Quarterfinals

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11512339.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 1-seeded Penn State women's soccer team kept things rolling Sunday afternoon with a decisive 4-0 victory over Big Ten rival Ohio State.

The win sends the Nittany Lions to the quarterfinal round of the 2015 NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament. The Blue and White has reached the quarterfinals in three of the past four years.

The Lions have been absolutely dominant in their first three tournament matches, outscoring opponents 15-0. Senior goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom hasn't surrendered a goal in the last five contests. It's the first time in Penn State history that a team has recorded shutouts in each of the first three rounds of the tournament.

"We're trying to keep opponents off the score sheet, and that's a total team effort," said head coach Erica Walsh. "Starting with Megan Schafer up top, and (Emily) Ogle is the organizer in the middle, and obviously Britt Eckerstrom and that back line have been huge. I think the cohesion from front to back has been a big part of our success."

The aforementioned Schafer continued her solid goal scoring season on Sunday, scoring from 12 yards out in the 43rd minute for her team-leading 13th goal of the year. The sophomore has scored in every tournament game so far.

Schafer's strike was Penn State's only first half goal. Although Penn State outshot the Buckeyes 11-2 in the first frame and dominated possession, the game felt very tight. OSU hit the post on a header in the 19th minute that would've changed the dynamic of the match, but luckily the ball bounced away and the Nittany Lions were able to take a narrow lead to the locker room.

In the second half, Penn State refused to take a defensive approach to protect its lead. As they've done all year, the Lions attacked from the whistle to build a more comfortable margin. Senior Rocky Rodriguez did just that 51 seconds into the half with a header off a corner kick.

"I thought they came out in the first half and gave us trouble with our build up," Walsh said. "I thought their game plan was outstanding. I thought the second half we found different ways to break them down and we started to loosen up a little bit and our rhythm got a whole lot better."

Merely five minutes later, sophomore Emily Ogle tallied her third goal of the tournament and sixth of the year with a laser to the top right corner from 23 yards away. Penn State's first three goals of the match all came within a period of 8:36 of game time.

Haleigh Echard came off the bench to finish off the Buckeyes in the 75th minute with her second goal in as many games.

"I think it all starts with our captains," said Ogle. "We have three of the best in Mal Weber, Rocky Rodriguez, and Britt Eckerstrom. They're really bringing the team together at the right time and helping us to continue to build. With them leading us, we're taking incremental steps and trying to achieve a bigger goal."

"I think we're playing our best soccer of the season, and our depth has been outstanding," Walsh said. "I thought our reserves coming off the bench today gave us a huge boost. We're exactly where we want to be going into an Elite Eight game."

Next Up: No. 2 West Virginia

There's no doubt both Penn State and West Virginia have had this possible quarterfinal matchup circled on their calendars since the tournament bracket was announced, and here we are. This one should be fun.

The Nittany Lions and Mountaineers met back on September 4 and produced a hard fought, physical game in which WVU pulled out a close 1-0 win.

West Virginia has been almost as impressive as Penn State so far in the tournament, outscoring its opponents 13-2. The Mountaineers most recently defeated Loyola Marymount 5-2 in the third round.

WVU presents an incredibly tough test to Penn State's recent five-game shutout streak. Its potent offense is led by a two-headed monster up top in Kailey Utley and Michaela Abam. Utley and Abam lead the Mountaineers with 12 goals apiece this season.

Utley has been on a notable roll lately, headlined by a hat trick in WVU's third round victory over LMU.

Even though West Virginia's offense has carried its team thus far in the postseason, WVU's resounding strength is its defense. The Mountaineers own the second best defense in the country in terms of giving up goals. Goalkeeper Hannah Steadman has only let nine shots past her this season, good for a 0.43 GAA.

Steadman has been a rock in the back, but much of WVU's defensive success this season has been due to stellar play across the back line. The West Virginia defense has only allowed 129 shots in 2015, while its offense has taken 530.

The Nittany Lions and Mountaineers will kick off their quarterfinal match at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Jeffrey Field.

Balanced Offensive Attack Powers Lions to NCAA Third Round

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11509072.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's soccer team defeated Boston U., 6-0, on Friday night to advance to the third round in the NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament.

The victory was a total team effort, as all six goals were scored by different Nittany Lions.

Balance has been the staple for Penn State offensively so far in the postseason. In the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the Blue and White have scored 11 goals. Eight Nittany Lions have recorded at least one of those scores. Megan Schafer, Charlotte Williams, and Emily Ogle each have scored twice in the tournament.

"This team has so many different attacking weapons," said head coach Erica Walsh. "BU was doing a good job shutting us down and then Frannie Crouse just decides it's her turn to score a goal and does what she does. That's what the NCAAs are all about, those special moments."

Crouse's goal in the 27th minute to open the scoring for PSU was something to behold. Using a burst of unparalleled speed, Crouse broke free of her defender down the sideline, made a strong run to the middle of the box, and finished near side for her ninth goal of the year.

The scores snowballed after that. Later in the first half, Nickolette Driesse tacked on her fourth goal of the year with a stunner from outside the box to the top left corner.

In the second frame, Schafer, Williams, Elizabeth Ball, and Haleigh Echard all scored to pad PSU's lead and down the Terriers.

It's easy to praise the offense after consecutive dominating performances, but the defense has been just as dominant of late. Penn State has notched four straight shutouts and 11 total on the year. Britt Eckerstrom in goal, along with a deep, tough-minded backline, has been historically great this season.

The defensive juggernaut lowered its goals against average in 2015 to 0.61 following the win, which is tied for third all-time at Penn State with the 2007 squad.

"We're one right now," said Eckerstrom. "We're talking, we're moving together, and it's been a whole team defensive effort. It's awesome the way we're playing right now."

As a whole, Penn State seems to be peaking at the right time. Its last two victories mark the team's two largest winning margins in 2015. The Nittany Lions hadn't won a game by five goals all year. They've now done it in two straight contests.

Next Up: Ohio State

After facing two unacquainted opponents in the first two rounds of the tournament, Penn State finds itself up against an all-too-familiar foe in Big Ten rival Ohio State.

The Buckeyes upset No. 4 Virginia Tech 1-0 in the second round after defeating Butler 2-1 in their opening contest. In the regular season, Penn State beat OSU 2-1 in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes have won four of five matches since that loss.

Like Penn State, Ohio State possesses a balanced offensive attack that features four players who've scored at least five goals on the year. Nichelle Prince leads the way with 19 points in 2015. She's the clear focal point of the offense, as her 83 shots this year nearly double the second highest total on the team (47).

The Buckeyes feature two solid goalkeepers, Jillian McVicker and Devon Kerr. Both have produced lower than a 1.10 goals allowed average, and both have logged at least 850 minutes this season.

Ohio State is somewhat unpredictable on offense and defense. They can plug in multiple bodies off the bench and not lose a step on the field. Penn State does exactly the same, so the bench play could be the biggest factor in the decision of this surely entertaining matchup.

The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes will kick off their third round contest on 1 p.m. on Sunday at Jeffrey Field.

NCAA Tournament: Lions Focused on One Match at a Time

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11502547.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State, this year hasn't been one season comprised of 22 matches. It's been 22 separate seasons: each of the same importance, each presenting a new learning experience.

Coaches and players never look ahead to the next season while playing the current one. The simplest way to keep the focus off the future is to instill this principle from game to game, which is exactly what head coach Erica Walsh has achieved in 2015.

The mindset of "one game at a time" has been engrained inside the brains, hearts, and souls of every player, personnel member, and individual involved in the program. From top to bottom, there's no one who isn't on board.

"We have to take it one game at a time," said sophomore forward Frannie Crouse. "Any opponent can come out and beat us, like in the Big Ten when we didn't play our greatest and we lost. We approach every game as a new one and we're not going to take anything for granted."

In the NCAA Tournament, this is especially difficult. With 63 possible matchups in the postseason, it's often arduous to stay focused on the one matchup that matters, the next one.

It's a complicated approach considering this team's clear goal is a national championship. It isn't a crime to look forward to such an event, but there are still four more teams to go through to get there. Patience is the key factor.

"It's win and advance," Walsh said. "Everything about the way that we're training right now is focused on putting all of our energy into Friday. The veterans are a big part of that. They've been knocked out enough times in their career that they understand the one game mentality."

Penn State has proven throughout the year that this mindset has been incredibly successful. To illustrate, consider Penn State's tough schedule in and out of conference. The Nittany Lions played 11 games against tournament teams before the NCAA Tournament kicked off. With so much tough competition all year, it's easy to overlook teams in between playing the powerhouses like Stanford and West Virginia.

Penn State went 7-3-1 against opponents that made the tournament this year. In the games directly before Penn State's contests against these tournament teams, the Blue and White went 9-2-0. The Nittany Lions outscored their opposition in these games 24-9.

This demonstrates the strong belief in refusing to take teams likely, especially when there's a stout opponent coming up on the schedule in a few days. In this team's mind, effort and execution must be perfect in every single game, no matter the team on the opposite bench.

"We just have to go play every minute like we're preparing for the next game," said Crouse. "Any minute we aren't playing hard is like a minute you lose preparing. If we come in thinking we're going to win, we won't get any better. We have to make sure we're constantly getting better."

Another aspect of this club's mentality is an emphasis on Penn State and no one else. Instead of focusing on how upcoming opponents are playing or who is making a difference for them, Coach Walsh has the squad focused on improving as a team and individually every day.

Many of the foes the Nittany Lions face in the NCAA Tournament are unfamiliar. This somewhat makes it easier to focus on themselves because they've never seen their opponent play before.

"Part of the fun of the NCAA Tournament is playing against some different teams," said Walsh. "That would be my preference, but this team is so focused on our details and what we're doing that it doesn't concern me whether we've seen them or we haven't. Everything that we talk about right now is Penn State and that's been going on these last few weeks."

Next Up: Boston University

Boston U. defeated St. John's in overtime, 2-1, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Terriers own a 13-5-3 mark on the season, but they've been incredibly hot of late, winning 13 of their last 15 contests. BU has only surrendered eight goals in those 15 games.

The glaring strengths of this group are its defense and execution off set pieces. Goalkeeper Alyssa Parisi has allowed 14 goals in between the posts this season, an average of 0.70 goals allowed per game.

The Terriers execute very well in timely situations on offense, especially when they're presented with corner kicks or close free kicks. Many of their game winning goals this season have come off of free kick plays.

Boston's offensive attack doesn't present one specific indivudal challenge like St. John's Rachel Daly would have for the Nittany Lions defense, but it possesses a very balanced attack. Out of the 24 players who have seen the field for BU, 14 have notched at least one goal.

"They are extremely well-organized," Walsh said. "They have an outstanding coaching staff and they've got some seniors that have been leading them and a great center back. They've got a big belief in them right now in winning games on set pieces, so that's what we've been working on in practice."

Penn State and Boston are set to kick off on Friday at 6:30 p.m. on Jeffrey Field in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Lions Cruise to Second Round in Dominating Fashion

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11483585.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's soccer team defeated UAlbany 5-0 on Friday night to advance to the second round of the 2015 NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament. Penn State will play the winner of St. John's-Boston on Nov. 20 at Jeffrey Field.

The Nittany Lions have now advanced past the round of 64 in each of the past seven seasons. Penn State improves its impressive home record in the NCAA Tournament to 33-6-1.

"We talk everyday about what Penn State pride means and what playing on Jeffrey Field means," said head coach Erica Walsh. "We're making sure that that's tangible and that playing on Jeffrey Field doesn't necessarily mean we win games. These guys have embraced that concept."

It was all Penn State from the opening whistle to the final horn. Penn State started the match aggressively in the first half playing into the wind on a gusty night in Happy Valley, and it didn't take long to get on the board.

In the fifth minute, sophomore Megan Schafer tallied her team leading 11th goal of the season thanks to an Albany defensive mishap. The wind also played a factor in the blunder, as the attempted headed clearance hung in the air and Schafer was all over it in front of the net to finish the loose ball.

Penn State, a dominating team when striking first, kept its foot on the pedal immediately after gaining the lead.

In the 16th minute, Brittany Basinger scored a rare goal from her left back position. The redshirt sophomore created space down the left side and sent a cross in the box from nearly 30 yards out. Amazingly, the ball skipped through the middle without being touched and bounced off the far post and in to give Penn State the early two-goal lead.

Sophomore midfielder Emily Ogle cushioned the Nittany Lion lead to three just four minutes later with a long strike from outside the box. The goal marked her fourth of 2015.

"We talked about coming out strong and setting the tone the whole game," Ogle said. "I think scoring in the first five minutes allowed us to settle down and get a feel for the game."

Penn State utterly dominated the first half, outshooting the Great Danes 18-1 and controlling possession the entire 45 minutes. UAlbany only congregated two offensive attacks in the half.

The second half featured more of the same, as Penn State continued to control possession and have their way with the Albany back line.

Penn State tacked on two more goals, including another from Ogle and one from freshman Charlotte Williams. Mallory Weber tallied the assist on Ogle's 56th minute goal and became the 10th Nittany Lion to notch 100 points in their career in the process.

"Mallory Weber is easily the hardest working college player that I've ever coached," said Walsh. "She creates so much out of nothing at times. The day she stepped into the Penn State program she set the standard and she's been doing it ever since."

Looking Ahead to NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament

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11478086.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On Monday, the Penn State women's soccer team (16-3-2) was named a No.1 seed in the 2015 NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament.

This season marks the fourth time in program history that Penn State has earned a No. 1 seed. The seeding means Penn State would play at home on Jeffrey Field all the way up to the quarterfinals should it win each match. The semifinals and finals of the College Cup will be held in Cary, N.C.

The Nittany Lions will kick start their journey in the NCAA Tournament on Friday against Albany at 6:30 p.m.

Tournament Storylines


Inside Penn State's Quarter of the Bracket
The "University Park" region of the 64-team bracket presents a tough road for any No. 1 seed in the tournament. Eight of the region's 16 teams are represented in the top 40 of the RPI rankings, including four inside the top 18.

Big Ten Party
The Big Ten will send five teams to the 2015 NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament. Four of those teams are featured in the "University Park" region of the draw: Penn State, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Northwestern. Rutgers, the remaining Big Ten tournament team, received a No. 2 seed in the Charlottesville Region.

Penn State could potentially meet Rutgers for the third time this season in the College Cup semifinals on Dec. 4, if both teams advance. The Nittany Lions could meet Ohio State in the third round and Minnesota or Northwestern in the quarterfinals. Penn State went 3-2 against the Big Ten tournament teams this season.

Familiar Foes
For the most part, the NCAA Tournament is focused on creating matchups against teams that didn't face each other during the year. As much as the bracket prevents this in the early rounds, it's impossible to totally avoid regular season rematches.

Penn State could meet some conversant rivals in later rounds, which could set up a few riveting rematches. Along with the three Big Ten teams accompanying Penn State in its region, the Nittany Lions could see quarterfinal contest against No. 2 West Virginia. Penn State dropped a hard-fought match against West Virginia earlier this season.

No. 2 Rutgers is a potential opponent for Penn State out of the Charlottesville region if the Lions and Scarlet Knights advance through the draw. The two teams split their two matches this season. Across the bracket, No. 1 Stanford and No. 3 Duke are two teams the Lions have already seen this season and are both in the Palo Alto region. Penn State defeated Stanford 1-0 and tied Duke 1-1 previously this year.

Round One: Scouting the Great Danes
The America East Champions enter the tournament riding a five-match winning streak. Most recently, the Great Danes upset conference rival Hartford by a tally of 2-1 in the America East title match to gain an automatic bid into the tournament.

Albany boasts three all-conference performers: Alexa Schneider, Vivian Vega, and Shelby Belak. Schneider and Vega head an offensive attack that led the America East in 2015 with 33 goals this season.

Friday's matchup will mark Albany's first ever NCAA tournament appearance. 2015 was a historical regular season for the Great Danes, as they won a program best 11 games.

Those 11 victories also came with eight loses. Albany's toughest test was against Dartmouth, which finished the season ranked 98th in RPI. The Great Danes didn't face any other team inside the top 100 in RPI.

Adversely, Penn State played five games against teams ranked inside the top 15 this year, including two against No. 4 Rutgers. The Blue and White won three of those five contests.

Teams to Look Out For
Keep a close eye on a number of teams in Penn State's quarter of the bracket.

St. John's (15-2-1):
The Red Storm enter the tournament as group to watch.

SJU went 7-1-1 in Big East play this season. The team is led by goal scoring machine Rachel Daly. Daly is third in the nation with 19 goals this season. Her 1.00 goals per game average ranks second in the country. She's accounted for 59 percent of her team's goals in 2015.

Daly is capable of going off at any point, and she has the firepower to single-handedly win games by herself. Penn State would potentially meet St. John's in a second round matchup if both teams win their opening games.

No. 4 Virginia Tech (14-3-2):
The Hokies are arguably the most talented 4-seed in the entire bracket. They finished the season with an RPI of 12, and notched impressive wins against No. 7 West Virginia and No. 13 Duke during the regular season. Virginia Tech also tied the No. 1 team in the country, Florida State, in its final regular season bout.

The Hokies were ranked as high as fifth in the country earlier in the season, and they have a very talented roster capable contending with anyone in the country.

Murielle Tieran leads the way for VT offensively. Despite missing two games this season, Tieran led the Hokies with 13 goals and 28 points. Virginia Tech has outscored its opponents this year 43-22.

Penn State could potentially meet Virginia Tech in the third round.

No. 2 West Virginia (16-2-1):
The Nittany Lions wouldn't face the Mountaineers until the quarterfinals, if all pans out, but WVU presents a big challenge to any team in the region.

West Virginia has an RPI of No. 7 and defeated Penn State on Sept. 4 by a score of 1-0. The Mountaineers lost to Texas Tech in the Big 12 semifinals, which marked their first loss since Aug. 23 when they fell to Virginia Tech.

Unlike most of the teams in the region, WVU's resounding strength is its defense. West Virginia has only allowed seven goals in 2015. Goalkeeper Hannah Steadman owns the second-best goals-against average in the country of .362 per game. The Mountaineers have outscored their opponents 48-7 and outshot them 467-107 on the year.

Lions Shut Out Rutgers to Win Big Ten Tournament Title

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11468814.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's soccer team will head into the NCAA Tournament riding a wave of momentum after shutting out Rutgers, 2-0, to secure its sixth Big Ten Tournament title and the second under head coach Erica Walsh.

The Nittany Lions notched two shutouts in the tournament and outscored their opponents 6-1 in three games. By scoring two goals against Rutgers, Penn State became just the second team to do so all year.

The offensive attack didn't take long to strike. Penn State's forwards were aggressive out of the gate, and they caused multiple set pieces in the opening minutes.

In the ninth minute, Nickolette Driesse swung a corner kick into the box and RU's keeper, Casey Murphy, hesitated to charge. The ball found senior captain Raquel Rodriguez's head in the middle and redirected towards goal, but her shot deflected off sophomore Elizabeth Ball's head. Luckily, the deflection shot directly to the top corner and gave the Lions an early 1-0 lead.

"I was trying to actually move out of the way," said Ball. "I thought it was going to hit me and go over the net, but it just skimmed my head. It was really Rocky's goal to be honest."

Dissatisfied with just one goal, Penn State kept on the offensive. Senior captain Mallory Weber created space down the right side and forced yet another corner kick in the 26th minute.

The ensuing corner was headed away initially, but the ball ended up in sophomore Frannie Crouse's possession after the attempted clearance. Crouse took a touch and tried her luck from outside the box, but her attempt was blocked. Her shot rebounded right to midfielder Emily Ogle, who eyed up her target and struck a laser that curved into the near corner for the goal.

"Good things happen when Ogle touches the ball," Walsh said. "These two games were conducive to her finding the ball more I thought Raquel did a nice job creating space for her and attracting a crowd, but Ogle was outstanding all weekend."

Set pieces were the key to the Blue and White's first half success. Penn State mustered six corner kick in the first 45 minutes, while only surrendering one. Both goals came as a result of a corner.

"I give all the credit there to Tim Wassel," said Walsh. "He did a good job of analyzing their set pieces and putting a couple different wrinkles in. The team did a nice job of implementing them, and we had some success off of it."

Ogle and Crouse were named to the 2015 All-Tournament Team, along with goalie Britt Eckerstrom. Eckerstrom was awarded Defensive Player of the Tournament and Crouse won Offense Player of the Tournament.

Eckerstrom let up only one goal in the tournament and totaled 11 saves. Crouse scored two goals in the tournament.

"This team is really incredible," said Eckerstrom. "We ask for more out of the team and every time the team gives more. We've got big expectations, but we're still taking it one game at a time."

The Nittany Lions will enter the NCAA Tournament with a 16-3-2 mark. Penn State has won five straight contests, outscoring opponents 11-3 over that stretch.

"We're peaking at the right time," Ogle said. "We're not done yet. We have a bigger goal in mind. We're trying to win a national championship, but this is a great step towards that."

Crouse's Second Half Strike Sends Lions to the Big Ten Title Match

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11462490.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's soccer team defeated Michigan, 1-0, on Friday evening to advance to the Big Ten Tournament championship match (Sunday at 2 p.m.).

Michigan made it much harder for Penn State than it did last week, however. The Nittany Lions cruised past the Wolverines 3-1 in the regular season finale, and Michigan made some major adjustments Friday night.

Most notably, the Wolverines camped three center backs and five total defenders on the back line. The midfield group also played behind the ball all game, leaving little space for Penn State's offensive attack to operate.

"I thought Ogle and Rodriguez were exceptional today," said head coach Erica Walsh. "You can't play against a packed defense without midfielders that can swing the ball and penetrate. Both of them showed the ability to do that. They were the key tonight."

Emily Ogle was the focal point of the offense Friday night. The sophomore touched the ball on seemingly every attack and controlled possession in the middle of the pitch all night. Her patience against the stacked box kept Penn State composed.

"Michigan came out with a totally new game plan," Ogle said. "We had to figure out a different way to break them down and one of the biggest things was being patient and swinging the ball and not forcing it."

After a slow first half that didn't feature many quality chances, Walsh looked to the back line to mix things up. In the 61st minute, Ellie Jean entered the game at left back and moved center back Elizabeth Ball to striker. Ball was a standout scorer in her high school days, so she represents the secret weapon for PSU offensively.

Ball wasn't able to get on the board, but the change left Michigan's defense partly confused. A minute later, Jean made a run forward and found Frannie Crouse on the left side of the box who struck a high-arching shot that cleared the goalkeeper's reach and found the far corner of the net.

The goal marked Crouse's second in the tournament and eighth of the season.

Michigan sent a barrage of 10 shots at goalie Britt Eckerstrom in the second half, but the redshirt senior stood her ground and recorded her seventh shutout win of 2015.

The Nittany Lions will meet No. 3 Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament championship on Sunday at 2 p.m. The Scarlet Knights defeated Penn State, 1-0, back on Oct. 18.

Early Goals a Staple of Women's Soccer's Success in 2015

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11460770.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The game of soccer is heavily influenced by momentum. One can't stress enough the importance of jumping on the opponent early and dictating the pace of the game from the start.

Penn State has been incredibly effective in this area all season. The Nittany Lions have scored first in 13 of their 19 contests in 2015. They have been victorious in all 13 of those games.

"You gain so much momentum once you get up a goal," said sophomore forward Megan Schafer. "We feel like we have a huge advantage every time we score first. It's so crucial to score first and set the tempo right away."

Penn State doesn't wait for goals to come. Head coach Erica Walsh likes to start the attack from the minute the referee blows the whistle, specifically if the Nittany Lions own the kick off. The Blue and White begins every game with an all-out bull rush up one side of the field, as the player receiving the kick off boots it to the corner of the box for the surging forwards.

"It's all about the mentality of a territorial battle," Walsh said. "Early on we want to put a ball in the box and mentally be on top of them. The number of times that I see a ball go from kick off to goalkeeper is way too often. Everybody's so excited and ready to go so we love to take advantage of that energy."

The Nittany Lions haven't lost a game this year when netting at least one goal. Each of their losses have ended in 1-0 decisions, proving how vital the first goal of the game always is.

"You don't need to look any further than the Michigan game," said Walsh. "Britt Eckerstrom came up with a huge save early in that game that totally changed the tone of that game. They put one away early and we're in serious trouble. That's what we talked to the team about today. Especially against a team like Michigan who's so stingy on defense and has such a belief in their defending, the first goal is going to be crucial Friday night."

The majority of teams are content with switching the focus to defense after getting an early lead, but not Penn State. Out of its 13 wins when scoring first, Penn State tacked on at least one more goal in 11 of those matches.

"That's the mentality we've had all year," Schafer said. "The Michigan game was a good example when we scored three goals in less than three minutes. We always talk about getting after it the next five minutes after a goal and we did that well against Michigan."

The hindrance of playing defensively after a goal is that the opponent can control possession and even generate more chances. The Nittany Lions take a different approach because of their high octane offense that averages 16.5 shots per game and a Big Ten best 2.16 goals per contest,

"That's been a common theme all year," said Walsh. "Early in the year we either didn't start off quickly enough or we started off quickly and took our foot of the gas. So, finding that balance and encouraging these guys to keep your foot on their throat has been the message lately. We have to continue running at them and using our speed and strength to stay on the offense."

A strong reason why more teams don't keep attacking is a lack of confidence in their defense. Many coaches need to push more players back to aid the defensive effort after an early goal. That's not the case for Penn State, and goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom is the biggest reason why.

"I've got so much confidence in Britt and this back line," Walsh said. "They've really been coming together as a unit and their movement as a line has improved tremendously. Britt comes off the field hoarse after every game and for a good reason. She doesn't stop from the opening whistle and it's all productive. It's exactly what you want out of your goalkeeper."

"We want to take as much pressure off her as we can, but we have so much trust in her and the defense," said Schafer. "We do everything we can up top to prevent them from doing as much work, but we can keep up the aggressiveness all game because they're so solid back there."

The first goal will again be an area to watch in Friday's Big Ten tournament semifinal match against Michigan. The Nittany Lions and Wolverines have the two highest scoring offenses in the conference, so both sides will be looking to get off to a quick start. The match begins at 6 p.m. with live coverage from BTN.

Rose Chandler Impresses in Spain for Women's U-20 Team

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11458442.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Goalkeeper Rose Chandler traveled to Spain last week with the United States U-20 Women's National Team for World Cup qualifying prep.

The redshirt freshman performed exceptionally well, leading the United States to two convincing wins and earning player of the tournament honors for the team. Chandler notched a shutout against Atletico Madrid and only surrendered one goal to Rayo Vallecano in a 4-1 victory for the U.S.

"It's the best feeling to go out there and wear that crest," Chandler said. "The crest comes with so much pride, and it's so exciting to get out there. Everyone on the field is so good at that level and it's incredible that I get to be a part of it."

This wasn't Chandler's first international experience, however. The Atlanta native was a member of the U-18 national team in 2013 and began playing with the U-20 team last year.

In her first eligible year for the Nittany Lions, Chandler has appeared in four games and has totaled 80 minutes this season.

"The ages are the biggest difference," said Chandler. "I was the oldest player there, and here I'm one of the youngest. Both teams present different challenges, but there's a lot to learn from both."

As the oldest and most polished player on the U-20 team, Chandler has had to adapt to the leadership role she's been thrown into. Chandler is one of two players on the team who currently plays in college. The rest of the group was pulled from various high schools across the country.

"I got to take a leadership role because I have experience in college," Chandler said. "Especially as a goalkeeper we're in charge of so much communication and there's so much coaching in the nature of the position itself."

Chandler has been the backup to starter Britt Eckerstrom all season. This comes as no surprise, as Eckerstrom has shown she's one of the best in the country this season. A lack of playing time can easily hinder a goalkeeper's abilities, but not Chandler's.

"Rose is a neat story," said head coach Erica Walsh. "Arguably the toughest role in soccer is the role of backup goalkeeper. You don't get a ton of minutes, but when you do get minutes you 100 percent have to be prepared."

A lot of her preparedness is thanks to assistant coach and goalie coach Tim Wassell. Wassell has worked Chandler all year like she's in game situations, and her play has even improved despite barely seeing the field.

Eckerstrom has been a mentor and teacher to Chandler throughout the year as well.

"Tim's done a great job with training and live practice," Chandler said. "Britt, as a redshirt senior, has showed me the ropes since I got here. Her technical ability and game management is incredible. I can learn so much in this environment so when I did get on the field I knew what to do."

"I give Tim a lot of credit in his ability to prepare her," said Walsh. "All the credit in the world obviously goes to Rose and her mental preparation to stay sharp when she's not getting minutes during games."

Balanced Offensive Attack Powers Top-Seeded Lions Past Illinois

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11451232.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's soccer team opened up the Big Ten Tournament in a strong way with a convincing 3-1 victory over the Fighting Illini of Illinois on Sunday afternoon.

The Nittany Lions, who secured the No. 1 seed on the final day of the regular season, took advantage of having a home field edge with some help from the rowdy Penn State faithful. The Park Avenue Army and friends were amped up and ready to go early, as were the Nittany Lions.

"Home field advantage is huge. It's what you work for all year," said head coach Erica Walsh. "We stressed to the team the importance of getting each of these results in conference and out of conference so we can continue to protect Jeffery Field."

After a flurry of chances right out of the gate, the Nittany Lions finally broke the seal in the 27th minute.

Mallory Weber started the attack with a great hustle play to save the ball from going out of bounds near the Illinois bench. Her cross found sophomore forward Megan Schafer in the box, who spun around a defender and passed off to junior Nickolette Driesse on the left side. Driesse, with no Illini defenders in sight, took a few dribbles and beat the charging goalie far side to put Penn State up, 1-0.

Driesse hasn't been the premier goal-scorer for the Nittany Lions this year, but she's been turning it on of late. She has scored in each of the past two games to bring her 2015 goal total to three.

"She's flying high right now," Walsh said. "She's playing with as much confidence as we've seen all season long. You hope that as the season goes on they get better. She's been in and out of the lineup a little bit, but it didn't faze her and now she's playing some of her best soccer of the season."

Penn State struck again just six minutes later, this time courtesy of Weber. Off a corner kick, the senior captain found the back of the net with her head after the ball bounced off the crossbar and back into play. The goal marked Weber's eighth of the season and 36th of her career.

Shortly after Penn State opened up a two-goal lead, Frannie Crouse decided to get in on the action. In the 41st minute, the sophomore received a perfect pass from freshman Charlotte Williams in the middle of the box and snuck her attempt past the diving keeper to stretch Penn State's early lead to three.

Crouse, who led Penn State in goals a year ago, had a quiet month of October, but she can get hot at any moment. And now would be the perfect time for Crouse to do just that.

"It was all just in my mind," Crouse said. "Mentally I had to get out of it and today since I scored I feel a little better about myself. Hopefully November will be my month."

"Frannie Crouse deserved her goal today," said Walsh. "She's been working for the last couple days to get it. She's a threat every time she touches the ball and thankfully she got back on the board today."

Penn State outshot Illinois 19-9 in the contest, highlighted by a 15-1 advantage in the first half. The Nittany Lions improved to 13-0 on the season when netting the first goal of the game.

The Nittany Lions will face the Michigan Wolverines in the Big Ten semifinals on Friday at Jeffery Field. Penn State defeated the Wolverines 3-1 in the regular season finale last week.


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