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

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11460770.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com 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, GoPSUsports.com 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, GoPSUsports.com 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.

Megan Schafer Hopes to Ride Hot Streak in to Postseason

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11443022.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Megan Schafer has always had a knack for putting the ball in the net. It's what she was born to do.

Ever since she was little, Schafer would battle her brother, a former defenseman, in the backyard until the ball became invisible in the dark of night. That was where her signature moves were sculpted.

She carried this experience into her high school career at Neshaminy, where she broke the school record for goals by scoring 102 in her four years. She also established her identity as a clutch goal scorer down the stretch.

In her senior season, Schafer led Neshaminy to an undefeated 25-0 record and scored the game-winning overtime goal in the Class AAA state title game. She's calmer under pressure than anyone, which heralded plenty of attention from head coach Erica Walsh.

"She's one of the best back to goal players that I've ever coached," said Walsh. "She's impossible to defend with her back to goal. With her size, speed, and tenacity she torchers defenders to be honest."

Schafer and Walsh clicked instantly. A sophomore year visit to Happy Valley was all Schafer needed to decide on her college selection.

In her first season, Schafer faced heavy competition from upperclassmen and promising newcomers. Although she played in every game, she started in eight. She scored six goals and added five assists in a productive freshman season.

In the 2015 regular season, Schafer manufactured a breakout campaign.

Schafer finished the regular season with 10 goals and two assists. Her 10 goals led Penn State and her 22 total points were tied with Mallory Weber for most on the team. Only Illinois' Jannelle Flaws scored more goals (11) than Schafer in the Big Ten this year.

Schafer is the main reason Penn State has been so potent offensively this season. The Nittany Lions lead the conference in goals (38), assists (37), and goals per game (2.11).

"I've definitely noticed an improvement from a year ago," Walsh said. "She came in with an attitude of being one of the starting 11 players and being a go-to goal scorer. She's taken that seriously and she's come up big in huge moments for us."

Here's the amazing part of Schafer's 2015 stat line: She has taken a total of only 33 shots this season (fifth most on the team) and she led the team in goals by three tallies. Jannelle Flaws has taken 91 shots this season and only has one more goal to show for it.

So, Schafer scored a goal for every 3.3 shots she took, while the Big Ten leader scored one for every 8.27 shots taken. If Schafer took as many shots as Flaws did this year, she would've been potentially on pace to score approximately 27 goals.

Her offensive efficiency has been impeccable this year, but her timing has been just as impressive. In the nine games in which Schafer has notched a goal, Penn State is 9-0. She leads the team with four game-winning goals in 2015.

"My teammates have been doing a great job working hard to get me the ball," said Schafer. "I just happen to be in the right spot at the right time. It's awesome to be able to step up and nail the big shots."

Schafer's play has been especially remarkable of late. She's scored a goal in six of the previous eight games. The Nittany Lions went 7-1 in these contests, which led to the program's 17th Big Ten regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.

"I've noticed a little bit of a swagger with her," Walsh said. "I think that she knows she's playing well. This is one of the most humble individuals that I've been around, but at the same time capable of carrying a team. She's recognizing now that she can have a huge impact even as a sophomore."

As Penn State enters postseason play, the Blue and White will be relying on Schafer for big goals in even bigger moments with the postseason up next.

"I just have to keep my mind right," Schafer said. "I have to feel the pressure of the playoffs as good pressure. Your teammates rely on you to score because they believe in you. It's awesome for your teammates to believe in you and have that trust in you."

"She's going to appear on everyone's scouting report," said Walsh. "She wants the ball, and there's no better feeling in the world than seeing your forward working her tail off when the clock's ticking down. She understands what her role is in those moments and that's put the ball in the back of the net."

Schafer and the Nittany Lions begin postseason play this Sunday against No. 8-seeded Illinois at Jeffery Field. The Big Ten quarterfinal match begins at 3 p.m. and will air live on BTN.

Lightning Strikes for Nittany Lions in Regular Season Finale

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11439603.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's soccer team defeated rival Michigan in the regular season finale on Wednesday night by a score of 3-1. The victory solidified a record of 13-3-2 (8-2-1) for the Nittany Lions in 2015.

Soggy conditions made for an interesting matchup, as rain littered the borough of State College for the entirety of the day. Luckily, the showers subsided a bit during game time, but the damp conditions were prevalent nonetheless.

The effects of the soggy turf were evident early on, as players worked to be sharp will ball handling. Initially, both teams appeared frustrated by the damp pitch. Passes from both teams were skidding a touch too far and players were adjusting how they made cuts on the field.

The first 32 minutes were tough from both sides, and neither team was able to build much consistency on the attack. It was looking like a physical, defensive battle was on our hands.

Then lightning struck.


In the 33rd minute, senior captain Raquel Rodriguez found herself with the ball and space in the middle of the attacking third. The 2015 World Cup star touched the ball ahead and fired a rocket that curled past the keeper and found the bottom left corner of the net.

It was even Rodriguez's 22nd birthday.

"I wanted to score for sure," said Rodriguez. "Obviously you want to score every game, but this one was special."

Immediately before the goal, Nickolette Driesse made a great play from behind to take the ball from a Michigan midfielder. Ten seconds later, the ball found Rodriguez who did the rest.

Right after play resumed, a Michigan defender turned the ball over to Penn State's best goal scorer, Megan Schafer, with no help behind her. Schafer gladly accepted the gift and beat the goalie one-on-one for her Big Ten-leading 10th goal this season.

"When the goalie comes out, it's almost the ideal situation for a forward," Schafer said. "We practice that all the time, placing the ball where you see an opening."

Before anyone could catch their breath, Driesse added to the total with an absolute snipe from 29 yards out. Driesse took a few dribbles in the middle and dipped her attempt up and over the goalie and back down into the top right corner for her second goal of 2015.

"Yeah, it was definitely the best goal I've scored at Penn State," said Driesse. "We do a lot of finishing before and after practice, and this week I was really focusing on distance shots."

The three goals were scored in a seemingly impossible span of 2:36. Michigan hadn't given up one goal in the previous 212 minutes played.

"We talked to the team about saving our best for last," said head coach Erica Walsh. "It's exciting to see a 90-minute performance. I think up to this point we had put together a couple of good 45 or 70 minutes but tonight was a good 90-minute performance and a good way to finish the regular season."

Coming into the contest, Big Ten title implications were on the line, as were the top six seeds for the Big Ten Tournament. Only three points separated second-place Penn State from sixth-place Minnesota, but the Nittany Lions did their job and clinched at least home field advantage in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Tournament with Thursday's win.

All that was left to resolve was the Big Ten regular season title, which would be decided a few hours after Penn State's win in the Wisconsin-Northwestern match. Penn State had never rooted for conference foe Northwestern so hard, and the Wildcats pulled off a double overtime victory to bring Penn State and Wisconsin to a tie atop the conference at 8-2-1. The combination of wins from the Nittany Lions and Northwestern handed Penn State its unprecedented 17th Big Ten title in the last 18 seasons.

Both teams will share the regular season crown, but
thanks to the 4-0 shutout of the Badgers earlier this season, the Nittany Lions owned the tiebreaker and will be the No. 1 seed for the Big Ten Tournament.

Penn State will begin postseason play on Sunday at Jeffery Field against No. 8-seed Illinois.

Nittany Lion Women's Soccer - What's in a Number?

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11423023.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Everyone who played organized sports at a young age knows the importance of the jersey number. There was always a scrum of some sort when it came time to pick those numbers, and if two teammates wanted the same one, it got heated.

Some might think this withers out once these young athletes mature and transition to the college game, but the battle royale for jersey numbers is still very much alive in Penn State's locker room, albeit in good fun.

There's an unthinkable number of reasons why athletes pick the numbers they do, and every one is unique to each player on the team. Favorite numbers can stem from a favorite athlete, a childhood memory, or a lucky superstition, just to name a few.

The Penn State women's soccer team gave us some insight on their numbers and the stories behind them. But first, let's take a quick history lesson on the Penn State uniforms.

Uniform Trends

Since 1994, Penn State's uniform numbers have stretched no further than 33. Only one player (Zoe Bouchelle from 2004-08) has worn 33 in the Blue and White's great history, but nothing higher 33 is available. As much fun as seeing a number 99 striding down the field would be, don't plan on it anytime soon.


"Other programs do that," said head coach Erica Walsh. "[North] Carolina is notorious for giving crazy numbers like that. To us it's more about keeping with soccer tradition. We try to keep it consistent."

The most worn numbers to date are 14 and 24. Ten players have used each number. Ellie Jean currently wears No. 14 and Cecilia Knaub reps No. 24.

The least used numbers come from the bottom and the top of the totem pole. The aforementioned 33 is the loneliest of the bunch, but 31 and 00 were each home to only three players' backs over the years. No current players wear any of these numbers.

No. 13 Christie Welsh

The only number in Penn State women's soccer history to ever be retired is the glorified No. 13 that was worn by Christie Welsh from 1999-2002. Welsh produced the single greatest career ever witnessed in Happy Valley, and she's truly deserving of such an honor.

"We retired 13 because of Christie's unbelievable career here," Walsh said. "She was our only Hermann Trophy winner and that was the big thing. To be recognized as National Player of the Year, we thought it was worthy of retiring her number."

Welsh was awarded the Hermann Trophy in her junior year, but her accolades don't stop there. In her freshman season, Welsh led the nation with 27 goals scored and led the Nittany Lions to their first ever College Cup appearance.

She was an NSCAA All-American all four years and the Big Ten Player of the Year in three.

Over the course of her collegiate career, Welsh notched 82 goals, 52 assists, and 27 game-winning goals. All three statistics are not only the most in Penn State history, but the Big Ten's as well.

Current Players

Elizabeth Ball- Sophomore No. 7

A lot of times, players don't get their first choice coming in as a freshmen. Unfortunately for Ball, she was beaten out by fellow incoming freshman Megan Schafer for her favorite number.

"I actually wanted No. 4 but I ended up with No. 7," Ball said. "I've had four my whole life, but I love No. 7 now."

Emily Ogle- Sophomore No. 10

Some players decide to explore other uniform numbers in college.

"All throughout club I was actually No. 9," said Ogle. When I came to college I wanted to switch it up. I'll probably stick with 10 the rest of the way. It's grown on me."

Perhaps the number 10 choice wasn't so random, however. The No. 10 has been a symbol of solid midfield play at Penn State for two decades.

"Soccer of all sports has a numbering system," Walsh said. "The one number we stay true to is the No. 10. We've got Ogle and [Christine] Nairn and we've had some good No. 10s so that's something we try to stick to."

Ellie Jean- Freshman No. 14

The number choosing process for Penn State is a system based on seniority, thus giving the upperclassmen the first choice, and deservedly so. More often than not, players keep one number throughout their entire career. Freshman Ellie Jean's lifelong digit is worn by senior Megan Ritchey.

"I've always had No. 2 growing up playing soccer," said Jean. "My mom works at UConn. She works with the men's soccer program there. So when I first starting playing I really liked one of the men's players and he was No. 2. I knew it wasn't going to be available so I chose 14."

Next season, Jean's coveted number two will be available for the picking. Don't be surprised to see Jean in different threads next season.

Mallory Weber- Senior No. 16

A sentimental value is often placed on one's jersey number. Weber was another freshman who couldn't attain her favorite number, but she's come to enjoy the change.

"I was born on April 4th so four has always been my number," Weber said. "You basically get whatever's left and Lexi Marton had four (when I got here), so I went with 16 and it's been good to me. I thought about changing back to four junior year, but I decided to stick to 16."


On the field, next up for the Nittany Lions are the Ohio State Buckeyes. The border rivals square off in Columbus on Saturday at 6 p.m.

Seniors Seize the Moment in Fourth Consecutive Win

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11396826.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's soccer team defeated Big Ten foe Indiana, 4-0, on Senior Day Sunday afternoon for its fourth straight victory. The win propelled the Nittany Lions to 10-2-2 on the year and 5-1-1 in Big Ten play.

The seniors led the way for the Blue and White on an emotional day that featured family, flowers, and a few tears, happy and sad. They wasted no time getting to work after the senior day festivities halted and the whistle blew.

In the sixth minute, Raquel Rodriguez netted her second goal of 2015 off a rebound from point blank range. A well-timed ball found sophomore Frannie Crouse in the box against the keeper, but Indiana's Sarah Stone was able to turn away the close range shot. Luckily, Rodriguez was the player on the pitch who followed the shot, and she converted with a wide open net.

"It's really important to score early because it opens up the scoreboard and gets us going," said Rodriguez. "We're not settled with just one or two, though. We always want to go for more and more."

Later in the half, Rodriguez found herself with another promising chance off a corner kick, but the senior's header slammed off the crossbar and bounced out of harm's way.

Penn State mustered up numerous chances the rest of the half but couldn't find the back of the net again until close before the halftime whistle. This time, it was fellow captain and senior Mallory Weber's turn. In the 41st minute, Nickolette Driesse received a ball near the box with plenty of room to run and eventually found Weber alone on the right side who fired a low shot to the bottom left corner to make it 2-0.

"It's still a competition with the forwards," Weber said. "I still have to show the coaches I can still play up top and finish my chances so it's always nice just to get on the board and help the team and keep the momentum."

"You can't replace those guys," said head coach Erica Walsh. "I know you say that every year but look at this senior class.  Straight across the board, all five of them. This is an unbelievable senior class."

Weber's goal marked her team leading fifth on the year and 35th of her illustrious career. She is now 10th all-time in Penn State scoring history. She also moved up to third in the Big Ten this season with 19 points in 2015.

It wasn't solely seniors who contributed to the score line, however. Sophomore Megan Schafer got in on the fun a minute into the second half with a jumping deflection off a corner kick that squeaked past the keeper for her second goal in as many games.

The Nittany Lions continued to pile it on late in the game courtesy of Elizabeth Ball. The primary starting center back got some work at forward for the last few minutes of the contest, and she made them count. In the 89th minute Ball received a pass in the middle of the field, beat the lone defender to her left and accurately placed a shot into the lower corner to seal the 4-0 win.

Penn State outshot Indiana 35-2 in the contest. Senior goalie Britt Eckerstrom wasn't called upon much, but she recorded her sixth shutout win this season and third in a row. The defense collectively has allowed a meager six shots in those games combined, while PSU has taken 45 and scored eight.

The Nittany Lions head to West Lafayette, Ind., on Thursday to battle the Purdue Boilermakers at 7 p.m. searching for their fifth straight victory.

Relentless Attack, Dominant Defense Fuel Lions in Shutout of Maryland

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11387678.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 11 Penn State women's soccer team (9-2-2) turned in a dominant performance against the Maryland Terrapins on Thursday night. The final score line, however, could not be less reflective of what really happened on Jeffrey Field under the lights.

The Nittany Lions defeated the Terps, 1-0, for their second straight Big Ten shutout despite a stellar night from the opposing keeper Rachelle Beanlands. The contest could've easily gotten out of hand if not for her 11 saves.

While Beanlands had to deal with 11 PSU shots on goal, keeper Britt Eckerstrom had a relatively quiet night thanks to Penn State's stifling defense. Maryland totaled just one shot during the 90 minutes of action. Late in the second half, a U-M forward found some room and launched a hopeful shot from outside the box that sailed wide.

On the other side, the Nittany Lions took a season high 30 shots. Somehow, only one found the back of the net. The 29 shot differential is the highest for Penn State this season. It had the feel of a wide margin of victory, but every win counts the same.

"That's soccer," head coach Erica Walsh said. "They have enough dangerous pieces to put one in the back of the net and you lose that game so the halftime message was go chase it. You're going to have to go after this game and go get it. I don't think we took our foot off the gas that whole game."

After countless attacks, seemingly impossible saves, and a few post-kissing shots, the Blue and White finally broke through in the 77th minute. A cross from the right half found Mallory Weber all alone in the center of the box, but Beanlands sprinted out and slid to take out Weber in front of the net. Luckily, the ball squirted out and found Megan Schafer who finished beautifully to the top corner while the keeper could only watch from the ground.

"We knew going into halftime that the goal wasn't going to be pretty," said Schafer. "Anything can happen. Mal [Weber] almost had it so you never know what's going to happen so I was just there to back her up."

The goal marked her sixth on the season, which ties her for the team lead with Weber and Frannie Crouse. Penn State's offense continues to show its versatility and multitude of weapons.

As for its defense, there may not be a team in the country playing better than the back line. After a 3-0 shutout of Northwestern in which they only allowed three shots, the defense miraculously outdid their performance on Thursday night. The entire game seemed like it was being played solely on Maryland's half. Every time the Terps tried to move the ball up, they were quickly stopped and pushed back.

"Our possession was good," Walsh said. "Our flank play could be a little better, and I think we created a ton of chances but credit to the goalkeeper. I thought their game plan was spectacular and they stuck to it so credit to Maryland."

The biggest key to stopping Maryland is slowing down Alex Anthony in the middle. Her physical style of play challenges defenses, but Elizabeth Ball and the back line were up for the challenge.

"I kind of like it better like that because my physicality and their physicality really mesh well," Ball said. "When the game is being played like that I feel like I can come out with every tackle."

"She's a heck of a player," said Walsh. "She gave us everything we could handle back there and I thought we did a great job on her, but she's a very special player."

The Nittany Lions return home on Sunday to meet Indiana at Jeffery Field on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Elizabeth Ball's Steady Presence Fueling Lions' Defensive Prowess

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11385851.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There's no substitute for dependability, but it's a trait that's hard to come by. Cal Ripken Jr's unbreakable record was dubbed unbreakable simply because it is. The wear and tear of a year-round sport puts even the strongest men and women in a cycle of fatigue and injury. Every once in a while, you have to sit one out.

Well, not Cal Ripken Jr., and certainly not Elizabeth Ball.

"E-Ball" has been a consistent force in the middle ever since her arrival to State College. In her freshman season, the center back recorded 23 regular season starts and logged over 1,800 minutes on the pitch. It's tough enough for a freshman just to get acclimated to the collegiate game, let alone become a model of dependability for the entire defense.

This season, she's been even better. The true sophomore leads the Nittany Lions with 1,093 minutes played. Ball has started every game so far at center back, and that trend doesn't look like it will change any time soon.

"She's so dependable," said head coach Erica Walsh. "You know you're going to get an honest effort out of her every day. I think her ups and downs of her freshman year are starting to smooth out. We're starting to see way more consistency out of her and I think our team believes in her. We're also starting to see more leadership out of her which is exactly what we need."

Her newfound leadership role is a recently acquainted piece to her puzzle. Ball possesses the most experience along the back line despite it being only her second year. Her fellow center back Kaleigh Riehl and right back Ellie Jean, both freshmen, have looked to Ball all year in pressure situations.

Ball has been an unbreakable wall in the back all year, but she's undoubtedly in her best form at this point in the season. Last week, she was awarded Team of the Week honors by TopDrawerSoccer after a dominating performance against Northwestern.

"It's awesome," Ball said. "It was a big honor and I'm really excited. We've been playing really good defense and I couldn't have done it without my back line and Britt [Eckerstrom]."

The Nittany Lions, led by Ball in the middle, allowed a quiet total of three shots to the No. 24 Wildcats in a convincing 3-0 victory last Sunday. The shutout marked the fifth time this season PSU has held their opponent scoreless.

"Elizabeth had a great game," said Walsh. "That's the best I've seen her in a Penn State jersey on Sunday. She was confident both on the defense and the attack and she's having fun. She definitely raises the level of our team when she plays that well. We've been talking a lot about blue collar and she's setting the example in that area."

Penn State's recent defensive success has lowered its average goals allowed to 0.75. Somehow, the defense is in fact improving as the year rolls on. This can be credited to the ever-growing chemistry along the back line. Their close ties and strong friendships off the field are contributing to their solid play on the field.

"Being good friends and being such a close family is awesome because we already know what we're going to do," Ball said. "If Kaleigh's going to play me the ball I already know what's coming. It's good to have that connection because it would be terrible if we hated each other, so I think it really helps."

It's clearly evident on the field how in-synch the back line has been of late, and it all starts with Ball. She's become a great communicator in the middle of the pitch, directing traffic and aiding Eckerstrom during opponents' attacks. With Ball feeling as comfortable as ever leading the defense, this back line's confidence is sky high.

"They're gaining more and more confidence with every game," said Walsh. "We always talk about 'defender nation' and coming together as a group and really taking pride in a shutout."

"We definitely have a lot of confidence, but we're also trying to stay humble," Ball said. "It's really important that we come out every game hard and don't get complacent."

Ball's consistency and steady play has brought the young defense to a new level. Trust is imperative on defense, and that's what Ball provides in one of the most crucial positions on the pitch. If she can stay healthy, scoring on the Nittany Lions will continue to be easier said than done.

Statistics Don't Tell the Story in Rodriguez's Senior Season

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11366384.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Statistics in the timeless sport of soccer can be misleading at times. Sure, a great goal scorer is going to put up points game in and game out, and defenders find their own way into the stat sheet with tackles, blocks, and the occasional assist.

Midfielders, however, are rarely on complete attack or defense mode. The middle of the pitch is a barren region where statistics go to die, but it may well be the most important area on the field.

While stats overshadow what happens in the trenches, Penn State has been extremely efficient winning the ball near midfield and pushing it up the pitch before the opposition can get comfortable in PSU's half. The single most important aspect of any match is keeping possession and limiting the opponents' control of the ball, and that's what the Nittany Lions have done so well this season.

At the center of it all is senior Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez.

The nickname "Rocky" didn't come about until her official visit to Penn State in 2012. Goalie Britt Eckerstrom wrote "Rocky" on her nametag, essentially Americanizing her title, and it stuck ever since.

Raquel Rodriquez Cedeno
, all the way from San Jose, Costa Rica, has been the rock in the middle for Penn State her entire career. Before Penn State, Rodriguez was influenced heavily by her father, Sivianni, who played professionally in Costa Rica.

"It definitely impacted me in such a strong way because he brought the sport to my life when I was four years old," said Rodriguez. "That's how we discovered I had a passion for it, and I started nice and early so the more I played it the more I loved it. I just had so much passion about it from the beginning."

Rodriguez followed in his footsteps and made her father proud by leading her country to its first ever FIFA Women's World Cup appearance in 2015. If that wasn't enough of an accomplishment, the amateur scored Costa Rica's first ever goal in the FIFA Women's World Cup against Spain in its first match.

In each of her first three years in Happy Valley, Rodriguez managed at least 17 points, including a career-high seven goals in 2014. In 2015, her role is much different. Instead of pushing the attack as much as possible, Rodriguez is helping more on defense and letting PSU's stud forwards do their jobs up top. She has tallied three assists but is still searching for her first goal this year.

"She does everything well," said associate head coach Ann Cook. "Unfortunately, her stats don't reflect it. In so many ways she's the heart of our defending. She's the heart as we change the point of attack, as we get the ball off of our backs and get it forward. She's in a lot of ways what makes us go."

Part of her role modification has to do with the young defense the Nittany Lions have showcased this year. Two freshmen and two sophomores round out the back line, so veteran help is always needed, and Rodriguez is always there.

Rodriguez was named a captain for the 2015 campaign before the season began, and there were no complaints about that choice. Her leadership and poise on the pitch makes her the perfect fit, and her international experience has very much prepared her for whatever the college game throws at her.

"She's the type of person that is a really quiet leader," Cook said. "She leads mostly by example and by small conversations, and those small conversations are incredibly inspirational to her teammates to give them the bump that they need. Her response to being captain has been exactly what we expected. She's been so steady and so good and so dependable and everything we could ask for."

In her final season for the Blue and White, Rodriguez has her mind set on one thing: a national championship. Penn State has captured an unrivaled 16 Big Ten Championships in its great history, but not once have the Nittany Lions held up the national championship trophy.

"Right now, a national championship is the priority of the team and for sure it's my priority now," Rodriguez said. "It would be something historical for women's soccer at Penn State and that's definitely something I dream of. I'm a senior now and I'm part of the captains so that's our responsibility to lead us there."

"Rocky" Rodriguez couldn't care less if she doesn't score even one goal this season. For her, the most important thing is her team's success. This newfound mindset may have altered her numbers, but the Nittany Lions look stronger than ever because of it.

Rodriguez's selflessness can spur Penn State to great things in 2015, but don't be surprised if she puts one in the net at the most crucial time when the season's on the line. That's just what she does.

@GOPSUSPORTS

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