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By Zach Reagan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The old adage goes if you don’t succeed the first time, try, try again. Penn State men’s soccer senior captain Connor Maloney showed resiliency after one particular shot didn’t go his way early in Friday’s 1-0 victory against James Madison.
After a James Madison handball in the box, Maloney took the penalty kick for the Nittany Lions in the 12th-minute. Instead of striking the ball with force, he opted to chip it. The Dukes’ goalie dove to the right side of the net and Maloney chipped the ball off the crossbar on the left side of the net.
“Missing a PK is never a good thing,” said Maloney. “It definitely hurts your confidence a little bit but the guys kept me up and told me to keep going. They said I would get one and little did they know I got one.”
Maloney felt like he let his team down, but he continued to show why he is the captain of the squad with pure will to find the back of the net. He led the 17-shot Penn State offense with a game-high seven shots. The Nittany Lions attack constantly pressured the Dukes with quality touches and lead passes from the wings.
“I was scrappy; I was fighting for one,” said Maloney. “I was hungry. After I missed the PK I felt like a let the team down a little bit, absolutely so I had to come back and get one for us.”
Maloney finally struck gold when Dayonn Harris found former Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year who snuck a left foot on the ball to find the bottom right corner of the net from six yards out while falling into a diving goalkeeper for the game-winning goal.
“It was definitely a relief from the PK,” said Maloney. “It was joy, the first goal at home. I had to go celebrate with my teammates because I felt like I let them down the first time.”
Head coach Bob Warming was proud of his guys after coming off of last week’s physically demanding two-game cross-country trip to California. Warming especially applauded Connor Maloney’s determination.
“His character is just amazing,” said Warming. “Connor is that guy who not only leads verbally on the team but leads with that he will never be self-defeated. You’re going to have to defeat him. A guy who misses a penalty; sometimes they shrink. He comes back with more fight.”
Alongside Maloney’s strong play, Penn State held the advantage of keeping the ball on James Madison’s side for much of the game. The defensive backline of Brennan Ireland, Robby Sagel and Dani Marks held steady in front of freshman goalkeeper Arie Ammann. Ammann made his first collegiate start in place of last week’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Evan Finney who sat out due to injury. A near own goal deflection in the second half was one of Ammann’s tough challenges on his way to his first career shutout with five saves.
“You always have to be on your toes for that; it was a little deflection that came in off Robby (Sagel),” said Ammann. “It was tough but I got my feet under me and got down and made the save.”
Ammann, son of former MLS goalkeeper Mike Ammann, commended the defense’s superb play.
“It was an easy transition coming in,” said Ammann. “The backline was unreal, Robby unreal, Dani unreal and Brennan same thing. They gave me confidence coming in and confidence is all a goalkeeper really needs. Eighty percent of the game is confidence. I always say confidence is the key.”
The deflection was a scary looking play for the Nittany Lions.
“The hardest thing is to make a save you’re not expecting to make,” said Warming. “The ball deflected off of Robby. You’re not expecting to make a save there and to get down as fast as he did on this wet surface was unbelievable. It was incredible.”
With the win, Warming moved his record to 7-0 in home openers since arriving at Penn State in the 2010 season, with his Nittany Lions have outscoring opponents 10-1 on home opening day. The Blue and White have not given up a goal at the home opener since the Warming’s inaugural season in 2010 when they defeated Bucknell 2-1.
Penn State is back in action Monday night as they play host to Oakland.
For more information on Nittany Lion men’s soccer, log onto www.GoPSUsports.com and follow the team on the various social media platforms.