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Nov. 12, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The Penn State men's soccer team will vie for the program's fourth conference crown on Sunday when it battles regular season conference champion and No. 1 seed Northwestern (10-4-5) in the 2011 Big Ten Tournament title game. The match, which is scheduled for a 12 p.m. start at the U-M Soccer Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network.
After going winless in the Big Ten during the regular season, suffering six narrow one-goal loses, the Nittany Lions have won two straight in the postseason and are one victory away from earning the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. Penn State (9-8-4) defeated No. 2 seed Ohio State, 2-0, in the first round and downed No. 3 seed Wisconsin, 1-0, in the semifinals to advance to the title game.
Regardless of Sunday's outcome, the 2011 Nittany Lions have already made history, becoming the first No. 7 seed to advance to the Big Ten Tournament title game. The lowest seed to ever win a tournament championship was No. 5 Michigan State, which knocked off third-seeded Northwestern, 1-0, in 2004 in Ann Arbor.
The Penn State offense has picked up the pace at the Big Ten Tournament, scoring three total goals in back-to-back games since early October, but, as it was during the regular season, the defense has been the driving force behind its postseason success. The Nittany Lions have shut down two of the conference's top offensive weapons to reach the finals, holding Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Chris Hegngi and First Team All-Big Ten midfielder Tomislav Zadro to a combined three shots. In Penn State's opening round win over Ohio State, freshman goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton (Snellville, Ga.) broke the Penn State single season record for shutouts, recording his 11th, and added one more in the victory over Wisconsin.
In the 2011 regular season match-up, Penn State fell to Northwestern, 1-0, at Jeffrey Field. The Nittany Lions outshot the Wildcats, 12-6, but a goal in the 59th minute by NU's Oliver Kupe proved to be the difference. Penn State has more wins against Northwestern than any other Big Ten team, compiling a 22-4-3 series record.
On Sunday, Penn State will be vying for the conference title for the 12th time in the 21-year history of the Big Ten Tournament. The Nittany Lions, which are 3-7-1 in championship games, are making their third straight appearance in the final. In 2009, Penn State fell to Ohio State, 1-0, in the game's final minute in Bloomington and dropped a 4-1 decision Michigan in 2010 in University Park. Penn State captured Big Ten championships in 1993, 2002, and 2005.
Overall, Penn State is 28-14-4 in Big Ten Tournament play, standing as just one of two conference teams to own a winning record in the annual postseason event. The Nittany Lions possess a 6-2 Big Ten Tournament record versus Northwestern but have never faced the Wildcats in the final.
Fans can also follow all of the Penn State soccer action at the 2011 Big Ten Tournament on the Internet with live stats and instant scoring updates from GameTracker.