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WESTFIELD, Ind. - Trailing 1-0 with 19:26 left in regulation, the No. 15 and fifth-seeded Penn State women’s soccer team netted a pair of goals to defeat the No. 2 seed Northwestern Wildcats, 2-1, en route to its seventh Big Ten Tournament title Sunday at Grand Park.
“A huge credit to Northwestern,” head coach Erica Dambach said. “What that coaching staff has done with that program over the last few years has been impressive, to finish second in the regular season and to make a strong run to the Big Ten Tournament title match is impressive. There is just so much talent within that group.
I couldn’t be more proud of this team today for this victory, for winning this championship. Obviously, it means a ton for the program, it means an automatic bid to our 23rd-consecutive NCAA Tournament, which we are very proud of as a program and especially for this senior class, they deserve it and they worked really hard for it.”
Originally scheduled for a 2 p.m. start, the match was moved to 11 a.m. because of pending weather, but the match would not be started until 1:25 p.m. after there was a weather delay just a few minutes before warmups were finishing up. Once the match started, driving rain made its way to Grand Park.
Looking to strike first, the Nittany Lions (12-4-4) recorded six shot attempts within the first 20 minutes of action, but the Northwestern (12-7-2) defense was there to block four of those attempts.
With the scoreboard still showing 0-0 with less than eight minutes to play in the first half, Nia Harris put the Wildcats in front of the Nittany Lions, 1-0, on her first goal of the season. Immediately after Harris’ goal, the match would be delayed due to lightning in the area with 7:32 left to play in the first half.
After a 2-hour and 26-minute delay, the match would resume – though it would be played on turf inside the Grand Park indoor soccer facility. The two teams were granted a 20-minute warmup period and then they played out the final 7:32 of the opening half before a 10-minute halftime.
Despite leading Northwestern in shot attempts, 9-3, Penn State trailed, 1-0, heading into the second half.
Forty-five minutes separated the Wildcats and their first Big Ten Tournament title.
Similar to Friday’s semifinal matchup against the No. 9 Ohio State Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions picked up the offensive pressure during the second half – this time though the Nittany Lions wouldn’t need to go to overtime to capture the victory. On Friday, Penn State outshot Ohio State, 14-2, during the second half of regulation and Sunday saw the Nittany Lions outshoot Northwestern, 10-1, down the final 45 minutes of action.
Playing on turf for the final 52:32 of the match, the speed of play picked up for both teams - though for the Wildcats, it felt like home as they play on turf at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium. For the Nittany Lions, they mainly play on turf during the offseason at Holuba Hall.
With the pace of play increased, and trailing by one goal, the Penn State offense tried to beat a goalkeeper that had 10 shutouts to her name this season in Lauren Clem.
The Nittany Lion offense would find their breakthrough with less 20 minutes to go in regulation, as Maddie Elliston (Omaha, Neb.) swung the ball into the box and Laura Freigang (Oppenheim, Germany) headed home her fifth goal of the season from six-yards out to knot things up at 1-1 with 19:26 left on the clock in regulation. For Freigang, it was her second goal of the weekend.
Almost eight minutes later, the Nittany Lions found themselves in front for the first time on the day on Haleigh Echard’s (Lebanon, Pa.) second goal of the season. On the goal, Alina Ortega Jurado (Waldgirmes, Germany) found Echard about 30-yards from goal and then she moved up a few yards before firing a right-footed shot from just outside the penalty area past Clem and into the back of the net for the 2-1 Penn State lead with 11:42 to go in regulation.
Now trailing 2-1, Northwestern tallied its final shot of the match on a Grace Orndorff header during the 85th minute, but it was blocked by the Penn State defense.
As the final horn sounded the Penn State women’s soccer team rushed the field to celebrate its seventh Big Ten Tournament title in program history, and its second in the past three seasons.
Following the match, Freigang, Emily Ogle (Strongsville, Ohio), and Kaleigh Riehl (Fairfax Station, Va.) were named to the Big Ten All-Tournament Team. Along with Big Ten All-Tournament Team honors, Freigang was named the Offensive Player of the Big Ten Tournament and Riehl received Defensive Player of the Big Ten Tournament plaudits.
With the victory, Penn State receives an automatic berth in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, which marks Penn State’s 23rd-straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will be aired live on NCAA.com on Monday, Nov. 6, at 4:30 p.m.
NOTES: Penn State leads the series against Northwestern 25-3-0…Penn State outshot Northwestern 19-4…Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament title was the seventh in program history (1998, 2000-01, ’06, 08, ’15, and ’17)…Penn State is now 31-11-5 all-time in Big Ten Tournament matches…Penn State improves to 4-1-0 in Big Ten Tournament matches against Northwestern…Coach Dambach won her third Big Ten Tournament Title (2008, ’15, ’17)…Penn State is now 11-1-3 when outshooting opponents this season…Echard’s goal Sunday was her first career game-winning goal…Megan Schafer played in her 92nd career game...Nittany Lion goalkeeper Rose Chandler improved to 12-4-3 on the season.