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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It took some time for Penn State (6-2-2) to crack Iowa's (6-5) tight defensive game plan, but the Nittany Lions used a second half surge to power past the Hawkeyes, 2-0, Friday night.
After a scoreless first half that featured only four combined shots on target, Penn State ramped up the aggressiveness to start the second frame.
Penn State earned a long free kick in the 55th minute and Elizabeth Ball got above the defense to head the ball home to give the Lions a 1-0 lead. It was her first goal of the season and fifth of her career.
"It's so much fun to go forward," said Ball. "Every time we have a free kick or a corner I'm just super excited to get in there and see what I can do."
Ball also led the defensive unit to its fourth shutout in the last five games. The back line held the Hawkeyes to 10 shots and four on target.
"You saw tonight what she's capable of doing," said head coach Erica Dambach. "She's leading the back line and then we need a goal and she goes forward and puts on in the back of the net. She's just getting better and better and I think as the season goes on we've seen that every year that she comes into her own."
This is about the time last season that last year's back line hit its stride, and the same could very well be happing with this group of new faces led by Ball in the middle.
"They're becoming more of a unit" said Dambach. "I think they're getting much more comfortable. We've got two new players in that back line in [Alina Ortega Jurado] and [Grace Fisk] and obviously [goalie Amanda Dennis] is really starting to lead that back line."
Dennis hasn't stopped improving since game one. The freshman has surrendered eight goals this season, but only one in the past five games.
"We really respect Amanda. It's not even like she's a freshman," Ball said. "It's really nice to have somebody so solid back there that we don't have to worry about, and she just gives the whole back line and the whole team confidence."
In the 81st minute Dennis made a full-stretched diving save of Iowa forward Bri Toelle's left foot that seemed destined to the upper left corner of the net. What could've been a momentum shifter for the Hawkeyes turned out to amp up the crowd and preserve the shutout.
"We scouted [Toelle] so we knew that she was going to take a lot of shots from distance, so I just dropped back on my line and made a nice, easy save and kept us in the game," Dennis said.
The Nittany Lions were able to pad the lead in the 63rd minute courtesy of Frannie Crouse. Crouse made a run up the right edge of the box and finished a loose ball over goalie Claire Graves for her team-leading seventh goal of the year.
Crouse is now tied for third in the Big Ten in goals scored. She also vaulted herself into a tie for 15th on the Penn State all-time goals list with the score.
The Lions have outscored their opponents 11-2 in the last six contests. They begin the Big Ten season 2-0-1 with a matchup against Nebraska looming this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
"This group's in a good place," Dambach said. "A couple shutouts and again back line is starting to come together and we got different people scoring goals for us. I think we got a good balanced attack right now, but we've got a very tough Nebraska team coming in on Sunday."