BLOG: Defense Stands Tall For Nittany Lions
Oct. 14, 2013
By Matt Allibone GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Even in the midst of a tough stretch, the Penn State women's soccer team has found an element to keep their confidence intact; the strength of their defense.
Entrenched in a hard fought battle against 19th ranked Michigan, the Nittany Lions backline of freshman Brittany Basinger, junior Whitney Church, senior Bri Hovington, and freshman Salina Williford were rock solid in a game that ended as a 1-0 loss for the Blue and White.
"(Michigan's) forwards are a handful and I thought our defense did a great job on them," said head coach Erica Walsh. "We limited their opportunities as best as we could."
In limiting the Wolverines to seven shots, with just three of those being on goal, no one could question the effort of the defense, who kept the visitors off the scoreboard until senior midfielder Tori McCombs managed to trickle a shot past goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom 21 minutes into the second half.
Eckerstrom remained positive about the performance of the players in front of her, including those not on defense, who still managed to contribute in the back, such as senior midfielder Taylor Schram.
"Our defense did a really good job handling their targets," said Eckerstrom. "We've been working on having the midfield track players in our zone and I think they did a good job helping the defense out."
Despite missing out on the opportunity for a shutout, Walsh praised Eckerstrom for the poise that she displayed in net.
The redshirt sophomore made a pair of clutch saves off of two major chances for the Wolverines in the first half and kept her teammates in the game all afternoon long.
"Britt was excellent today and came up with some big saves," said Walsh. "She's really coming into her own as a goalkeeper."
For the second straight week, the Nittany Lions consistently controlled the possession battle against their opponent but were unable to get a ball into the back of the net.
Walsh's crew outshot Michigan 21-7 and has now outshoot their last two opponents by a total of 41-13.
Although the Lions may be currently struggling to finish off their chances, they are not faltering with their heart or their attitude.
"We had some chances that we just didn't capitalize on today," said Walsh. "The effort and mentality was still good."
The effort was particularly evident during the final 20 minutes of the game, when the Nittany Lions took the penalty box by storm, creating three corner kicks and getting off eight shots on a day when Michigan freshman goalie Taylor Bucklin simply couldn't be beat.
The key now for the Nittany Lions in those situations going forward, will be keeping their edge in tact while also remaining calm.
"(Bucklin) was phenomenal today and Michigan deserves credit for how the score turned out," said Walsh. "We're just going to have to start getting some more dirt on our jersey's in the box."
Senior forward Tani Costa agreed with her coach that while luck may not have been on the Lions side, they will have to continue to play gritty with the game on the line.
"I felt like a goal was about to come all game," Costa. "It's just a matter of digging deeper and capitalizing on our chances and focusing on the details."
The biggest regret for Walsh and her players was not being able to give the fans a win during homecoming weekend.
As usual, the Nittany Lion faithful showed up at Jeffrey Field in full force, with 2,114 fans passionately cheering on the Blue and White.
"We talked before the game about putting on a good performance for the fans because they continue to perform for us," said Walsh. "We just hope they keep coming back because we're going to need them."
Despite the frustration of having come up just short in two straight games, Walsh is stressing to her squad how important it is for their morale to stay as high as ever.
With five straight games against Big Ten opponents before the start of the conference tournament, the Nittany Lions know it is not time to put their heads down.
"Right now there's no time to lick our wounds," said Walsh. "We have to turn around and get back to work because we've got a big game (against Ohio State) on Thursday."