BLOG: Lions on Track After Back-to-Back Big Ten Wins
Oct. 21, 2013
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State women's soccer head coach Erica Walsh, the moment felt a little surreal.
Standing on Jeffrey Field following the Nittany Lions 5-0 victory over Illinois, it was still hard for Walsh to believe that her current group of seniors had just played their last regular season game at home.
"Four years always go by fast but for this class in particular it feels like it's flown by," said Walsh. "We're going to miss these guys a lot and they're leaving big shoes to fill."
On a day in which Penn State honored seniors Emily Carrollo, Tani Costa, Maya Hayes, Bri Hovington, Erin Kehoe, Lexi Marton, and Taylor Schram, the Nittany Lions scored early and often against the Fighting Illini to give the team their second straight win after Thursday's 4-2 victory over Ohio State.
The barrage of goals was started by sophomore Raquel Rodriguez, who scored twice in the game's first 15 minutes to get the ball rolling for the Lions in what was the first multi-goal game of the midfielder's career.
"We showed a good sense of urgency and even though we kept scoring we kept pushing," said Rodriguez. "This was really important for our confidence and it's a nice way to celebrate [senior day]."
Despite getting an early advantage, Rodriguez and her teammates refused to let up, extending their lead to 3-0 with 15 minutes left in the first half on a nifty move and shot by Costa.
Sophomore forward Mallory Weber and Hayes added goals in the second half to wrap up the 5-0 win.
After back-to-back 1-0 losses to Minnesota and Michigan, Walsh is confident that her team's offense has returned with nine goals over their past two games.
"I feel like we're starting to play a much better brand of soccer," said Walsh. "I like our combinations right now and we're starting to click."
Making the performance even more pleasing for Walsh was that everything seemed to come together seamlessly for her squad on the afternoon in which they recognized their seniors.
From the ovation of the 2,119 fans that packed Jeffrey Field to the fact that all seven seniors received significant minutes, the game seemed to follow a perfect script.
"This is the best senior day that I've been a part of," said Walsh. "Every class is special but this group has been program changers for us."
One senior that Walsh felt particularly proud of was co-captain Lexi Marton, who gave the team's defense 58 solid minutes.
After returning from a torn ACL that erased her entire 2012 season and has limited her this year, Walsh couldn't have been happier to have Marton controlling the backline.
"Lexi is the heart and soul of this team," said Walsh. "It's been tough for her because we don't make many changes on the backline but she played very well today."
Fueling the Nittany Lions dominant performance against Illinois was their previous win against Ohio State, in which the Lions scored four goals to break a two game stretch in which they were unable to find the back of the net.
Against the Buckeyes, the Blue and White once again got off to a fast start after Schram finished off a cross from Weber to put her team on the board five minutes in. An Ohio State own goal to a little later give the Lions a 2-0 lead at half.
"One thing I told them before the [Ohio State] game was that they needed to come out with an angrier energy and play like they had something to prove," said Walsh. "We were able to break them down and I was encouraged by that."
Despite the fast start, the Buckeyes managed to battle back and tie the game at 2-2, before the Nittany Lions to back control.
Not interested in a third straight setback, Penn State responded with back-to-back unassisted goals by Hayes to get them back into the win column.
"We knew it was going to be a battle and it was just a matter of keeping the right mind set," said Hayes. "Everybody seemed to want to score today [Sunday] and it felt good to get back on the board."
Even with all of the happiness caused by two straight wins and a flawless senior day, Hayes knows that now is not the time to get nostalgic.
With their three remaining regular season games on the road against in-conference opponents, the Nittany Lions will need to remain on top of their game if they want a shot at the Big Ten regular season title.
"I'm trying to not to let it hit me that this was my senior day because I don't want to get emotional," said Hayes. "We know we need to win these last three games. We just have to keep our heads on straight and not make the games feel bigger than they already are."