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Nov. 4, 2013
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coming off back to back loses and with the Big Ten Tournament right around the corner, the Penn State women's soccer team decided that enough was enough.
Going up against in-conference rival Michigan State on the road, the Nittany Lions got on the board early before controlling the second half en route to an extremely satisfying 3-0 victory.
"I think it was very important for us to come out and get this result today," said head coach Erica Walsh. "This team has been working very hard and I'm glad to see them get rewarded for it."
Sophomore midfielder Raquel Rodriguez got the Lions on the board 10 minutes into the game on a penalty kick and senior forward Maya Hayes took care of the rest of the scoring, tallying two second half goals to put the game out of reach.
Having come up short twice on the road last weekend, the Nittany Lions spent the week working on cohesively moving the ball up the field and the improvement showed against the Spartans.
"I thought we did a much better job moving the ball to each other and sustaining the passing attack," said Hayes. "We put them under pressure and kept pushing the pedal down."
Walsh was also pleased to see her squad constantly talking and interacting on the field with each other at all times.
"I thought we had much better communication than last week," said Walsh. "We also had better ball movement and outside shooting."
With the regular season now in the books, the Nittany Lions could not have picked a better time to achieve their fourth shutout of the season.
Less than a week away from the Big Ten Tournament, Hayes and her teammates were determined to enter the postseason on a high note after their struggles last weekend.
"I think this was very important for our mentality," said Hayes. "We want to feel like we're playing our best soccer and we wanted to get our heads on straight."
Although Walsh maintained that the team had played their hardest and improved during their recent loses, she was nevertheless glad to see her team get back into the win column.
Not only does the victory provide the Nittany Lions with much needed momentum, it gives them the feeling that they are back in the grove that saw them win nine straight games earlier in the season.
"I think we're in a good place right now," said Walsh. "Now we need to pass the test of the Big Ten Tournament and then look forward to the NCAA Tournament."
While the Nittany Lions may not have won the Big Ten regular season title, but their confidence is not lacking as they head into the conference tournament.
In fact, the Lions are extra motivated to prove to their rivals that they remain a force to be reckoned with inside the Big Ten.
"I think that this year we definitely feel like we have more to prove than in years past," said Hayes. "We want to go out there with a chip on our shoulders and play our best soccer."
Walsh also made it clear that their previous setbacks this season against Big Ten teams are fresh in her player's minds, and that they are using the disappointment as fuel moving forward.
Since all of their in-conference loses came in games decided by just one goal, the Nittany Lions know that they can play with anyone in the Big Ten, and they are excited to prove it.
"(The players) are letting those loses drive them instead of letting them hurt them," said Walsh. "This team is well aware of where they've been and what they have to do to get where they want to go."
Over the course of 19 regular season contests, the Nittany Lions have faced almost every challenge a team can face and they believe that they have become much stronger because of it.
From the lows of a 5-1 loss against Virginia early in the season and the back-to-back setbacks last weekend to the highs of their nine game winning streak including a double overtime victory over Northwestern, the Blue and White have seen it all this season and they enter the postseason a more focused team because of it.
"We always say we're only as good as our last game and so far we've learned something from each game this year," said Hayes. "We've seen tremendous growth and we're not finished yet."