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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Nittany Lions continued their recent hot stretch with a convincing 7-0 victory over Stony Brook in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was their third straight win, and head coach Erica Dambach has her team playing with more confidence than ever.
"I could not have been prouder of this group tonight," Dambach said. "The momentum is going in the right direction right now. I think everything has been building up to this point. We keep talking about being 28 strong and we can feel that in everything we are doing right now."
Laura Freigang and Frannie Crouse led an offensive onslaught of four first half goals for the Nittany Lions. Freigang, who was tied with a team-high five goals coming into Friday's game, added three more to her season total by the end of the first half. It was the first Penn State women's soccer hat trick since Sept. 4, 2011.
"[Laura] has been having an incredible season for us," Crouse said. "It's great to play with her...her goals have been great."
Two second-half goals from Frankie Tagliaferri off the bench and one from Charlotte Williams sealed an already lopsided game for the Nittany Lions, who will face the winner of Georgetown and Wake Forest in the second round.
"We got to get most of our players into the game, which is really huge for us," Crouse said. "They deserve to play, and for us to be able to get the score up and get everyone in boosts everyone's confidence."
More impressive than the Nittany Lions' best offensive output of the season was the fact that they were so prolific offensively in such frigid weather. Temperatures dropped as low as 16 degrees on Friday night, but Penn State had no intentions of letting the cold slow them down.
"You learn very quickly that weather is always going to be there and that it's nothing you can control," Crouse said. "What you can control is how you feel about it. Right now, we're on a beach. That's what we tell ourselves. It's obviously very cold but in our mindset, we're prepared to play through anything."
"It honestly wasn't a big deal. We didn't even really talk about it that much. You can't change [the weather]," Freigang added.
It was not a typical regular season for the Nittany Lions, as they finished tied for fourth in the Big Ten regular season standings. However, Dambach believes her team is starting to peak at the right time after winning their seventh Big Ten Tournament.
During the final four game span of the regular season, while the Nittany Lions won just once, they allowed just three goals and outshot opponents 65-23 during that span. The creativity in the box was there, but it was just a matter of finishing those opportunities.
"We've been wanting to score [more], so it was cool to be able to get a couple goals early on. It does a lot for our confidence," Freigang said.
Penn State won the national championship in 2015, and Dambach's team this season seems to be mirroring the way the 2015 team begun to play at its highest-level right when the postseason began.
The stifling defense has been the calling card through four postseason games, as the Nittany Lions have allowed just one goal during that four game stretch. Although they had struggled offensively at times before coming into tonight, Dambach believes that this level of defense will aid them moving forward.
"The best attack is a great defense and how can we win the ball higher up on the field to try to break them down before they get organized," Dambach said.
Dambach recently has mentioned several times that her team playing with a new mentality since the beginning of the Big Ten tournament. Whatever the new mindset is, Penn State is obviously feeding off of it right now. Only time will tell to see how deep into the NCAA Tournament it can take them.