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Nov. 15, 2012
By Scott Traweek GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When competing in the NCAA tournament for a chance to play in the women's soccer College Cup, players have to live and breathe the sport from round one to the finals. The mentality is you either win or go home and teams can't afford to lose focus.
Coming off of a 4-0 rout of Long Island University at Brooklyn in the first round of the tournament, top-seeded Penn State (18-3-1) immediately turned its attention to the second round matchup against Boston College (11-7-3).
The Golden Eagles present a challenge the Nittany Lions. Regardless, the players and coaches remain unfazed.
"I have full confidence in us," said senior midfielder Maddy Evans. "I think that we can compete with any team, so at this point I don't think it's as much about the opponent. It's about what we bring on Friday."
"I like us this time of year because I think we're going to be good," added assistant coach Tim Wassell. "We want to respect our opponent, but I like us and that's all we need to focus on at this point."
Penn State enters the game having been tested throughout the season by one of the toughest schedules in the country, which featured eight NCAA tournament teams, including four that are currently in the round of 32. These experiences, along with the guidance of a veteran senior class, have helped a young group of players grow into the third-ranked team in the nation.
The Nittany Lions have faced Boston College once before in the third round of the 2006 NCAA tournament. Penn State emerged victorious in a 1-0 defensive battle. The upcoming bout could end in a different result as the Nittany Lions boast an offense that has scored a league-leading 66 goals by 13 different players.
The key offensively will be to rely on that variety of attack and catch opponents off guard.
"Be unpredictable," said head coach Erica Walsh. "I think that's one of the huge positives of this team is that they're very unpredictable and I trust that we can read the game well enough to take what they give us."
Boston College won't back down from the challenge. The Golden Eagles have faced one-seeds before during the regular season where they tied Stanford 1-1 and defeated Florida State 3-2.
Their game plan will be to send numbers forward and challenge Penn State's defense, but breaking the backline will not be easy, as the Nittany Lions have notched eight shutouts thus far and allowed just 20 goals through 22 games.
Injuries have plagued Penn State's defense throughout the year, having lost starting senior defenders Jackie Molinda and Lexi Marton to season-ending knee injuries. What makes the current backline so talented is the fact that they face the likes of junior forwards Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram on a daily basis, both of whom participated in, and won, the U-20 Women's World Cup with the U.S. National Team.
The competitive mentality the Nittany Lions have in practice fosters an environment where the players challenge each other to raise their game to the highest level. Despite the dominant win versus LIU the previous week, Penn State is still striving for perfection.
"We feel there's a next level for us," said Bancroft. "We don't think we've hit our peak yet, so regardless of our results, we're still searching for that next level."
The game against Boston College will take place Friday at 7 p.m. on Jeffrey Field and the Nittany Lions love to play at home where they are a career 24-6 in the post season. Despite holding a 5-5 record versus ACC opponents in the NCAA tournament, Penn State is 4-2 when playing in Happy Valley.
The players are taught from the beginning that they are to protect Jeffrey Field, holding themselves to the highest standard when on their home turf.
"The second you become a Penn State player, right when you step on this campus, we try to instill number one that we win on Jeffrey," said Evans. "We don't want to give up goals on Jeffrey... It's just a mentality that we're going to maintain throughout practice this week as well as the minute the game starts."
The Nittany Lions have the ability to compete with the best teams in the country so long as they play their game and stay focused. In the end, coach Walsh is confident in her team.
"If our team takes care of themselves and takes care of the little things right now, I feel this is the team I want to be coaching this time of year," said coach Walsh. "There's not a team in the country that scares me right now if we're mentally prepared to play."