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Nov. 19, 2012
By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The journey continues for top-seeded Penn State women's soccer as the Nittany Lions fought from behind in penalty kicks to defeat Big Ten rival Michigan and advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm proud of them," said head coach Erica Walsh after the game. "I'm proud of this group, specifically the seniors. And every time we have to face a different challenge, we overcome it with such grace and dignity. I'm just excited for the next challenge."
Penn State's prior encounter with the Wolverines in the last home game of the regular season was a defensive battle that ended in a 1-1 tie. Though the Nittany Lions outshot Michigan 7-1 in overtime and 31-9 during the contest, they were unable to put the game away.
The stage was set in the third round of the NCAA tournament for the two teams to settle the regular season draw and the game proved to be a defensive struggle as expected; however, this one couldn't end in a tie and would have to be decided in penalty kicks.
The Wolverines were on the offensive early and in the 16th minute earned a penalty kick when a Michigan player was fouled inside the box by senior midfielder Maddy Evans. Senior forward Clare Stachel took the shot and scored to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead.
But Penn State has been down before and the high-powered offense hadn't been shutout all season. The Nittany Lions ignited in the 30th minute, creating a number of opportunities, but were unable to break the Michigan defense until the 42nd minute.
Senior midfielder Christine Nairn finessed a beautiful corner kick into the box off sophomore defender Whitney Church's head to Evans, who tapped the ball into the back of the net. The game would enter halftime tied at one apiece, but Penn State held an 11-4 advantage in shots.
The defensive clash persisted into the second half with the Nittany Lions continuing to dominate control of the ball. Penn State challenged Michigan senior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer late with shots from freshman forward Mallory Weber in the 83rd minute and junior forward Taylor Schram in the 90th minute, but both were denied. Kopmeyer had an incredible game with 10 saves.
In overtime junior forward Maya Hayes produced what may have been the best opportunity of the matchup as she received the ball in space, danced by two Michigan defenders in the box and took a shot in front of the goal that sailed high over the crossbar. The Nittany Lions outshot the Wolverines 26-10, but the Michigan defense held fast.
Penn State was 0-5 in games that went into penalty kicks and senior goalkeeper Erin McNulty had never participated in a contest decided by penalty kicks before in her career, including her time in high school.
The odds were stacked against them when the Nittany Lions fell behind 0-2 facing one of the top goalkeepers in the Big Ten. Nevertheless, coach Walsh knew her team was ready to face the challenge.
"We were prepared," said coach Walsh. "It's never a dull moment at training. These guys keep us laughing and keep us guessing. But when those penalty kicks rolled around, as far as I'm concerned, we have the best goalkeeper in the country in penalty kicks."
Senior Maddy Evans was the spark as she put Penn State on the board with a decisive shot to the upper left corner of the net. McNulty proceeded to make two consecutive saves, accompanied by a goal from junior forward Tani Costa to even the score, 2-2. McNulty described her mentality during the shootout after the game.
"I was just trying to get in their heads," said McNulty. "I knew that once I made one stop, it would give our team a little bit of momentum. I'm confident in our shooters, too. We've been practicing a lot, so I was confident that we were going to put the rest of them away."
Maya Hayes stepped up to the line to take Penn State's fifth and final attempt. Calm and confident, Hayes placed a perfect shot in the upper right corner of the net past Kopmeyer. The attention returned to McNulty, who made a textbook diving save to seal the 1-1 (3-2) victory in penalty kicks and the celebration ensued. Coach Walsh never lost faith in her keeper and knew she would come through.
"It's just confidence," said coach Walsh on having McNulty in goal. "It's confidence in our defense. It's confidence in our ability to shut out great teams and to handle all sorts of pressure. This is somebody that has come into our program and has changed our lives, both on and off the field."
Penn State will face third-seeded Duke in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament Friday at 7 p.m. on Jeffrey Field.
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