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Dec. 1, 2012
By Tony Mancuso
SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Christine Nairn has scored 34 goals in a Penn State uniform.
None will be remembered more than the ball that rolled off of her right foot into the right side of the north goal during overtime on a soggy Friday night in Torero Stadium.
A long pass from fellow senior Maddy Evans on the right wing into the box set up Nairn's tap-in, game-winner from six yards out, sending Nittany Lion women's soccer into the College Cup Final for the first time in program history with a 2-1 victory over Florida State.
"To be honest I don't really remember the play, the whole night I guess is a little blacked out," Nairn joked after the game. "You know we had been trying to counter attack them I think Florida State just played the ball forward and we just kicked it off higher up on the field to our goal and played the ball to Maya (Hayes) and she does what she does and Maddy Evans with the assist and thank god that she was running down the ball when she might not have gotten it and just trying to put the ball in frame to score obviously and I was in the right place at the right time. They did all the hard work I just tapped it in."
After a scoreless first half, junior Maya Hayes found the back of the net first on a tap-in after a Mallory Weber shot was blocked at 56:21. Leading 1-0, the Nittany Lions held on until the final 41 seconds before Florida State's leading goal scorer Tiffany McCarty scored to send the game into overtime.
The Nittany Lion defense weathered attack after attack from the Seminoles in the second half before the final minute. Florida State midfielder Jamia Fields had two of the best chances in the second half in a four-minute span between the 61st and 65th minutes, but senior Erin McNulty made tremendous saves on both shots. McNulty was outstanding on Friday, but the intense offensive pressure from the Seminoles in the final minutes was ultimately too much.
Nonetheless, the Lions were unfazed, largely because they are not strangers to adversity.
"If you track this team over the course of the last 25 games you will see that we've faced all sorts of adversity over the course of this season and its led them with this belief that it doesn't matter what's been done to them," head coach Erica Walsh said. "You just see their shoulders go back, they pause, they take a breath, and then Christine there steps up and leads the charge."
Nairn has been a model leader for the Nittany Lions during the postseason. She has gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure the team came first every time the Nittany Lions took the field. From playing in the back line against Michigan and Duke to scoring a game-winner in the semifinals on Friday night, Nairn has been instrumental in Penn State's postseason run.
The same can be said about all four of Penn State's seniors who left everything on the field Friday night. They were not going to be denied the opportunity to play for the program's first national championship. And it was only fitting that one senior found another senior on the game-winning goal in the 92nd minute.
Evans, who delivered a perfect ball to Nairn for the game winner, has been tremendous throughout the tournament, as well. You will see one shot and one assist on the final box score in 91:12 of work for Penn State's captain, but her effort on the field and intangibles were irreplaceable against Florida State.
The list could easily go on and on to include players like Whitney Church and the entire back line. Collectively, Penn State battled from start to finish on Friday night to earn a gritty victory and a spot in the national title game.
Penn State will join Wisconsin (1991) as the only Big Ten schools to have played in the College Cup Final since it began in 1982. The Nittany Lions will play for their first women's soccer national championship against North Carolina on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. PT on ESPNU) in San Diego.
"This is why you coach," Walsh said.