The upperclasswomen on the No. 11 Penn State women’s soccer will attempt to do something they have never done before as the team opens its Big Ten schedule on Sunday against No. 13 Wisconsin.
During the past three years, the Nittany Lions (5-2-0) have been very accomplished, with two Big Ten championships under their belts, but the one conference opponent they have not been able to defeat is Wisconsin (6-1-0). The Lions are 0-2-1 against the Badgers since the 2009 season.
“We’re not going to take them lightly. We know what they’ll be looking for, so we plan to counter that,” redshirt junior Tani Costa said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a chip on our shoulder but definitely extra motivation.”
Wisconsin is known around the league for its physical style. Last year, the Badgers defeated the Lions in a match that ended 1-0; there were 38 fouls called in the match with 27 committed by the Badgers. Coach Erica Walsh has stressed in practice that she doesn’t want her team to adjust to Wisconsin’s style but to exploit the Badger’s weaknesses by playing their own game
“We’ve really just been focusing on us. We’ve done a lot of set pieces and competition [in practice],” Walsh said. “Right now, we’re just talking to our team about being winners. If all of our team competes at the highest level, then we’ll be successful.”
The Badgers have shown their ability to handle pressure with overtime victories in their past two games against Illinois State and Milwaukee. They have displayed a balanced offense, and have four players with at least three goals in seven games this season, led by redshirt junior Paige Adams’s four. Their defense has lived up to its reputation, giving up only seven goals with three shutouts.
“They play the game a little differently than Penn State does,” senior Christine Nairn said. “We need to take the way they play the game and impose ourselves upon them in that we can dictate the tempo and control the game. [In the past], we kind of played to their style instead of ours, and in order for us to be successful, we need to stick to what we’re good at.”
The Lions are coming off of a 3-1, upset loss at No. 17 BYU last weekend. However, the team is coming out with a new look this week with the return of juniors Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram from the U-20 World Cup. Both Hayes and Schram are expected to start and make an immediate impact on the offensive end for the Lions.
“It feels great to come off of a high stage and come back to a high stage. It’s not a big drop off,” Hayes said. “I think it keeps consistency going, and I’m excited for it. We’re looking at No. 13, and we’re ready for it.”
The revolving door of players going in and coming out has been a common theme for the Lions so far this season. They will have to deal with it again this weekend, as the return of Hayes and Schram has led to questions about where starters Costa and freshman Mallory Weber will fit into the lineup. Walsh has made it clear throughout the week that both Costa and Weber have earned starting spots but may be moved from forward to midfield.
The defense will be missing a starter in senior Bri Garcia and possibly junior Bri Hovington as well. Garcia went down last week with her third knee injury in as many years against BYU, and she may miss the rest of the season. Hovington injured her back and neck, which led to a concussion, after going for a ball in the air against West Virginia on Aug. 31.
“We have a lot of strong pieces pretty much all over the field,” senior Maddy Evans said. “We have some people stepping into bigger roles, but we feel confident with anyone of our players stepping into any one of these roles.”
The Lions feel that with these pieces in place, they can finally defeat Wisconsin and go on to dominate their Big Ten schedule.
“There is a little added incentive to beat them, first game of our Big Ten run as well as it is Wisconsin,” Evans said. “I want to be able to say I did beat them throughout my senior year, and I think this is the year to do it.”