The quickness of No. 11 Penn State women’s soccer team has displayed past an impressive 8-2-0 record midway through the season.
The Nittany Lions have developed a quick scoring attack, netting the opening goal in nine of their 10 matches this season. The ability to control the game early on has been important to the Lion’s success; they lost the one match in which they did not score first against BYU 2-1.
Coach Erica Walsh points to her team’s level of focus as the main reason they have been able to jump to quick starts against their opponents.
“The most important thing at this point is their mental preparation going into the match,” Walsh said. “I think their physical preparation is secondary to their mental preparation. They seem to be locked in and ready to go when I arrive in the locker room on game day.”
This past weekend the Lions showed the ability to create early goals against a couple of Big Ten opponents. Against Northwestern on Friday, senior Christine Nairn scored the opening goal for the Lions in the 31st minute. They continued to control momentum from that point eventually taking the lead 3-0 as they cruised to a 4-1 victory. Nairn scored twice in the match, to add to her team leading nine goals this season.
“We’ve had issues coming out strong in the first half in the past,” Nairn said. “If we come out strong in the first half it dictates how the game goes and we’re really proud of the way we’ve been playing. We have to be able to pull the whole 90 minutes together though to really be successful.”
Coaching, along with the leadership of upperclassmen such as Nairn has set the tone for the Penn State offense.
“I would say it’s more of a mental state when our coaches pump us up right before the game,” Nairn said. “We want to come out literally sprinting out, pressuring their defense.”
The trend continued for the Lions on Saturday when redshirt junior Tani Costa scored the fastest opening goal in Penn State history against the Illini. Costa netted a shot to the lower right corner in the opening minute off of an assist from junior Maya Hayes.
“I think getting that first goal in the first few minutes of every game is so important,” Costa said. “When we’re in our team huddle before the game we develop the mindset that we’re the better team and we need to play like we’re the better team. We’re becoming more dynamic and creative in our attack and it’s creating early goals.”
Hayes’ return to the lineup has added an entirely new challenge to opposing defenses. In just three games Hayes has scored four goals with two assists. The Lions are outscoring opponents 31-10 this season and 10-2 when Hayes is in the lineup.
“It’s great to have her back in our attack, it adds an entirely new dimension and team’s don’t know what to do,” Costa said. “Maya adds a whole new level of speed up top and having her on the top and outside and having Mal [Weber] on the outside, we’re just able to torture other team’s back lines in so many ways.
Though Hayes has made an immediate impact to the offense, she stresses that all-around talent in the lineup has allowed the Lions offense to create problems for defenses.
“We have so many weapons that we can use so it’s kind of hard for teams to stop any one of those,” Hayes said. “We play that to our strength and try to find open pockets. We’ve moved players to different positions but at the end of the day everyone has been effective and versatile.”