They have taken down a handful of top-ranked opponents and faced the best players in the country, but according to Maya Hayes, the toughest challenge is yet to come.
Having already defeated two ranked opponents, No. 7 Virginia, then-No. 14 Wisconsin, the team is still hungry for more.
The No. 8 Penn State women’s soccer team (8-2, 3-0 Big Ten) looks to improve on their undefeated Big Ten record tonight against Ohio State.
En route to Columbus, Ohio, the Lions have not taken their mind off being the first team to defeat the Buckeyes at home this season.
“[This is] possibly the biggest game that we are going to face from here on out against Ohio State,” Hayes said.
Securing the No. 8 ranking in the NSCAA coaches poll, the Lions are the only Big Ten team ranked in the top 10, but coach Erica Walsh says the team is not letting that affect them.
“We are proud of where we are at this point in the season. We are obviously excited to play in Columbus and take on a different challenge,” Walsh said.
Preparing for Ohio State, the Lions have been working on ways to keep the Buckeyes Tiffany Cameron’s touches on the ball to a minimum. Cameron currently has nine of the team’s total 14 goals.
The Lions strength and endurance will be put to the test these next two weeks as they are set to being the first of the squads’ seven scheduled matches in the next 16 days.
“It is not ideal that we have seven games in 16 days, but games are the best part of our season,” Christine Nairn said. “We have put ourselves through pretty hard practices all the way from preseason to now, so we are used to kind of beating up our bodies a little bit and having only a day or two to restore all that energy.”
After being plagued by injuries and absences of many team members due to national team commitments, the squad is prepared for the return of key components for the first time this season.
Taylor Schram has not played a game for the Lions since returning from competing with the under-20 World Cup squad on Sept. 12.
Walsh is expecting Schram and defender Bri Hovington to return today.
“[Schram] has recovered physically and mentally and we will find different minutes for her and ways to work her back in [the lineup],” Walsh said. “It is going to be a gradual process since we are pretty happy with the team. We know we have a World Cup champion with us as well. It is the best problem to have as a coach.”
Redshirt senior Bri Garcia had been leading the defense until injuring her knee, and isn’t expected to play. But despite this, Walsh feels the team is finally coming together.
“Bri Garcia got her knee scoped and cleaned up last week and it is about a two week recovery. She will be out [at practice] running and will be able to kick here soon,” Walsh said. “We are starting to put the pieces back together.”
To email reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org