In the midst of a seven-game stretch in 16 days, most would think the last thing that a coach would emphasis is rest.
But for coach Erica Walsh, rest is the most important thing for the No. 8 Penn State women’s soccer team as it enters into the heart of its Big Ten schedule.
The Nittany Lions return home to Jeffrey Field on Sunday to take on conference foe Minnesota (6-5-0) in game two of their seven-game swing.
“The Big Ten schedule is challenging, but this is what we train for and why we came in fit,” Walsh said. “The biggest part of our preparation is that when you’re told to rest, you’re supposed to rest.”
The task is easier said than done for the Lions, but it should help to have players such as juniors Taylor Schram and Bri Hovington back to health and taking on big minutes in the lineup. For a team that has been affected by injury all-season long, depth will be important as players try to recover from short rest and an inconsistent practice schedule.
The team was only able to meet once on Tuesday of this week to practice before traveling to Ohio State on Wednesday for a Thursday match. Walsh said the team will meet on Friday for a limited practice, but those who played the majority of minutes on Thursday will be sitting out.
Senior Christine Nairn said the team has had a physically intense schedule all season, and the current stretch will be nothing unusual for them.
“We’ve been putting ourselves through hard practices all the way from preseason to now,” Nairn said. “We’re used to beating up our bodies a little bit and having only a day or two to restore our energy.”
Junior Maya Hayes, who has had the most experience with short rest since her return from Tokyo, has taken her coach’s message and hopes that her teammates respond the same way.
“It’s all about rest, recovery, shakes, if you have to get in with the trainers for treatment, get in,” Hayes said. “When coach says you have a day off today, you can’t take that for granted, and you have to actually stay away from soccer for a day. It sounds weird and may not pay off right away, but it’ll matter as we head down the home stretch.”
The Lions will not be able to look too far ahead as they plan for Minnesota’s star forward, sophomore Taylor Uhl. She currently leads the Big Ten with 11 goals in as many games. She also leads the conference with 28 points and 2.55 per game. She completed her fourth career hat trick against DePaul on Sept. 9 as well as scoring the lone goal in Minnesota’s 1-0 victory last week over Michigan State.
“She’s one of the leading scorer’s in the country right now, and she’s a big talent. She’s a goal-scorer,” Walsh said. “On the way home on Sunday on the bus, we watched the Minnesota-Michigan St. game so they have an idea of what they’re going to face.”
On the opposite end, the Lions’ offense will have to be prepared against goalie Cat Parkhill. Penn State won a hard fought match last year against Minnesota in which a Hayes’ goal in the 84th minute decided a 1-0 victory. Parkhill saved three shots in the match. Hayes and Parkhill have history as they competed together with the national team in the past.
“We went their last year, and she’s definitely scrappy. I played with her on the national team, so we know all about her, and she knows about me and Christine,” Hayes said. “If we aim our shots low and place them properly, we won’t have problems.”
After Minnesota, the Lions will face Bucknell and Big Ten opponents Indiana, Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan State during the 16-day stretch. Even with a physically taxing period, the Lions have high expectations.
“We have no other choice than to just do it. It’s not ideal,” Nairn said. “We’re looking forward to hopefully come out with seven wins, playing well and stringing together 90-minute games. We’re going to have our ups and downs, but it’s how we recover from those down moments that’s going to determine the rest of our season.”
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