The first week of October brings some unusual changes to the No. 8 Penn State women’s soccer team.
After five straight Big Ten matches to open their conference schedule the Nittany Lions will take a short break to turn their focus back to a non-conference opponent as they take on in-state rival Bucknell (7-5-0) at 7 p.m. tonight at Jeffrey Field..
“It’s always a good rivalry against another in-state school,“ senior Christine Nairn said. “I’m excited to see what look they’ll try to give us and hopefully we can come away with a win.”
The Lions will be playing in their first and only Tuesday match of the season and will have to prepare on short rest after a close Big Ten match on Sunday against Minnesota. Penn State was able to fend off the Golden Gophers 4-3 after jumping out to a quick start.
“It’s definitely going to be different [playing on Tuesday], we had a mix of groups at practice today in terms who were practicing and those resting,” junior Maya Hayes said. “We embrace differences and we embrace change. Just like any other day it’s a game day for us and we have to come out with the result.”
The Lions have had past success over the Bison with a 9-1 margin of victory in the last two meetings between the teams.
In the middle of a seven-game stretch over 16 days , which began last week against Ohio State, coach Erica Walsh has focused on resting her players as much as possible in games and practice so they can play at their full ability in the long run. For instance, freshmen starters Mallory Weber and Raquel Rodriguez had some time to sit on the bench Sunday. The two have provided major minutes for the Lions in their first season.
The team also kept Monday’s practice short so players could be as fresh as possible both physically and mentally.
“I think our team will respond really well, the fun part of our season is testing ourselves against quality opponents,” Nairn said. “I think mentally the team is in a really good place right now.”
The Lions will have to be prepared to take on a Bucknell offense led by junior Chelsey Garkowski who has seven goals and three assists for the Bison. For the Lions, sophomores Kori Chapic and Whitney Church will lead the defensive charge as they have throughout the season allowing only 13 goals in 12 matches.
“I think defensively we are continuing to grow and learn,” Chapic said. “Even though we have high expectations for this game tomorrow I think that focusing on the details and being critical of ourselves tomorrow will be key. We can’t let up no matter what the score is.”
Even with a new challenge for her team on the field, Walsh is really focusing on the more personal aspect of her players. As it gets deeper into fall with midterms approaching and a difficult part of the schedule, player health is the top concern.
“This is a very challenging time in the season for a variety of reasons,” Walsh said. “First and foremost we need to protect them and make sure they get their sleep. Of course you always want to win a game but I think there are bigger factors at play in particular over the next nine days.”
With a break from the Big Ten, the Lions will look to their bench to contribute against the Bison.
“We’re looking forward to trying new things against Bucknell,” Nairn said. “We’re looking forward to getting players that have worked really hard in practice some minutes.”
Walsh has stressed the fact that though the match is outside of conference play, things will be business as usual for the Lions.
“They’re all the same, we don’t think of them differently and we don’t approach anyone differently,” Walsh said. “The only difference is that it’s a Tuesday and that’s unfamiliar to us. I think overall I think it’s just another opportunity to go out and play on Jeffrey Field.”