From day one, the team had a specific goal in sight — winning a national championship.
As the No. 4 Penn State women’s soccer team (11-2-0, 5-0-0 Big Ten) enters the most crucial point in the season, coach Erica Walsh said the squad has not forgotten what it’s playing for.
Earlier in the season, Walsh said she had been waiting six years to have this feeling about a team, and she believes if she is going to win a championship, these are the players that will make it happen.
The Lions’ success this season is in large part credited to the leadership of senior midfielder Christine Nairn.
“Christine Nairn is our catalyst and our leader,” Walsh said. “She is the best center midfielder in the country, and when she is on the field, we are all better.”
Nairn leads the Lions in goals (10), points (25) and is second on the team in assists (5).
Junior forward Maya Hayes has also been a strong contributor for the team, scoring nine goals in only six games. She had back-to-back multi-goal games for the Lions, scoring two goals against Bucknell and Minnesota, respectively.
The Lions will face Indiana (6-6-1, 1-4-0 Big Ten) in their sixth Big Ten match of the season at 1 p.m. Sunday at Jeffrey Field.
During the last six games, Walsh has preached rest over excessive training, and her methods proved effective. The team is 6-0 heading into the final game of its seven game stretch in 16 days.
After the 3-1 victory over Bucknell on Tuesday night, the Lions were given Wednesday and Thursday to focus on their studies and replenish their bodies.
“I think that the recovery and having these days off is just as important as training,” freshman midfielder Raquel Rodriguez said. “Everyone is getting everything with school sorted out, and we are pretty much just taking care of our bodies. I think it is good for the staff to do that because we need it.”
With the rest, Walsh expects to see an enormous lift in the team’s energy.
Although Indiana — who ranks 11th in the conference with 20 goals allowed this season — does not pose a big threat to hand the Lions their first conference loss, Walsh has no plans to make any lineup changes.
“The players that are working hard will get the time they deserve,” Walsh said. “The lineup is working well together, and the players are getting a great response from each other.”