Just five to go.
Five games and five Big Ten opponents stand in the way of the No. 4 Penn State women’s soccer team to go undefeated during the regular season in their conference for the first time since 2005.
The Nittany Lions (12-2-0, 6-0-0 Big Ten) will look to keep a seven-game winning streak alive as they travel to face conference opponents Nebraska (6-7-1, 3-3-0 Big Ten) on Friday at 5 p.m. and Iowa (11-1-3, 2-1-3 Big Ten) on Sunday at 2 p.m.
“I think the big thing for us is remaining consistent, this weekend we’ll focus on taking each opponent one game at a time,” junior Maya Hayes said. “There’s definitely some similarities between the two teams but if we come with our best game and play to our strengths things will go well for us.”
As they head into the weekend the Lions will focus on the quick attack that has been their signature all year. They have scored first against their opponent in all but two games this season. The Penn State offense led by Hayes and senior Christine Nairn has dominated the Big Ten outscoring opponents 25-8 in six matches.
Along with quickness, the Lions will also look to display the versatility within their offense. The coaching staff has recently focused on the ability of the offense to score in many ways, from set pieces to creating goals off of broken plays.
This versatility was displayed last week as the Lions had four players score, including two goals by freshman Mallory Weber as they rolled over Indiana 5-2.
“We want to come out and attack, first five minutes we want to come out and have an attacking presence and make sure we catch them early,” senior Maddy Evans said. “It’s really just going to come down to high pressure and setting the tone early.”
As they head into Nebraska the Lions will look for a way to offset the impact of sophomore Mayme Conroy. She leads the Cornhuskers with 11 of her team’s 22 goals this season, the next highest scorer has two.
Conroy is fourth in the Big Ten with 22 points this season. Hayes has stressed that the responsibility of stopping Conroy’s scoring will go beyond just the defense.
“Instead of relying on our defense to prevent her from scoring I think we defend as a unit from front to back all 11 across the field,” Hayes said. “I think that’ll be a big thing for us its one thing to put goals on the board for our side but its another to put goals on and keep goals away from them. I think that’s going to allow us to shut them out and come out on top.”
Against Iowa, the Lions will be facing a team with the third-best overall record in the Big Ten, as well as an undefeated record at home. The Hawkeyes defense has stifled opponents this season with 10 shutouts, including 0-0 ties in their last three matches against Big Ten opponents.
Iowa presents a balanced attack, led by sophomore Cloe Lacasse with 11 goals and six assists.
“They’re winning a lot of games so their confidence has to be soaring right now,” coach Erica Walsh said. “Iowa’s scoring has been a little bit more well-rounded but they have some pretty potent scoring pieces as well. [Head coach Ron Rainey] always throws a wrinkle at as that I don’t expect and that’s how he’s winning a lot of games right now, he’s excellent at making game adjustments. We’re going to have to be on our toes.”
Even with the end of the regular season and the Big Ten and NCAA playoffs looming on the horizon for the Lions, they remain focused on their week-to-week goals. Though they have had consistent success in their conference, they look to every opponent as a new challenge.
“We can’t take our foot off the gas, we have a good thing going right now but we can’t take anything for granted,” Evans said. “No job is finished yet, we have a lot of work to do whether it be in the Big Ten and playoffs as well. We can’t be complacent whatsoever.”
To email reporter: email@example.com