For opposing teams, dealing with No. 4 Penn State women’s soccer teamthis season has been like trying to deal with a broken levy.
One hole might be plugged temporarily, but eventually water will fall.
No matter what player a coach may try to pinpoint in their game plan, whether it be Christine Nairn, Mallory Weber or Maya Hayes, another player will step up to lead the team.
With Hayes out of the lineup early in the season and Weber just beginning her freshman year, Nairn a senior, and redshirt junior Tani Costa were expected to carry the brunt of the scoring load. Though Hayes and Costa produced with a combined 10 goals in their first seven games, Weber emerged as the first unlikely hero with five goals in the same span, good enough for second on the team.
“It’s one of the reasons we’re so good this year because we have so many different players that can step up,” Nairn said. “To have that kind of comfort to know that somebody else will step up if you’re having an off game will go a long way.”
When teams began to focus their game plan on Nairn and Weber began to hit a first year slump in late September, Hayes returned to the lineup to revitalize the offense. Hayes has not missed a beat with 11 goals in nine games since she’s been back. She’s tied with Nairn for the lead in goals on the team.
On Sunday, the Lions played Iowa in arguably their toughest game of the season, which ended in a 2-1 Penn State victory. The duel against the Hawkeyes was only the second game in which Hayes did not score a goal. She only managed three shots, with none on goal. This time it was junior Taylor Schram who became the go-to for Penn State with two goals in the match.
“Maya draws so much attention that it’s opening opportunities for players like Schram or Mal Weber,” coach Erica Walsh said. “Logically teams are aware of Maya Hayes. Maya continues to work hard and she supports her teammates in the back because she knows they are as much a part of her goals as much as she is scoring them herself.”
When one aspect is shut down another steps up and this has been the story for the Lions the entire season. The coaching staff has challenged the offense the score in variety, not only incorporating different players into the attack but also being able to surprise opponents from many different angles.
Against Iowa, the Lions were able to score off of their full-field defensive pressure. They have been happy with their attack showing they can score from a wide attack, on flick plays and get the ball to the middle consistently.
“Penn State is really good when things are taken away centrally, if things are taken outside they go to the center,” Iowa head coach Ron Rainey said. “They’re just a very good attacking team.”
The weapons that the Lions have in Nairn and Hayes have allowed role players to step in off the bench and add to an already effective attack. Players such as junior Erin Kehoe, sophomore Kindrah Kohne and freshman Jenna Kalwa have been able to contribute minutes and create scoring chances. These contributions will be vital as the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments approach in the coming weeks.
“Anybody can step up, it’s awesome to see players like Kehoe or Kohne making such a huge impact on the game,” Nairn said “They’ve scored some goals and given some assists. For us to have that versatility and have those numbers on the game will help, we plan to go far.”