To say that the stakes are high on Senior Day this Sunday for the Penn State men’s soccer team would be a vast understatement.
The game against Ohio State should add extra motivation for the Lions, who have the chance to clinch their first Big Ten regular season title since 2005 through many fashions this weekend.
With the regular season in its twilight and the Big Ten tournament on the horizon, the Nittany Lions (9-4-2, 3-1-1 Big Ten) have one more conference game to go against the Buckeyes (6-9-1, 0-4-0 Big Ten).
“Being Senior Day and the last home game of the season, we are excited to get after it,” Lions’ leading scorer Julian Cardona said.
Penn State, which currently sits atop the conference standings, leads with 10 points (three points for each win, one point for each tie), putting it just ahead of Indiana and Northwestern.
The Hoosiers and Wildcats, both of which have two Big Ten games remaining compared to the Lions’ one, play Wisconsin and Michigan State, respectively, on Sunday afternoon and each other on Nov. 1.
If both Indiana and Northwestern lose this weekend and Penn State beats Ohio State, the Lions win sole possession of the regular season title.
Another way for the Lions to win the conference crown outright is a little trickier.
If the Lions beat the Buckeyes and either Northwestern or Indiana wins this weekend, the victor would have to lose in their head-to-head matchup next week for Penn State to win.
“We all understand the scenarios and stuff, but we’re focused on going out there and doing what we can to beat Ohio State and put ourselves in the best position to succeed,” goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton said.
While the scenarios for the Big Ten crown are somewhat confusing, the way Penn State has arrived at this point is even crazier.
The Lions have had their ups and downs in 2012 to say the least, including a middle-of-the-road 1-1-1 start in the Big Ten that included a double overtime loss to ranked Indiana at home.
Considering this, the Lions are fortunate to be in the position they’re currently in.
“We started the Big Ten 1-1-1 and didn’t think that it could happen after that,” Cardona said. “Also, after last season, winning this year would be quite a turnaround.”
Indeed it would, considering the Lions’ scoring woes in 2011 and their 0-6-0 record in conference play last year.
Despite turning it around in the conference tournament with an appearance in the finals, the team’s 2011 finish (9-9-4, 0-6-0 Big Ten) wasn’t nearly enough to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.
However, a potential regular season conference title and another deep run in the Big Ten tournament could be enough for the Lions to garner a bid in 2012.
After all, the tournament selects 48 teams to compete, with 22 squads receiving automatic bids for winning their respective conference tournaments.
Considering the Lions are among the “others receiving votes” in the newest NSCAA top 25 rankings, they’ve earned some national recognition and could realistically pull off an at-large bid if everything falls into place.
“It [a B1G title] would be a way that we can show people across the country that we’re a force to be reckoned with,” forward Hasani Sinclair said. “It’ll show them that we come out every game and always play really hard.”