For coach Erica Walsh, the energy is in the weekend.
Though the No. 4 Penn State women’s soccer team (15-2-1, 9-0-1 Big Ten) is traveling away to Purdue (7-9-2, 2-7-1 Big Ten) in their final regular season contest Friday night, the team has been fueled by the excitement of a big football weekend against Ohio State.
“A lot of my focus for that game is created by the energy at Penn State right now,” Walsh said. “I feel a part of a really special weekend. For me it’s much more about where we are as a university, I feel like we’re a part of something so much bigger than ourselves and we have a responsibility as one of the 31 programs here to put our best foot forward.”
A week after clinching their 15th consecutive Big Ten championship, the Lions will have to maintain the intensity they have shown all season in their final conference match.
With the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments looming, this final game may seem easy to overlook but the Lions plan to focus on their offensive attack a week after they were only scored one goal on 31 shots in a 1-1 tie against Michigan.
“You look at the Michigan performance and we have to be a lot sharper in our finishing,” Walsh said. “We’re going to spend some time showing some film of different technical applications in terms of our finish and tactical in the quality of our runs. You can’t create 31 chances and only score one goal, that’s not good enough.”
With the Big Ten already clinched, the Lions will have the opportunity to go a little deeper into their bench and give starters some rest going into the playoffs. The bench had a chance to make a big impact in last Friday’s 5-1 rout of Michigan State.
Freshman Mallory Peterson subbed into the game and provided two second half goals to put the game out of reach. Peterson’s performance earned her Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. Senior Bri Garcia, who is returning from a knee injury that kept her out for almost half of the season, will likely get more minutes as she works her way back into the Lions’ system.
“We want to keep working hard and taking advantage of our opportunities,” Peterson said. “We want to try to use every chance we get out there to improve the team to keep working toward the overall goal of the NCAAs.”
The Lions will have to find a way to key in on Purdue’s Jordan Pawlik who leads the Boilermakers with nine goals this season. Walsh says that the Lions will have to stay consistent as they only allowed 19 goals in their 18 games this season.
“We’re going there to win the game, it has nothing to do with clinching it has to do with performance and consistency,” Walsh said. “This team has shown it can be consistent but you’re only as good as your last performance and we’ve got to perform at Purdue.”
With the conference already locked up for the Lions, the players want to maintain their record and rank going into the playoffs.
“The focus is all on Purdue right now, we still want to be the number one team in the Big Ten, even if we already are mathematically,” senior Christine Nairn said. “We still want to come out and make an impression on the rest of the Big Ten saying that we are a force to be reckoned with and we’re still playing well going into the postseason.”
The Lions open the Big Ten tournament next Wednesday in Bloomington, Ind.