A plan that has been in the works for six seasons is finally coming into action.
Coach Erica Walsh said she has waited to feel this way about a team since the day she took the head coaching position and said that if she is going to win a national championship, this is the team that will do it.
The No. 3 Penn State women’s soccer team (17-2-1, 10-0-1 Big Ten) has their sights set high and crossed their first hurdle in their path to a national championship after defeating Iowa (12-6-3, 3-6-3 Big Ten) 2-0 yesterday in the first round of the Big Ten tournament at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Ind.
The Lions remained the last team standing without a loss in the Big Ten and earned the No. 1 seed heading into the tournament.
“I think when you look at the Big Ten championships you are dealing with the absolute best performance of your opponents because it’s the last chance, it’s a last chance tournament,” Walsh said. “That is exactly what we got out of Iowa today, so to get out of that game with a shutout and two goals, I’m thrilled.”
The first break for the Lions came from a diving Maya Hayes in the 18th minute saving a ball rolling out of bounds on the end line and sent a ball to a wide open Emily Hurd in the box giving the team its first playoff goal.
“Maya got the ball as Taylor Schram and I were in the box,” Hurd said. “I found break and I hit home free and it went in.”
According to Walsh, the senior leadership is unparalleled and said that is what will carry them through the postseason.
“When we talk about leadership with this team so many different thoughts come to mind. Whether is it Maddy Evans’ emotional leadership, whether it is Christine Nairn’s motivational play or [Erin] McNulty’s determination; I could just go all the way through this senior class and that is only the tip of the iceberg from a leadership perspective,” Walsh said. “I just think there is a special combination with this group of players and I don’t question it a whole lot, I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing it, I’m just happy it’s there.”
The Lions are rarely out shot by their opponents, but the Hawkeyes more than doubled the shots by Penn State 33-15.
The squad was able to avoid allowing any goals due to the exceptional play of goalkeeper Erin McNulty who was one save shy of the record of 15 set in 1994.
“I thought that was interesting as well, they had a lot to fight for, that was going to be their last game of the season,” Hurd said. “I think they came out with more momentum, but we held our ground. Erin McNulty had the game of her life, she really saved us in that aspect, she was unbelievable. I think [the shots] just came from their momentum, but we did a good job of handling it and had to be a more defensive team today which was fine because we came out with the win.”
Once Raquel Rodriguez began taking the set pieces for the Lions the goals began flowing, Evans scored the go-ahead goal for the squad off a well-delivered corner kick from Rodriguez.
“Rocky served the ball up perfectly, curved the ball to the back post and I just got to head it in,” Evans said. “Her services are so exceptional, she made it really easy for me to get my head on it.”
The 2-0 lead would carry the Lions through the rest of the match despite the pressure and shots created by the Hawkeyes forwards.
With the victory yesterday, the Lions advance to the Big Ten semifinals against Illinois at 10 a.m. Friday.