As shot after shot poured in, it took a nearly record setting performance by goalkeeper Erin McNulty for the Penn State women’s soccer team to hold off Iowa 2-0 in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
McNulty saved 14 goals to preserve a shutout despite 33 shots by the Hawkeyes. She was one save away from tying the Penn State record of 15 saves in a game set by Robin Van Praag in 1994, according to Sports Information Director Greg Kincaid.
“Every opportunity they got they would strike the ball, their attack players did a really good job to create opportunities for them,” McNulty said. “I think we did a good job of our individual defending but any time you give up that many shots there’s definitely things you can work on.”
The graduate student has been a leader for the defense all season long even while splitting time with redshirt freshman Britt Eckerstrom midseason. However, coach Erica Walsh has decided to stick with McNulty lately. She has started the past five games in goal.
Though McNulty has been consistent when in the goal with the sixth highest save percentage in the Big Ten, Walsh looked to her goalkeeper’s playoff performance as a standout one.
“Erin McNulty was the hero, it’s definitely her most complete performance,” Walsh said. “I’ve seen very special moments and I’ve seen consistency but she had upwards of three game winning saves today. I’ve seen one or two but I haven’t seen this many game winning saves, when you combine that with a real consistent performance that’s when you have an All-American in my opinion.”
The Lions, who have out shot opponents by a margin of 351-296 this season, found themselves on the other side with a total 15 shots to Iowa’s 33. Struggles within the defense combined with the desperation of the Hawkeyes in a playoff environment allowed Iowa to create opportunities, but McNulty’s performance did not allow them to capitalize.
Iowa looked to attack from everywhere, shooting from outside the box and beating defenders outside at times.
“I thought that was interesting, they had a lot to fight for, that was going to be their last game of the season so I think they came out with more momentum, but we held our ground,” sophomore Emily Hurd said. “Erin McNulty had the game of her life, she really saved us in that aspect, she was unbelievable.”
Captain Maddy Evans — who has been designated as the team’s vocal leader according to Walsh — continued to lead, scoring on a header to give the Lions some 2-0 breathing room. However Evans pointed to McNulty as the defensive leader today as she used her voice to command the defense.
“Her being confident behind me and behind our backline, fuels our backline,” Evans said. “She’s a big leader back there talking to us the whole time I’m really proud of her. This performance isn’t surprising, but definitely exciting to see.”