With Penn State finishing 0-6-0 in the Big Ten last season, scoring just one goal in six games, the men’s soccer team looked for leadership in conference play this season.
The team’s 10 seniors helped the Nittany Lions (9-4-3, 3-1-2) through conference play. They will split the regular season conference title with Northwestern if the Northwestern-Indiana game Thursday night ends in a tie.
The seniors’ leadership was a key part in the turn around of a losing culture on the road that has plagued the team in recent years. The team failed to score on the road in the Big Ten last season, dropping all three games by the score of 1-0. This year, they scored in all three of their conference road games, winning two and drawing one.
“One of the things, culturally, when I took the job is that the last five years before I came in, they averaged one road victory per year,” coach Bob Warming said. “I think we were hardened up to end up with that tie at Michigan.”
The double overtime game against Michigan was the type of test the team’s senior forwards needed to get in form for the rest of conference play. After the Michigan game, they scored seven goals in three conference games.
Seniors Julian Cardona, Daniel Burnham and Marvin Ledgister combined to score 13 of the Lions’ 23 goals, leading the team to third in the conference in goals per game.
When the Lions needed a win or tie on Senior Day to clinch at least a share of the conference title, the upperclassmen stepped up as all four of Penn State’s goals were scored by seniors. Goals by Cardona, Burnham, Ledgister and midfielder Daniel Parr helped the Lions to a 4-4 tie against Ohio State last Sunday.
“The team is making a lot of improvement,” Warming said of his seniors after the game against Ohio State. “Offensively, the kids are feeling like they’re going to get goals.”
While the seniors have helped the Lions on the attack, they have also helped them on defense.
Senior defenders Brian Forgue and John Gallagher combined to miss just two games all season. Their leadership on the defense led the Lions to concede just 0.94 goals per game this season, third fewest in the conference.
While the defense has been a large part of the Lions’ success this season, Gallagher said the back line still has some things to work on with its leadership and communication before postseason play starts.
“We just need to tune up the little things moving forward,” Gallagher said.
As the Lions prepare for the Big Ten tournament next week, the team is looking at its four-game unbeaten streak as a confidence builder heading into the conference tournament.
“I think we can be pretty happy with our overall record, especially as an improvement from last year,” Forgue said. “That’s the type of momentum you need going into the end of the year.”