Just two days in, the ‘win or go home’ nature of the Big Ten women’s soccer tournament has made for a dramatic playoff. Desperation has driven lower seeded teams to challenge those who have dominated the conference all season long.
The top-ranked Penn State women’s soccer team was able to hold off Iowa for a 2-0 win on Wednesday, despite the Hawkeyes attempting more than two times the Lions’ shots 33-15. Goalkeeper Erin McNulty was an impenetrable force for the Lions’ defense with 14 saves.
In the next game of the tournament No. 5 Illinois fought back to defeat No. 4 Minnesota in overtime 3-2 on penalty kicks. This comeback came after Minnesota’s Taylor Uhl scored two unanswered goals in the first 15 minutes of the match.
"If you reflect on Illinois performance [Wednesday], I thought it was by far one of the gutsiest performances I’ve seen in a long time,” coach Erica Walsh said. “They went down a player early in the match, went down two goals, fought back, and this is a team with a tremendous spirit, and I don’t think that we can take that lightly.”
Today the Nittany Lions will take on Illinois in the second round of the tournament at 10 a.m. in Bloomington, Ind. Though the Lions were able to sweep Illinois 1-0 earlier in the season, Penn State will be seeking revenge after suffering a 2-1 overtime loss in the championship of last year’s Big Ten tournament.
"They are a good team, and we knew they were going to battle us hard like they always do,” sophomore Emily Hurd said. “We had a good result against them at their place, but every game is a different challenge. I think we are going to come out ready to go and kind of get some revenge if you will from last Big Ten tournament at Northwestern."
Though the Lions were able to handle the Fighting Illini easily in their first meeting, Walsh is expecting to see a very different opponent this time around.
Illinois junior Vanessa DiBernardo has led her team offensively since returning midseason after competing in the U-20 World Cup in Tokyo. She has eight goals and three assists this season and is the only Illinois player with double-digit points (16).
DiBernardo saw Penn State in only third game of the season on Sept 23, but Walsh anticipates a new challenge with the midfielder fully-acclimated into the offense.
They’re much more dangerous than before because both their coach and star player were in Japan the World Cup, and they’ve had many more weeks to integrated back into the team,” Walsh said.
The Lions were able to go deep into their bench against Iowa, with 18 different players seeing time. Walsh said her team will have to increase ball pressure as they look to Illinois as a faster-paced game. To do this, the players that were able to get rest against Iowa will have to contribute more minutes. The Lions depth is what they expect to push them through the rest of the tournament.
“We’ve been showing all season that we have so many good pieces to our team,” McNulty said. “Some of our players that play 90 minute games didn’t play 90 minutes against Iowa, and we still came out with the result. I think that is an important quality going later into the season.”