Since returning from an eye injury suffered Oct. 12 at Nebraska, sophomore Kori Chapic has earned a new nickname among teammates.
“Last game I got a couple ‘four-eyes’,” Chapic joked.
After getting hit with a ball on the side of her face, Chapic has had to play with goggles to protect her vision. The defender played a full 90 minutes for the No. 1 Penn State women’s soccer team this past weekend against Long Island-Brooklyn in a 4-0 victory, after missing the last four regular season games and first game of the Big Ten tournament.
Chapic returned to the lineup in the Lions’ 1-0 loss in the Big Ten semifinal to Illinois but played a limited roll with only 50 minutes of playing time.
Without the starting defender in the backline, freshman Corey Persson stepped into her place. Though Persson has been called numerous times to step up in the rotation for injured players, collectively the defense struggled in Chapic’s absence.
Penn State allowed an uncharacteristic 33 shots to Iowa in the conference tournament, but were able to hold on for a 2-0 win behind 14 saves from goalie Erin McNulty. Though the Lions were able to limit Illinois’ shot total to 12 in the semifinal game, the Fighting Illini found a way to score, giving the Lions their first loss in conference play this season.
“She brings the unit together,” coach Erica Walsh said. “One of the things we talk about with these players is that it’s not about the individuals, it’s the combinations. That combination of [Bri] Hovington, [Whit] Church, Chapic has worked for us in so many games in and out. I thought Corey Persson did a fantastic job but we’re thrilled to have Chapic back where she belongs.”
Chapic’s impact was immediately present in the opening round of the NCAA tournament as the Lions held LIU-Brooklyn to a lowly three shot attempts.
However, Chapic admits it took her a while to get used to playing with the specs. She called her first match against Illinois “a little different” but was able to use it as a trial run to get adjusted to the goggles, which she will most likely have to use for the remainder of the playoffs.
“You have something on your face that you have to look around,” Chapic said. “It’s like if you put on a mask at Halloween, it’s just going to be a different way to look out of your eyes. You got to turn your head a little bit more and be more spatially aware and check your shoulder as much as you can.”
A year removed from an early playoff exit in which a number of crucial starters were recovering from injuries, health will be a critical component to the Lions’ playoff run.
Though numerous players have faced nagging injuries throughout the season, recovery schedules have been right on time for the Lions with starters Chapic and senior Bri Garcia returning to full force after missing significant regular season minutes.
“[Health] is vital,” junior Bri Hovington said. “Last year we were going into the NCAA tournament with five, six of our starters, including myself, with nagging injuries. To go into this tournament with a No. 1 seed at Jeffrey with 100 percent health, there’s no words, it’s going to help us so much to have that depth.”
Even with her teammates excited to have Chapic back in the lineup, they have not shied away from poking a little fun at her new appearance.
“We just make fun of her every time she has them on. She just got a new pair and they’re pink,” Hovington joked. “We all just think it’s funny.”
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