Despite the push from the near record-breaking crowd, Penn State was unable to emerge victorious in its first game of the season.
With 5,238 fans in attendance, the No. 6 Nittany Lions suffered a close defeat in their home opener against No. 3 Stanford by a score of 2-1.
Though it was ultimately unable to prevail, Penn State fed off of the energy of the second-largest crowd in program history.
“I had goosebumps when the game started. This place was rocking,” coach Erica Dambach said. “This was the place to be tonight in college soccer and thanks to the community and students … You can feel it in the energy tonight. This is an unbelievable opening game in college soccer.”
It also took the debutant, Kate Wiesner, aback initially.
“Man, the atmosphere is amazing,” Wiesner said. “The fans are awesome. They gave us energy going out there to go and do our best.”
Wiesner was the Nittany Lions’ lone scorer in a tight matchup. Catarina Macario capitalized on a Penn State defense that wasn’t as stingy as usual.
“I think we solved some problems throughout the game,” Dambach said. “I think there are some things Stanford was doing that our team was able to solve, and they didn’t need the coaching staff ... If they can read it and understand it, then going forward, it will be huge for us."
Dambach included three freshmen in her starting lineup with Wiesner, Payton Linnehan and Cori Dyke featuring. All-American Sam Coffey made her debut as a Nittany Lion.
“These freshmen have been around the block,” Dambach said. “They’ve played in huge games in huge environments like this. It’s a big ask and we threw them in there and they did an unbelievable job tonight.”
“First time out here, definitely a bit nervous,” Wiesner said. “My teammates are there for me, supporting me. I leaned on them and they helped me get through it.”
The first shot of the game went to Linnehan four minutes in after latching on to a through ball, but her lob attempt was not on goal. It was followed by a Coffey shot attempt five minutes later, but it was saved by Lauren Rood of Stanford.
Penn State camped out around the final third of the Cardinal half to start out the game, but Stanford found its chances on the break. The Cardinal was not able to break through the middle of the pitch due to the Nittany Lions’ compact defense, but the flanks remained a problem.
Stanford found the opening goal 17 minutes into the half. A break on the right side found Catarina Macario camping at the spot in the area. She was promptly surrounded by a couple of Penn State players, but their attempt to block the shot was in vain as it floated past Amanda Dennis.
Penn State quickly answered with a pair of good chances from outside the box on the other end. Coffey’s free kick was deflected and headed toward the goal but was cleared. Moyer followed the clearance with another crack that was just wide.
Beattie Goad was able to find a soft spot on the Penn State defense at the 24-minute mark as she was left unmarked on the left flank. However, taking a touch in allowed Ellie Jean to recover and limit Goad’s options.
The Nittany Lions equalized in the 33rd minute. Wiesner made a run cutting toward her right foot and slotted a low shot across goal. The ball headed right toward the bottom corner and out of Rood’s reach.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself after I scored,” Wiesner said. “I was just kind of overwhelmed with emotions and immediately ran toward my teammates because that’s what we do it for. If I was able to lift the team with that, then that’s what I’m trying to do.”
The goal did not come as a surprise to her coach.
“Kate Wiesner is a world-class player,” Dambach said. “She’s going to show it throughout her four years here. She’s going to be a big-time player in this program.”
Stanford started the second half strong as night falls, finding half chances around the Penn State box. The Cardinal was rewarded as Macario found herself on the end of a through ball and calmly slotted a shot toward the far post to collect her brace four minutes into the second half.
Stanford continued its attack while the Nittany Lions amped up their pressing, trying to take initiative after the second Macario goal. A promising run by Abello off a counter attack was deemed a marginal offside 55 minutes in. Dennis prevented a sure-fire chance by claiming a through ball before it connected with a Cardinal.
Penn State played the majority of the second half on its back foot until a chance arose in the 66th minute. Ally Schlegel found Coffey running down the left flank and Coffey put the ball into the goal. However, it was deemed offside by the linesman. Coffey followed up with a hard cross on an overlap, but no one was able to make contact in front of the goal.
As the second half continued, Penn State started to probe for an equalizer with increasing frequency and a heightened sense of urgency. Stanford was able to capitalize on some errors to mount its own attacks, but nothing materialized.
Penn State was trying to connect with its through balls late in the game while Stanford made advances on the break as the teams traded skirmishes. The game ended on a flat note compared to how competitive it was throughout.
The team will return to action against Hofstra on Sunday, Aug. 25 at Jeffrey Field with a chance to notch the season’s first victory.
“We’re going to have to our bench. We have to create chances,” Dambach said. “We need to have the fortitude and the spirit to put the ball into the back of the net.”