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Penn State women’s soccer faces uphill battle in USC in 2nd round of NCAA tournament

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Women's Soccer vs. Indiana

Forward Rachel Wasserman (9) is met by Indiana defender Camille Hamm (32) as she approaches the Indiana goal during the Penn State women's soccer match against Indiana University on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, at Jeffrey Field. Penn State defeated Indiana 3-0.

Following first-round success, Penn State will be traveling to the golden state to face off against two-time national champions, the USC Trojans Friday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Soni McAlister Field.

The Nittany Lions faced off against Monmouth last Friday in a blowout match, winning 3-1 and keeping Hawks off the board until the 78th minute.

After an underwhelming season, the blue and white may finally be finding its rhythm at the final hour, but it faces a challenge against the exemplary Trojans.

Friday’s game was highlighted by the return of junior forward Payton Linnehan, who’s had little time on the field since a left-leg injury in early September.

With Linnehan back, the Nittany Lions seem to have much better offensive odds against the No. 3 seed Trojans. Before her injury, Linnehan led the Nittany Lions in goals, with six in eight games.

Linnehan’s return should also help the blue and white’s offense as a whole, taking some of the pressure off of offensive leaders including redshirt junior forward Ally Schlegel and fifth-year midfielder Sam Coffey.

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The Trojans blew out Grand Canyon in a 6-0 thrashing Saturday. Star midfielder, junior Croix Bethune, is the player to watch out for on the Trojans’ team.

Bethune scored three goals within the first nine minutes of play on Saturday, along with two assists. Bethune picked up the Pac-12 Midfielder of the Year honors earlier last week and is ranked fourth in the nation for total goals.

USC has had an overall productive season, going 14-3-2 overall and 7-1-0 at home. The Trojans reached as high as No. 5 in the national rankings and were ranked No. 11 in the latest poll.

They have been on a hot streak after losing two of their first three games of the season, rattling off a 15-match unbeaten streak, a program record.

USC fell to Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament last season, but it hopes to use its momentum from the regular season to propel itself toward the championship in the postseason.

The Nittany Lions have played beneath its usually high standards, going 12-7 overall, their lowest overall winning percentage since 2010.

The blue and white fell to eventual Big Ten champions, the Michigan Wolverines, in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

The Nittany Lions advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament last season before losing 3-1 to eventual finalists Florida State.

Penn State and USC have met two times in program history, but the East and West Coast powerhouses have never faced each other in the postseason.

The last time the two teams met was in 2003 in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the Nittany Lions took a 3-2 victory over the Trojans.

Both teams have put on an impressive offensive performance in recent games. Penn State outshot Monmouth 22-4 in the most recent round, and the Trojans outshot Grand Canyon 18-9.

A strong defensive effort will be necessary for both teams to protect their chances of advancing to the next round.

The winner of this game will play either Hofstra or South Carolina on Sunday at Soni McAlister Field.

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