No. 4 Penn State’s 11-game unbeaten run has come to an end.
In a game of close margins, the Nittany Lions fell to Iowa 1-0 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, extinguishing their hopes of defending their title from a season ago.
The two sides brought the energy right out of the gate, as both Penn State and Iowa each registered a shot within the first four minutes.
Goalkeeper Kat Asman denied the Hawkeyes an opportunity to get on the board first in the 15th minute, making a pair of saves back-to-back on Iowa forwards Samantha Tawharu and Meike Ingles.
Despite the occasional counterattack, Iowa never posed a threat to Penn State’s back line, failing to get the numbers forward to produce the go-ahead goal.
At the other end, the Nittany Lions’ attack that scored more regular-season goals than any other Big Ten team were held in check and the contest remained scoreless at halftime.
Just three minutes into the second half, it was the Hawkeyes who struck first, as midfielder Hailey Rydberg played in Ingles on the right side and the freshman did not miss, beating Asman at the far post to put her team ahead.
The Nittany Lions responded by creating a pair of their own chances, but Iowa was up to the challenge, evidenced by goalkeeper Macy Enneking’s diving save on a shot by Rachel Wasserman in the 52nd minute.
Trailing by a goal, Penn State got a major break in the 62nd minute when Iowa’s Samantha Cary was shown a second yellow card, thus ejecting her from the match, leaving the Hawkeyes with 10 players.
As their opponents packed their own defensive half, the Nittany Lions pushed forward, but to no avail.
Iowa defended relentlessly until the final whistle and coach Erica Dambach’s team was shut out for the first time in 2021.
Kept at bay
Coming into the matchup against the Hawkeyes, Penn State had scored in the opening 20 minutes of each of its last six contests dating back to March 18.
Not only did they fail to score early, but the Nittany Lions were held scoreless for the entire 90 minutes.
The last time Penn State failed to score in a match came in its third-round loss to Stanford in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, when the Nittany Lions were blanked 2-0.
Unfamiliar taste of defeat
Penn State had suffered just one defeat in its 12 previous contests, but the previously 4-8-1 Hawkeyes weren’t fazed by their top-5 nationally ranked opponents.
The Nittany Lions loss to Iowa established that no team is unbeatable. At the same time, Penn State can learn from their shortcomings in preparation for a likely appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Off the mark in attack
The Nittany Lions racked up 24 total shots, but none found the back of the net.
Iowa fielded a compact and organized defensive unit that proved too difficult for Penn State to break down.
The Hawkeyes never gave players such as Frankie Tagliaferri, Sam Coffey, and Ally Schlegel enough space to operate, which proved the key to downing the previously 10-1-1 Nittany Lions.
An 11-save performance from the freshman Enneking was also crucial to keeping Penn State off the board in spite of the Hawkeyes’ disadvantage in numbers in the second half.
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