Women’s Soccer’s Defense Leads Squad B1G Championship With Victory Over Michigan
The top-seeded Penn State Nittany Lions women’s soccer team took on No. 5 Michigan Wolverines in a Big Ten tournament semifinal at Jeffrey Field on Friday night. Coming into the game, Penn State held a record of 14-3-2 (B1G 8-2-1), and the Wolverines held a record of 12-6-2 (B1G 6-3-2). The last time the two teams matched up Penn State came away with a decisive 3-1 victory.
How It Happened
In the first half, Penn State simply dominated in possession time. Smart passing, as well as decision making, allowed the Nittany Lions to maintain the possession offensively. Defensively, the Penn State backline played solid, fast, and extremely physical, limited Michigan’s time with the ball, and hardly allowed the Wolverines to enter into Penn State territory. The lack of time with the ball, as well as limiting shots, put the Michigan defense on its back nearly the entire first half. The first half ended with zeroes on the scoreboard, but Penn State clearly won the first half. A smart, physical, and relentless attack paired with the mean defense of the Nittany Lion backline limited the Michigan shots to only two, and allowed the Nittany Lions to have eight shots, two of which were on goal and close chances in scoring, with both shots going wide left. The first half may have ended 0-0, but Penn State was the dominant force in the matchup.
The second half featured Michigan coming out with a new attitude. Michigan took a shot on goal within five minutes of play, which was beautifully saved by Nittany Lion goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom.
Penn State’s offensive attack didn’t just come out and lay down the second half either, though. They played the trademark patient Penn State offense which is based off of smart and quick passing, but this half the team did play with a sense of urgency. Raquel Rodriguez had one of the better shot attempts in the half in an exciting stutter-step, ankle-breaking move that led to the crowd letting out a unanimous cheer. This sequence followed more urgent play by both teams on both sides of the ball, but Penn State seemed to play with a mental edge.
The Wolverines seemed to be playing a style of play that was reacting to the Nittany Lions, rather than having any sort of identity. While the Nittany Lions clearly held the advantage in the first part of the second half, the offense simply couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities given. Things finally took a turn, and Penn State executed on an incredible goal by Frannie Crouse in the 67th minute from way out. The Beckham-esque shot put the Nittany Lions on the board, and gave them the 1-0 lead they had worked for the entire game. The goal followed more of the same for the Nittany Lions as they held the ball offensively and continued to play a smart, physical brand of soccer both on the defensive and offensive attack. With 15 minutes remaining for Michigan, the team did its best to turn up the attack, and took two shots on goal within two minutes of the 15 minute mark, but both missed. The game continued with Penn State dominating the pace, but no more goals game from the Nittany Lions. Penn State’ defense proved to be to tough to score on for the Michigan Wolverines, and the Nittany Lions emerged victorious by a single goal margin, 1-0.
- Penn State has an incredible, championship level defense. The Nittany Lion defense shut down the Michigan attack all night long. The Wolverines were hardly getting any shots off, and the ones they did get off, weren’t that high in quality.
- Penn State has incredible balls skills and possession ability, both mentally and physically. These girls make smart passes consistently. They don’t cause costly turnovers, and they dominate holding onto the possession for the majority of the match.
- Leadership and communication are essential, and the Nittany Lions did it for all 90 minutes. I couldn’t differentiate who was yelling out play calls and tactics on the field, but it was always the Penn State team directing each other. More than one player proved to be a leader for the Nittany Lions on the field, and these girls all play off of each other as a true team.
Player of the Game
This one’s a tie. The defense was the MVP for all 90 minutes of this matchup. From Eckerstrom saving goals, to the backline shutting down any form of an attack, the physical, smart, and blazingly fast defense proved to be too much of a task for the Wolverines to handle. The second MVP is Frannie Crouse. She had an incredible game sealing goal in the 67th minute, and it seemed like it was kicked from all the way back at East Halls. From far out, this Beckham-esque shot soared into the top right of the net and sealed the game for the Nittany Lions.
The Nittany Lions will now head to the Big Ten Championship this Sunday at 2 p.m at Jeffrey Field against Rutgers.