Women’s Soccer On Fire Heading Into Final Four Showdown With Rutgers
The top-seeded Penn State women’s soccer team has put on a nearly flawless fútbol clinic en route to the program’s fifth College Cup appearance this Friday, which kicks off at 5:00 p.m. ET in Cary, N.C., at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Erica Walsh’s Nittany Lions (20-3-2, 8-2-1 B1G) bested two-seed West Virginia 2-0 this past Saturday in the season’s final match at Jeffrey Field, where the Lions tied a school record for home wins with 14 (’05, ’06), to advance to the Final Four. Although Penn State has never won an NCAA title, it has a chance to bring home the first in program history, needing just two more victories.
Friday evening’s showdown with second-seeded Rutgers, who shocked No. 1 Virginia in the Elite Eight, is, needless to say, a crucial one for the ladies in blue and white. Penn State avenged its regular-season loss to the Scarlet Knights with a steady 2-0 victory in the Big Ten Championship on Nov. 8.
The Nittany Lions own an incredible 17-0 goal margin against their opponents through the first four rounds of the tournament, thanks in large part to the stellar play of senior goalkeeper and captain Britt Eckerstrom and the entire backline. Penn State’s shutout streak reached six straight games last weekend against the Mountaineers. In fact, it’s been an astounding 553 minutes and 32 seconds since Eckerstrom last gave up a goal in the 78th minute of a 3-1 win over Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. On the opposite side of the bracket, reigning National Champion Florida State takes on three-seed Duke on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Walsh, who’s helped guide the Nittany Lions to 156 victories during her tenure, relies on her team’s shutdown defense, composed of second team All-Big Ten selection Kaleigh Riehl, fellow freshman Ellie Jean, sophomores Maddie Elliston and Elizabeth Ball, and redshirt sophomore Brittany Basinger. The stout unit has allowed one goal or less for an incredible streak of 21 consecutive matches. On the offensive side of the pitch, sophomore forward Frannie Crouse (26 points) is currently on an absolute tear. The Greensburg, Pa., native netted her 10th goal in the 39th minute of the crucial round of eight victory.
At midfield, senior Raquel Rodríguez, who scored the Costa Rican National Team’s first ever Women’s World Cup goal this summer in Canada, was recently named a MAC Hermann Trophy Semifinalist (National Soccer Coaches Association of America Player of the Year). You can cast your vote for Rodríguez to be honored with women’s college soccer’s Heisman-equivalent right here. Rodriguez currently sits in second place behind Virginia’s Emily Sonnett, and is joined by fellow captain and Soccer News Net College Boot Finalist Mallory Weber as a first team All-Big Ten selection. You can vote for Weber here.
Standout midfielder Charlotte Williams joined Riehl and Jean, as well as forward Alina Ortega-Jurado on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team, and posted a pair of goals and assists in the NCAA Tournament. Speaking of strong play, sophomore midfielder Emily Ogle is on fire with five huge goals in the past five games. Ogle’s started all 49 matches of her Penn State career, and joins fellow sophomore Megan Schafer, the team’s leading scorer (13 goals), as a second team All-Big Ten nod.
Breaking Down The Scarlet Knights:
Head Coach Mike O’Neill’s Rutgers squad stormed back to upset the top-ranked Cavaliers in penalty kicks 7-6 after neither side found the back of the net in regulation. Sophomore forward Colby Ciarrocca, a Vanderbilt transfer, leads the Scarlet Knights with 22 points (nine goals) thus far.
Rutgers has enjoyed its fair share of success in 2015 as well, given its 40-8 goals scored versus goals against mark. However, the Scarlet Knights (7-2-2 Big Ten, 19-3-3 overall) tend to play physical soccer, as evidenced by their nine yellow cards this season.
Where To Watch:
Friday evening’s NCAA Semifinal showdown between the Nittany Lions and Rutgers can be seen live on ESPNU at 5:00 p.m. The winner will face either Florida State or Duke for the 2015 National Championship on Sunday, Dec. 6.