Women’s Soccer Punches Its Ticket To The National Championship, Defeats Rutgers 2-0
Top-seeded Penn State was practically flawless in its first first four matches of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, delivering 17 goals without allowing any on senior goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom. The Nittany Lions knocked off West Virginia 2-0 this past Saturday at Jeffrey Field to advance, bringing its season total to 14 wins at home, which tied the school record (’05, ’06). The outstanding effort against the Mountaineers landed Erica Walsh’s Nittany Lions in their fifth College Cup (the Final Four of women’s college soccer) in program history and a semifinal showdown with Big Ten rival Rutgers.
Penn State (21-3-2) continued its unmatched dominance, outrunning the second-seeded Scarlet Knights 2-0 on Friday evening at WakeMed Soccer Park to advance to the 2015 NCAA National Championship, thanks to huge goals from Frannie Crouse and Kaleigh Riehl, as well as another heaping helping of shutdown defense.
How It Happened
On an enormous stage, both sides fought to retain possession early in the match, but Penn State did a nice job of pushing the tempo and forcing the Scarlet Knights to play its style of fútbol. The Nittany Lions’ patience paid off in a big way, as sophomore forward Frannie Crouse darted toward the box and slid, her boot connecting on an absolutely incredible, dipping goal in the 24th minute to put Penn State on the board first. Crouse’s clutch go-ahead effort marked her 11th goal of the season and third during NCAA tourney play. She also struck paydirt in Penn State’s Elite Eight win over the Mountaineers last weekend.
True freshman midfielder Charlotte Williams came on in relief midway through the first half and used her tremendous speed to add another element to Penn State’s attack, creating mismatches for the Scarlet Knights. Soon after, Williams made a nifty run through the box, her shot deflecting off a Rutgers defender’s hand, but the refs unfortunately weren’t able to catch a glimpse and award a huge would-be penalty kick.
The Nittany Lions nearly capitalized on a pair of fantastic opportunities on net midway through the second half, but senior midfielder Mallory Weber’s header, and later, through ball chance from junior linemate Nickolette Driesse just missed their target. Although she was held scoreless, senior midfielder Raquel Rodríguez became the 13th Nittany Lion to be recognized as an NSCAA First-Team All-American. (Side note: The San Jose, Costa Rica, native is also a semifinalist for the 2015 MAC Hermann Award, the Heisman of both men’s and women’s college soccer, and you can vote for her right here).
True freshman defender Kaleigh Riehl’s first goal of the season couldn’t have come at a better time. The Fairfax Station, Va., product corralled a loose ball in front the Rutgers net in the 79th minute and launched a left-footed rocket just inside the left post to make it 2-0 Nittany Lions and effectively seal the deal. Riehl was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team alongside Williams on Monday.
Eckerstrom and the Penn State backline, composed entirely of underclassmen, have been more than stellar in their own right, stretching their otherworldly streak of allowing one goal or fewer to 22-straight games. The Nittany Lions’ shutout streak reached seven matches, and has now spanned 643 minutes and 32 seconds, dating all the way back to the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. In fact, Rutgers only managed one shot on Eckerstrom all night. Offensively, Penn State added to its gaudy NCAA Tournament-best plus-minus margin of 19-0.
Head coach Mike O’Neill and the Scarlet Knights entered the semifinals boasting the nation’s best defense, statistically speaking. A big reason for Rutgers’ defensive prowess centers on sophomore goalkeeper Casey Murphy, a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team U-20 squad. However, with the addition of Crouse and Riehl’s goals, Penn State has now scored a whopping four of the mere ten goals the Scarlet Knights have allowed all year. Although the team’s season comes to an end, congratulations goes out to Rutgers senior center back Brianne Reed, who captured the prestigious 2015 Senior CLASS Award for women’s soccer a few hours prior to Friday’s contest.
Player Of The Match
Frannie Crouse | Forward | No. 9
Crouse’s crucial strike put Penn State on top early, which allowed the Nittany Lions to settle down and impose their will on Rutgers. The Greensburg, Pa., native has been phenomenal all season, especially during the NCAA Tournament, and is a big reason why Erica Walsh’s bunch is headed to the National Championship.
Penn State will take on either last year’s national champs, top-seeded Florida State, or upstart three-seed Duke in the 2015 NCAA National Championship. The Nittany Lions reached the biggest stage in women’s college soccer once before, falling 4-1 to North Carolina in 2012, who has won a staggering 22 national titles. Walsh’s ladies have a chance to make history on Sunday, Dec. 6 at noon ET.