Clouds Lift For Payton Linnehan, Penn State Women’s Soccer Against Michigan State
When Penn State women’s soccer’s Payton Linnehan scored her first collegiate goal at Jeffrey Field, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief buried underneath the cheers of a sizable Jeffrey Field crowd and her teammates.
Linnehan’s goal, a calm finish slotted under Michigan State goalkeeper Lauren Kozal, represented a shift on several levels. For Linnehan herself, it marked her first Penn State goal after nine games of frustrating, unlucky shooting. It turned the tide of the match itself by giving the Nittany Lions a lead seconds before halftime. And for the team as a whole, it seemed to be the moment that the cloud of a losing streak finally made way for the sunlight of victory.
Coming into Sunday’s match, head coach Erica Dambach’s squad had dropped three consecutive home matches to Oklahoma State, Virginia, and Michigan, plummeting to No. 23 in the collegiate rankings after holding a top-10 spot for several weeks.
But the floodgates opened against the Spartans, as goals from Ally Schlegel, Linnehan, Sam Coffey, Kerry Abello, and Devon Olive and a program-record-tying four assists from Frankie Tagliaferri secured a dominant win for the Nittany Lions.
“These guys have continued to believe in the process, work hard, and stay focused on what we’re trying to do,” Dambach said. “You have to make your own luck, and today we did.”
Linnehan, a lightning-quick freshman winger who has quickly become a regular in Dambach’s starting lineup, has waited for her first collegiate goal after putting together everything else. Her darting runs into the box are dangerous, her work on defense — especially on Sunday — is tireless, and her passing is generally sharp. She brings energy and creativity to a Penn State attack that can be, at times, predictably direct.
But the finishing touches on the masterpiece plays she creates have taken longer to develop.
“We’ve talked a lot about having the courage to go forward,” Linnehan said after Thursday’s match against Michigan in which she made two dribbling runs into the box only to have her shots blocked at the last second. “I think, just, one of these days it’s going to go in, so just keep pushing.”
Linnehan is a member of the top-ranked national recruiting class that has already played a key role in Penn State’s 2019 campaign.
“With these young players, time needs to pass, and we need to see progress, and we saw some good progress in her tonight,” Dambach said after the Michigan loss.
When she talked about Sunday’s match against Michigan State, Linnehan was smiling.
“It feels really good to finally score, credit to my teammates for always playing me through,” she said. “I hit it to the goalie a bunch of times, but this time it went through, so it was a really good feeling.”
Though they’ve faced the highest-ranked opponents on their regular-season schedule, the Nittany Lions’ remaining tests will be anything but simple as they progress through conference play and approach the College Cup. But if Linnehan and her attacking cohorts continue to produce upfront and Penn State’s backline continues to build its chemistry, they’ll be ready.
“We really focused on getting a response after last game, after a few losses,” Linnehan said Sunday. “We had a lot of positives from this game, still a few things we can work on, but I think we made a good step today.”
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