Penn State Women’s Soccer’s NCAA Tournament Run Ends With 2-0 Loss To Stanford
No. 18 Penn State women’s soccer (17-7-1) ended its season with a 2-0 loss to Stanford (21-1), a team that has now scored 21 goals in three games, in the round of 16 of the NCAA tournament Sunday.
The Cardinal’s rhythmic, possession-based style proved unstoppable against the Nittany Lions, who struggled to find any sort of foothold throughout the match. Catarina Macario’s 30th-minute strike broke the deadlock for Stanford, and despite a gritty, hard-running effort, the Nittany Lions failed to recover. Maya Dons sealed a 2-0 Cardinal victory with a second-half deflected strike.
How It Happened
The early stages of Sunday’s match were played predictably. No. 1 Stanford, coming off a comfortable 4-0 win against Hofstra Friday and performing at its home stadium, played with a deserved confidence under sunny California skies with the support of a large home crowd.
Penn State, on the other hand, faced a difficult test against an opponent that beat it 2-1 at Jeffrey Field in August. The Nittany Lions appeared slightly fatigued after their overtime victory against Arizona Friday, and were forced to remain compact against a talented and unrelenting Stanford attack.
This was the Penn State backline’s toughest test of the season — it was always going to be with players like Madison Haley and Catarina Macario on the field. But Kaleigh Riehl, Caitlin Haislip, Ellie Jean, and Laura Suero defended valiantly throughout the first half. They blocked a stream of early shots from the Cardinal when the Nittany Lions had trouble maintaining possession and linking defense and attack when they won the ball.
Suero held her own against Kennedy Wesley and Sophia Smith on the right side, and Amanda Dennis was outstanding in goal, making six saves against Stanford in the first 25 minutes of the match.
It took a moment of brilliance from Macario, a MAC Hermann trophy winner with 30 goals and 23 assists on the season, to break the deadlock. Claiming a giveaway in midfield, she slalomed toward the top of the penalty area, and with three defenders in front of her, curled an unstoppable shot past Dennis and into the corner of the net.
Stanford refused to drop its tempo, forcing Penn State to run without the reprieve of possession, set pieces, or attacking chances. The Nittany Lions entered the break lucky to be down by only one goal after conceding a total of 21 shots against the Cardinal.
After a moment to rest and a few adjustments to Penn State’s formation, the Nittany Lions orchestrated a few attacking moves. Coffey, Tagliaferri, and Abello, however, found themselves alone when they entered the attacking third and struggled to create any meaningful chances. Coffey, specifically, was pinned further back than usual as she attempted to help defensively.
Dennis made a brilliant one-on-one save to deny Haley in the 62nd minute, but Stanford continued to inch closer for a second.
The Cardinal found it in the 65th minute, when Maya Doms’ long-distance strike deflected off Haislip and bounced by an off-balance Dennis.
Stanford settled the match into a comfortable stalemate as time wore on, happy to preserve a two-goal lead and see the rest of the match through. Dambach shuffled the lineup and Sam Coffey rifled a free kick shot towards Stanford’s goal that was blocked in the 85th minute.
Stanford held on for the 2-0 win, however, managing the closing stages of the match comfortably.
Expectations for Penn State, who began the season ranked No. 6 nationally, may not have been met this season. A mid-season slump that saw the Nittany Lions lose three straight matches at home may have derailed their perfect plan.
But what the season showed was head coach Erica Dambach’s program’s ability to develop and endure when results didn’t fall Penn State’s way. An 11-game winning streak that propelled it to a Big Ten title and a deep NCAA Tournament run that seemed unlikely in October were marks of a squad that refused to let a string of tough matches define its season, and had the grit to turn things around as the campaign progressed.
This was a season that saw the debut of players — Jordan Canniff, Schlegel, Payton Linnehan, Cori Dyke, and Coffey — that will define Penn State soccer for years to come. It saw the further development of leaders like Tagliaferri, Haislip, and Abello. And it marked the end of the long and decorated careers of senior leaders Dennis, Riehl, Jean, Suero, and Sarafina Valenti.
In short, Sunday’s loss marks a positive end to a season that promised a bright future.
Player of the Match
Amanda Dennis| Senior|Goalkeeper
Dennis did well to recover from a shaky performance against Arizona against the Cardinal. She made 12 saves total to keep Stanford as at bay, and was solid in her final match as a Nittany Lions.
Penn State will not move on to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
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