Penn State Men’s Soccer Gets Statement Win Three Years In The Making
The blaring of Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling” could be heard from the other side of Park Avenue Wednesday night. Joyful screams of celebration rang out as if Grant Haley had just run the length of the field across the way at Beaver Stadium.
But in the locker room on the far side of Jeffrey Field, Penn State men’s soccer had a reason to celebrate. Finally, the Nittany Lions had that win.
It wasn’t comfortable until the last few minutes, but Penn State defeated Michigan 4-1 to advance to its first Big Ten Tournament final since 2011. What’s more, the win finally sent a message to the rest of the conference and the nation as a whole: Stop underestimating Penn State.
After that finals appearance in 2011 when the Nittany Lions lost to Northwestern, things have been relatively bleak for the program…until Jeff Cook was hired as head coach. And on Wednesday, the team finally got the big win that ended all doubt that the Nittany Lions are bona fide Big Ten contenders.
Before this week, Cook’s Penn State teams have been improved, but not elite, lacking wins against the best programs.
In 2019, he brought the program all the way to second in the Big Ten, although Penn State lost 3-1 to Indiana and drew Michigan in the regular season before being bounced by the Wolverines in the conference semifinals. Just days later, the Nittany Lions fell to Providence at the first hurdle of the NCAA Tournament, again raising questions about the team’s credentials.
This year, the Nittany Lions were projected to finish third in the Big Ten but punched above their weight with a second consecutive runner-up spot.
However, many experts, including the rankings committee, appeared to take Penn State’s resume with a grain of salt for much of the season. The Nittany Lions undoubtedly had a stellar year, but COVID-19 kept the program from playing its two greatest competitors: Indiana and Michigan.
Going into Wednesday’s semifinal, conventional wisdom dictated that there was a good chance history would repeat itself. After a good run in which the Nittany Lions won the games they were supposed to win, would Cook’s side get be able to get the job done against elite opposition?
History did not repeat itself.
The team played with flair, confidence, and creativity in the attacking third. Between Danny Bloyou and Peter Mangione’s offensive production, Brandon Hackenberg’s control of the backline, and Liam Butts finally getting the monkey off his back to score his first goal of the year, postgame celebrations were thoroughly deserved.
The Nittany Lions are flying high at the moment. It will take a national-class team to beat them — and that is what they will get in No. 3 Indiana on Saturday.
However, the team has the “best chemistry of the last five years,” according to captain Pierre Reedy. The Nittany Lions are coming off of their first marquee win in the Jeff Cook era, and the Hoosiers are certainly aware of the threat this team poses.
If the pieces come together once again, “Good Feeling” may ring out across Bloomington this Saturday.
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About the Author
Kotelnicki’s hiring was first reported Thursday afternoon.
The Nittany Lions survived a late Minnesota comeback attempt to split the series.