Penn State Women’s Soccer Big Ten Tournament Preview

No one would’ve predicted it at the start of the season, but it could be the end of Penn State women’s soccer’s Sam Coffey and Kerry Abello era as early as this Sunday.

Despite boasting one of the most experienced rosters in the nation, the Nittany Lions are hanging on by a thread going into the Big Ten Tournament. Erica Dambach’s squad went 5-5 in the conference’s regular-season slate, which was a far cry from the projected No. 1 her team received in August.

However, there is one reason to be positive: the team’s current form. Penn State won its five conference matches in the last seven games of the season, including a come-from-behind win over higher-ranked Michigan State when a loss would’ve ended the Nittany Lions’ season.

It has certainly been a roller-coaster season. However, Coffey, Abello, and Co. have the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten and are playing with house money and momentum.

The Nittany Lions head to Ann Arbor to face No. 3 Michigan on Sunday, most likely needing a win to stay in NCAA Tournament contention. Here’s what you need to know about the Nittany Lions’ path to Big Ten glory.

Big Ten Quarterfinal: No. 6 Penn State @ No. 3 Michigan

The Nittany Lions may be heading to Ann Arbor with momentum, but the Wolverines are just as hot. Michigan is 12-3-3 and soared to No. 17 in the most recent United Soccer Coaches poll.

Michigan defeated Penn State in the two squad’s only encounter this year, a 2-0 decision last week.

The Wolverines can hit from multiple angles, as five players on the squad have scored more than one goal this campaign. However, despite Raleigh Loughman and Nicki Hernandez’s seven and six goals, respectively, Michigan isn’t as lethal as one might suspect.

There are many adjectives to describe Jennifer Klein’s team this year, but “clinical” certainly isn’t one of them.

Michigan leads the Big Ten in shots attempted (356) but has scored only 1.67 goals per game, good for sixth in the conference. In contrast, Penn State is No. 13 in shots (222) but ranks second in the conference with two goals per game.

The lesson? Penn State just needs to take its chances, and the Nittany Lions certainly didn’t last week against the Wolverines, going scoreless while putting up nine shots.

In this rematch, Michigan is likely to danger Kat Asman’s net more than Penn State will danger Hillary Beall’s. However, if the Nittany Lions can be clinical, they have a chance to post the upset.

The quarterfinal match is scheduled for 1 p.m. in Ann Arbor, and it’ll be streamed on BTN+.

The Big Picture

If the Big Ten regular season is the main course and the NCAA Tournament is the dessert, does that make conference championship week the coffee… or, bear with me: the Coffey?

While the whole feast matters, you simply can’t have dessert without putting a hearty dent in the main course and coffee. For the first time in years, Penn State hasn’t done enough in the regular season to feel confident in an NCAA spot heading into the Big Ten playoffs.

So, what do the Nittany Lions need to do in order to get a big chunk of chocolate cake in November?

Last spring, four teams from the Big Ten made the shortened, 48-team tournament: regular-season champs Penn State, Rutgers, Ohio State, and Cinderella conference champion Iowa.

However, spring 2021 isn’t the best metric in predicting the Nittany Lions’ fate for two reasons. This year’s tournament will go back to the usual 64 teams, and, as we wrote before the Big Dance last April, the selection committee got a lot wrong.

Let’s take the last 64 team tournament in fall 2019 as a benchmark. Five teams qualified out of the Big Ten then, which is quite treacherous considering the Nittany Lions are the No. 6 team in the conference.

The main thing going for the Nittany Lions? If the main course left something to be desired, the appetizers were delicious.

Penn State holds two “ranked wins” from the non-conference slate. The Nittany Lions defeated then-No. 13 West Virginia 2-0 away from home on September 2, although the Mountaineers are now just receiving votes.

However, the following week Penn State defeated then-No. 3 Virginia 4-2 in Charlottesville. That was the Cavaliers’ only loss of the year, and they now sit No. 1 in the nation. That win may be keeping the Nittany Lions in the NCAA Tournament conversation even if their Big Ten journey ends on Sunday.

Will the Nittany Lions get a bite of dessert for the 27th-straight year? We won’t know for another few weeks, but Sunday’s clash in Ann Arbor is a massive test for both teams.

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About the Author

Otis Lyons

Otis is a sophomore majoring in print journalism and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He lives just north of San Francisco, and is a diehard San Jose Earthquakes fan. Feel free to send over your soccer hot takes to his twitter @otisnlyons1 and instagram @otislyons

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