Penn State Men’s Soccer Tournament Title Fueled By Historic Defensive Success
For the first time in Penn State men’s soccer history, the Nittany Lions achieved a “double” by winning the Big Ten’s regular-season and tournament titles.
While the tournament victory was powered by a well-rounded team effort, one highlight was the team’s defensive showing. Penn State gave up zero goals throughout the entire Big Ten Tournament by shutting out Michigan State, Michigan, and Indiana in three consecutive matches.
In fact, the team has not given up a goal since the first half of their second-to-last regular-season game of the year against Maryland. In that game, the Nittany Lions gave up two goals in the first half but ultimately came back to win 3-2 in overtime. Since then, it’s been 422 minutes of play since the Nittany Lions have given up a goal.
“We need another 90 minutes,” said head coach Jeff Cook.
The Nittany Lion’s three-game streak of tournament dominance was historic. Penn State was the first team in Big Ten Tournament history to win all three games by more than two goals. The Nittany Lions finished the tournament with a total goal margin of seven, the largest goal margin in tournament history.
Cook praised the entire team’s defensive efforts, including help from the offensive lines. However, much of the team’s success can be attributed to the talented defensive line, especially against Indiana, which Cook called its “most successful defensive effort of the season.”
Junior goalkeeper Kris Shakes has been a large part of the defense’s success, facing a season-high 17 shots in the tournament final against Indiana. Still, he came away with a shutout.
“I’ve seen a real progression in his performances over the course of the season. His communication has improved, his composer has improved, and finally, his decision-making has improved,” said Cook. “Goalkeeper is such a unique position in our sport. It comes with an extra amount of pressure, and I think Kris has combined his athleticism, explosiveness, and shot-stopping ability with development in other areas that have made him a more complete goalkeeper.”
Cook also cited the defensive line’s improved decision-making throughout the season, including its ability to stay patient in situations where the team may not be able to imminently win a possession.
“We’re playing at a level that, sometimes, your opponents are just going to have some amount of time in possession, and I think if you stay in your shape and you stick to your game plan, you can minimize the quality of the scoring chances the oppositions is able to create,” Cook said.
The head coach went on to praise his back line, citing its impressive performances throughout the season, including in close losses. The Nittany Lions’ defense held teams close all season by losing just one game by a margin of more than one goal.
Penn State will aim to continue its shutout streak this weekend against Hofstra in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after receiving a bye in the first round. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. on Sunday, November 21, at Jeffery Field.
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