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Liam Butts Breathing Life Into Penn State Men’s Soccer’s Championship Push

Coming off a season that culminated with a Big Ten championship title, it can be hard to replicate the same magic for the next season. However, that’s exactly what Penn State men’s soccer has its eyes on.

Head coach Jeff Cook is no stranger to big moments. Since becoming head coach at Penn State in 2018, the team has seen just one losing season but has since gone to the Big Ten title game in back-to-back seasons, including winning it all last year.

Now, in 2022, the Nittany Lions sit at 5-3-3 with four games left, each against talented conference foes. But, it hasn’t been all glamorous this season either.

Penn State didn’t earn a win until September when it took down a ranked West Virginia squad and had a couple more highs by upsetting a ranked Akron team and tying a top-10 Maryland lineup. However, the Nittany Lions had a few lows when they dropped the ball against Princeton in early September and collected a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Villanova in late September.

Still, with championships now in sight, Cook knows that challenges are bound to surface.

“We’ve got to focus now on each Big Ten game, and this is the time of year to hopefully compete for championships,” Cook said. “We’ve got to learn from those disappointments [and] the things we could have done better to get a different result.”

One of the catalysts for this championship push has been senior forward Liam Butts.

Butts was hurt following the Princeton game in early September, which kept him out for two games and limited for another two. The Georgia native has been a huge part of the Nittany Lions’ offense in all four of his years. During his time with Penn State, he has recorded 21 goals, five assists, and finds the net on 54% of his shots.

“He’s one of the top attacking players in the country,” Cook said. “His ability to influence the game is a really significant part of what we do in terms of our offensive creativity, our ability to produce goal chances, and ultimately, goals.”

Butts made his presence known when he finally found himself back in the starting lineup against Northwestern. Although the Nittany Lions ended up tying the Wildcats, Butts collected two assists, but more importantly, provided a much-needed spark to the offense.

In his next start, Butts scored back-to-back goals in the first half for Penn State in a dominant win over Michigan State. Following the big win, Butts was energized and excited to finish the season on a high note.

“I’m feeling great,” Butts said. “Obviously, I had to take some time off, but credit to the medical staff and coaches for giving me the time I needed and giving me the platform to rehabilitate myself to get back to playing form. So, I feel great, and I am ready to go for the rest of the season.”

As a previous Big Ten champion with four more crucial games to end the season, Butts knows it’s important to build on the momentum and ride his play into the tournament.

“We have four more Big Ten games left, and if we just keep the momentum rolling, win after win, championships are going to happen,” Butts said. “So, this is probably the best time of the year to hit form and hit stride.”

Penn State ends its season with two games on the road and two at Jeffery Field. The Nittany Lions will start on the road with a match against Indiana on Friday, October 14. Then, they’ll be home against Ohio State and Rutgers before ending the season on the road against Michigan on Sunday, October 30.

Cook emphasized that because these games are spread out, it gives the team the opportunity to focus on practice and recovery. However, what is most important to the team is its ability to stay together and rely on chemistry until the season’s end.

“That team spirit, the chemistry, the togetherness is absolutely crucial as we go into these big, big weeks ahead,” Cook said.

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About the Author

Tobey Prime

Tobey is a senior studying broadcast journalism from Lancaster, PA. He is a major Pittsburgh sports fan and Miami Heat fanatic. When Tobey isn't writing for Onward State, you can catch him looking at photos of his pugs. Send your best insults to [email protected] or sports takes to @tobey_prime on Twitter.

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