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Penn State Women’s Soccer’s Defense Shining Through First Two Rounds Of NCAA Tournament Play

Penn State women’s soccer is off to an impressive start in the 2023 NCAA Tournament after recording wins over Central Connecticut State and No. 7-seeded Santa Clara in the opening rounds.

The Nittany Lions registered a 7-0 outing against the Blue Devils and a 2-0 victory over the Broncos, which has been a testament to the team’s offensive production. However, the defensive shutouts in both rounds showcase the depth of the group from the forward line to the goalkeeper and just how strong the Penn State squad really is.

One of the keys to Penn State’s dominant defense has been the willingness of the whole team, including the forwards, to buy in and help out at the back end.  

“I thought the defending was really good. The commitment to the defending, led by these two, I know they score goals, but they all also led all our defending efforts,” head coach Erica Dambach said of forwards Payton Linnehan and Kaitlyn MacBean on Friday. “Our willingness to just put a tackle in and get stuck in, I thought that our quality tonight was quite good.”

Against a stout, highly-productive, national championship-winning Santa Clara roster, it was a tall task for the backline and the entirety of the lineup to maintain a clean sheet. From Linnehan and MacBean on the forward line to the backline led by Cori Dyke and Mieke Schiemann, the Nittany Lions only asked Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Katherine Asman to make four saves against the Broncos.

“Credit to the entire Penn State team,” Santa Clara head coach Jerry Smith said. “Their commitment to defending did not make it easy for us today.” 

Though Asman has only recorded five total saves in the tournament so far, she directed the defense against Central Connecticut State and Santa Clara and has done so all season, helping Penn State lock in at No. 5 in the nation with a .471 goals-against average.

“At the anchor of all of it, it’s always been Kat Asman, and I think she’s been an absolute rock since day one for us,” Dambach said. “She’s a leader back there.”

Big Ten Defender of the Year Dyke’s veteran presence and mobility on every side of the ball also proves difficult for opposing, battle-tested coaches to prepare for, depending on if the combo player will sit in a defensive center-midfield role or at the centerback position.

“She’s good. She’s really tough to game plan for,” Smith said of Dyke. “You beat a player like Cori Dyke with combination play, not one-on-one because that’s too tough a task. She’s pretty good.” 

As the Nittany Lions prepare for a Sweet Sixteen matchup against Saint Louis on Sunday, they’ll continue to lean on their defense to win big games. Billiken Emily Gaebe ranks No. 6 nationally in total goals with 15, while Saint Louis ranks No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense.

The Billikens average over three goals a game this season, so the Penn State backline will have one of its toughest tests of the season coming on the biggest of stages.

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About the Author

Collin Ward

Collin is a first-year majoring in digital/print journalism. Born in Hartford, he now lives in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. As a die-hard Chelsea FC fan you can normally find him yelling at his TV screen each weekend. To reach him, follow him on Instagram: @cward829, or email him at [email protected].

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