Women’s Soccer Finds a Way to Win Against Illinois
After consecutive blowout wins, the Penn State women’s soccer team (10-1, 5-0 B1G) got a fight out of 24th ranked Illinois (9-3, 4-2 B1G), winning a close contest by a score of 2-1 on Sunday afternoon at Jeffrey field.
“Our slogan all season long has been find a way, and today was exactly that, we had to find a way,” said Penn State head coach Erica Walsh.
The first half featured several opportunities that Penn State just could not seem to convert on. Early on, Emily Ogle sent a corner kick to the front of the net where Mallory Weber headed it wide. The shot was kicked by an Illinois defender towards the net, where it banked off the post and finally cleared. Penn State had all sorts of trouble converting in the first half, hitting the post three times in total throughout the match.
“It’s definitely very frustrating, we hit the post more than once, but we all know that it’s going to go in eventually so we just have to keep cheering each other on,” said Penn State forward Frannie Crouse.
The Nittany Lions dominated the ball in the first half, totaling ten out of their 19 shots for the match in the opening frame.
The second half started as more of the same for Penn State. Salina Williford had a shot saved on the side of the net, and Weber was not able to convert during the ensuing scramble in front. Williford also had a shot hit the post after speeding past defenders and beating the goalie.
In the 62nd minute, Emily Hurd sent a beautiful through ball to a streaking Crouse, who was able to put the ball in the back of the net. The jubilance was short lived however, as the nation’s second leading goal scorer Jannelle Flaws flashed her excellence for the first time in the game and sent one in from outside the box less than a minute after the Crouse goal.
“It’s a heartbreaker when they come back and score that quick after we just scored,” said Crouse.
For a while afterwards, it looked as if the game may have been headed to overtime. Haleigh Eckard had a shot from outside the box that was brushed aside magnificently by goaltender Claire Wheatley, and Crouse sent one wide in a one-on-one standoff with Wheatley.
With less than seven minutes remaining, Williford weaved through three defenders at the top of the box and fired the ball past the reach of Wheatley to give the Nittany Lions the lead for good.
“I was so excited and surprised because I didn’t really even see it go in, I just heard everyone react so I reacted and it was really exciting,” said Williford.
Williford has been on a tear since scoring her first career goal against Ohio State.
The sophomore now has scored three goals in the last four games.
“Salina Williford has been the best surprise this season so far, her offseason was fantastic and we gave her an opportunity to play in the midfield,” said Walsh. “She came here as a midfielder, made a sacrifice last year and played in the back for us, and now she is back and better than ever, this is the best I have ever seen Salina play.”
The Nittany Lions now head on the road for two straight. They take on Minnesota Friday, and then turnaround to play No. 11 Wisconsin in Madison. The Badgers have only one loss on the season.
“This team believes right now, they’re fun to be around, they’re certainly fatigued and that’s where the players coming off the bench are helping us so it’s going to be about using 26 players,” said Walsh.
Michael Katz is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.