No. 4 Penn State Opens B1G Play with Wisconsin Rout
No. 4 Penn State (5-1-1) drew one of the largest crowds of the year at Jeffrey Field Thursday night to open up Big Ten play against Wisconsin (3-2-2).
It was an exciting night for a White Out as Nittany Lion soccer fans were treated to free Penn State women’s soccer white t-shirts as a giveaway.
Although the game remained scoreless for most of the first half, Penn State’s offense dominated early working to put something in the back of the net and jump out to an early lead.
Right off the bat, the Nittany Lions began to generate exciting opportunities.
With strong play from their defense, especially sophomore Elizabeth Ball and freshman of the week Kaleigh Riehl, Penn State worked the ball around very smoothly.
“With each game we’re getting more confident and more comfortable back there even though we’re young, but our team has really helped us come in and be prepared,” Riehl said of her backline and other freshmen on the team.
It was a defensive game for both sides until sophomore forward Megan Schafer found herself on a breakaway with only Wisconsin goalkeeper Caitlyn Clem to beat. Schafer won the tackle against Clem, who came well out of the Wisconsin box to defend against the play, but the ball could not be controlled and went out of bounds.
The Lions continued to generate plenty of opportunities in the Wisconsin zone with a few shots just sailing over the upper 90 corners of the net from ESPNW player of the week Frannie Crouse.
Penn State finally broke the silence with 17:09 left to play in the first half off a beautiful setup by freshman Ellie Jean who tip-toed around two Badger defenders on the right side of the box to deliver a cross to senior forward Mallory Weber whose one-timer found the left side of the net.
“We’re pretty instinctive so I knew she was gonna be there, that’s pretty much her spot and we’ve scored like that before so I know she’s there, I trust her to get there,” Jean said explaining how she found Weber in the middle of the box.
Wisconsin followed up with an opportunity as the defense found freshman forward Emily Borgmann in the middle of the box, but PSU goaltender Britt Eckerstrom was able to get her hands on it to avoid disaster.
Jean continued her dominance on the right wing late into the first half drawing up cross after cross and just missing the heads of Crouse, Weber and Charlotte Williams in the middle.
Despite only coming away with one goal in the first half, the Lions were able to take almost complete control by the end of the first half.
Penn State came out strong yet again to start the second half as Weber stole a pass in Badger territory and found Schafer with a cross across the net but Schafer could not connect.
Wisconsin finally started to work the PSU defense as the chances began to pile up for the Badgers but Eckerstrom had an answer every time the ball game her way.
Penn State’s offense resumed pressure shortly after as Williams beat a Badger defender in the corner and found Schafer right in front of the goal to put Penn State up 2-0 with 31 minutes left in the second half.
“I tried to take it end line and play it back and I hoped Megan (Schafer) was gonna finish it, I got kind of a toe poke on it and luckily she finished it,” Williams said talking through her first assist of the game.
After the goal, Wisconsin started to take control as the Badgers had several corner kicks that did not pan out. Senior back Molly Laufenberg had a shot on goal from outside the 18 but it was stopped in traffic and cleared by the tandem of Riehl and Ball.
Penn State struck again with 14:17 to play in the second half as senior midfielder Raquel Rodriguez worked around three defenders in the middle of the Badgers’ box and got it over on the left side of the goal to freshman Marissa Sheva who beat Clem left side to put the Nittany Lions up 3-0.
The Nittany Lions did not stop there as Crouse delivered Penn State’s fourth goal of the game as well as her fourth goal of the season with 4:22 left to play in the second half on a header off of a timely cross from the right wing by Williams. It was Williams second assist of the game.
As substitutes swarmed the field with just a few minutes to play, Wisconsin could not find the back of the net solidifying Penn State’s sixth win of the season as well as Eckerstrom’s third consecutive shutout.
“To put four balls in the back of the net is fantastic, but to continue to shut these good teams out is probably more important,” said Penn State head coach Erica Walsh. “Britt Eckerstrom is as good as I have seen and… she is undoubtedly the leader of this group.”
“I would say in my nine years this is the deepest we’ve been so to be honest, as a coaching staff, we are still figuring out how to use them all which is a good problem to have,” Walsh added.
Penn State will continue with B1G play seeking its seventh win this Sunday as the Lions return to Jeffrey Field to play Minnesota.
“We always try to look ahead and we need to bring the energy, especially for Sunday games,” said Williams looking forward to the Lions next B1G matchup.
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Mike D’Avella is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email email@example.com.