Women’s Soccer Advances To B1G Semis After 3-1 Win Over Illinois
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Top-seeded Penn State opened the Big Ten conference tournament with a match against No. 8 Illinois Fighting Illini Sunday at Jeffrey Field. A spot in the semifinal was on the line for both teams as Michigan waited for the winner.
The Nittany Lions had two great chances to score less than 20 minutes into the match, but came up empty as Raquel Rodriguez banged a shot off the crossbar and Illinois goalkeeper Claire Wheatley made a stellar save on a Frannie Crouse chance.
Nickolette Driesse was finally able to break through for Penn State on an easy goal from a couple of fantastic assists from Megan Schafer and Mallory Weber. The goal was Driesse’s third of the season and second in the last three matches.
Six minutes later, Mallory Weber added a goal to her assist on a header past Wheatley to give Penn State a 2-0 lead. The goal gave Weber her eighth multi-point game of the season and ran her career point total up to 99.
Frannie Crouse’s goal deflected off the keeper’s glove with less than five minutes remaining in the first half pushed the score to 3-0 heading into halftime.
The Nittany Lion defense suffocated Illinois for a full 45 minutes as the Illini were able to put only one shot on goal in the first half next to Penn State’s 15.
The second half was not much better for the Illini, whose offense stalled for a large portion of this match. Kara Marbury picked up an unnecessary yellow card after a cheap challenge to exemplify the frustration felt by Illinois in what was likely their final match of the season.
Marbury was able to redeem herself with a goal off a cross from Allison Stucky to give Illinois somewhat of a pulse and cause Penn State coach Erica Walsh to bring some of the starters back into the game with just under 15 minutes remaining.
Senior Britt Eckerstrom made three saves for Penn State and tallied her 14th win of the season in her 53rd career start in goal.
The Nittany Lions improved to 13-0-0 on the year when scoring first.
“It’s always important to get that first goal, it brings everyone up,” Crouse said on the field after the game, “It’s always hard to fight back when someone scores on you.”
Penn State finally put their hands on the Big Ten regular season trophy postgame after clinching a share of the title last week in a win over Michigan. But the Lions want more.
“We want to win the tournament to prove that we don’t have to share it,” added Crouse, “but as a whole it feels good to add another (conference championship) to the sign over there.”
Penn State, as the highest remaining seed in the tournament, will host both semifinal matches on Friday as well as the tournament championship Sunday afternoon. The Nittany Lions draw Michigan for the second time in two weeks while Rutgers and Ohio State fill out the other side of the bracket.
“Playing an opponent for a second time is one of the more challenging things to do in sport,” added Walsh postgame, “For us it’s about tightening up on some of the details from our last game.”
The game against the Wolverines will be at either 3:30 or 6 p.m. Friday at Jeffrey Field.
Tom Shively is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org