Heating up in the cold.
After a 4-1 win against Quinnipiac, Penn State clicked at the right time before its matchup against West Virginia.
The game featured a tight first half, but an utterly one-sided second, as it was all blue and white on Thursday night. The Nittany Lions blew out the Mountaineers 4-0, continuing to be a juggernaut in the postseason.
Without a minute to spare, senior Payton Linnehan stunned the Mountaineers by scoring a header 18 seconds into the game, which was assisted by Kate Wiesner.
Linnehan has now scored a goal in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The early goal to start Thursday’s game gave the Nittany Lions much-needed energy to tire out their opponent.
West Virginia looked flat-footed in the first few minutes of the half. The blue and white had all the momentum after the 1-0 lead.
However, West Virginia raised its energy level and was able to cause some panic in Penn State’s backfield.
Nevertheless, the Nittany Lions’ defense bent but didn’t break. The Mountaineers struggled to find a shot on target, with each chance being stopped short.
After the big first goal, West Virginia built a brick wall, preventing Penn State from entering its backfield.
This hasn’t been the first time the Nittany Lions let up the pressure, as whenever they have had the lead they’ve struggled to sustain the mentality, giving their opposition some leeway back into the game.
The momentum switched sides from the blue and white to the old gold and blue. With the time winding down in the first half, Penn State held on for dear life to regain itself in the locker room.
Senior Julianne Vallerand had the Mountaineers’ best chance, dribbling around Nittany Lion players, but the shot was just far right.
Penn State lost most of the 50-50 balls at the end of the first half. West Virginia pummeled its opposition, but was still held scoreless going into halftime.
The Nittany Lions were lucky to be tied with how little possession they had in the last few minutes.
With its only shot being the lone goal, Penn State would need to heat up in cold weather if it wanted to come out on top.
Out of the break, the Nittany Lions got a well-needed rest to come out with some pressure of their own, trying to regain their footing.
Coach Erica Dambach mentioned what the mindset was like going into the locker room, seeing West Virginia getting confidence in the game.
“What we saw at the end of the first half was a result of score that early goal and press and hold on a little bit to feel real good about themselves,” Dambach said. “Then, West Virginia came and started running out. It was a reality check and kind of deflated the bubble a little, but the response was fantastic.”
The footing was regained, as a burst of speed was seen in the 55th minute. Fifth-year Penelope Hocking turned on the jets, pushing her way past the defense to gently knock down the game’s second goal.
Penn State was lethal with its opportunities — two shots on target, which both resulted in a goal. With those opportunities, midfielder Kate Wiesner was the one able to create them, notching two assists.
With rapid succession, Linnehan made something out of nothing, creating a penalty kick for Cori Dyke to slam home for a 3-0 lead.
Struggling to generate production, the Nittany Lions switched gears, applying tons of pressure with back-to-back goals.
To put the nail in the coffin, freshman Amelia White got the first goal of her career as a Nittany Lion, finishing off the Mountaineers.
Dambach thoroughly went through what made the team ‘click’ throughout the night to get the winning result.
“I look at the balance of the night and there were so many positives that came out of this night,” Dambach said. “When the weather started rolling in and the smiles on the team’s faces, you could just tell that they felt so prepared and so ready to go regardless of what was going on around them. It was just business, as usual.”
Even though top goal-scorer Ally Schlegel couldn’t find the back of the net, the unit excelled and found different ways to win the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Dambach noted the staff has been making all the players work and play their minutes, watching from the sideline the end result.
“These minutes that the players are getting them in the first half,” Dambach said. “We’re asking them to come in and change games. We’re tracking those periods and making sure that they’re accountable to being game changers. You’re really seeing it pay off.”
West Virginia had zero success after that with the game ending 4-0 in the blue and white’s favor.
As the second round matchup for Penn State came to a close, it will look forward to playing against No. 3 Virginia in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Dambach talked about what the team needs to do heading into Sunday before what could be an intense matchup for her Nittany Lions.
“I don’t think they have to try,” Dambach said. “They feel it. They’re being that right now… they’re coming off the field and they’re grabbing a drink and they’re standing up. They’re cheering for their teammates and they understand that it is going to take the whole group.”
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What seemed like a close game at first turned into a stunner.