The weather was the ugliest Jeffrey Field has seen this year, but Penn State’s performance may have been the prettiest of its campaign.
Thirty minutes ahead of Friday night’s clash, snow squalls moving north to south coated the pitch with a healthy layer of snow during pregame warmups.
On top of this, the wind was unfriendly and temperatures dipped into the 20s. Even at Mother Nature’s mercy, it was “business as usual” for the Nittany Lions.
“I think at this point of the season, you expect the unexpected,” coach Erica Dambach said. “I thought the response from both groups was to just get down to business and get to work.”
West Virginia showed up late to work, and the blue and white took advantage with a blistering 1-0 start.
In a beautiful passing display, Penn State worked the ball to senior Kate Wiesner, who centered the ball in for Payton Linnehan, who headed the ball in for the goal. 18 seconds — that’s all it took for the Nittany Lions to assert their dominance.
“When that weather started rolling in, and the smile on the team’s face, you could tell that they felt so prepared and ready to go regardless of what was going on around them,” Dambach said.
The Mountaineers responded to the early deficit, finding their own groove offensively. West Virginia was especially dangerous along the sidelines with great pace and promising crosses during the first half.
On the other side of the pitch, Penn State struggled to move the ball out of its own half and away from dangerous areas.
After the first 45 minutes, the Nittany Lions led 1-0, but it wasn’t as convincing of a lead after the first 10 minutes. Dambach said her squad needed “a reality check” going into the second half.
The reality was made very clear in the final 45 — Penn State’s offense is untouchable when it goes 110%.
“You give them an inch, they’re going to finish,” Mountaineers coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. “We had the better of the [first] half, but unfortunately not on the scoreboard, and Penn State will punish you for that.”
The blue and white pulled no punches, piling on three goals in quick succession to ice West Virginia out of the match.
Penelope Hocking started the scoring run by blowing past her defender and notching her seventh goal of the season.
From there, the floodgates opened wide.
Just over a minute later, Linnehan won a penalty kick, and Cori Dyke scored from the spot to make it 3-0.
With the game under wraps, a myriad of younger players saw the pitch for Penn State, and the offense didn’t skip a beat.
One of those subs, freshman Amelia White, knocked in her first career goal in the 68th minute. That goal will be “the first of many” for White, according to Dambach.
“I’ve watched her just invest in the process and get better and better and better,” Dambach said. “To be rewarded tonight, I couldn’t be happier for her.”
Ranked as the No. 2 recruit in her class by Top Drawer Soccer, White has always been her team’s focal point. Moving into a talented program like Penn State’s, the Fort Wayne, Indiana, native has had to adjust to a different role.
“Because she’s not scoring goals, she knows she’s got to do it in other areas and contribute. And so she’s really invested in all of the areas of the game and now we bring [the goal-scoring] part back in and it’s gonna pay off big for all of us,” Dambach said.
Players like White have helped build a tremendous arsenal of weapons at the Nittany Lions’ disposal. The offense doesn’t lose much firepower during substitutions, and it allows the coaching staff to mix and match different attacking combinations to keep opponents on their heels.
In the first round of the tournament, the Penn State offense had a field day against Quinnipiac in a 4-1 victory. Just like the game against the Mountaineers, it took the Nittany Lions a bit to get warmed up, but once they did, they were a force.
“[Penn State] is a tough team to play against,” Dambach said. “How do you gameplan against this group right now?”
Dambach said that even when opposing defenses step up, her squad “comes up with different ways” to find the back of the net.
With the amount of names that step on the pitch in a match, the Nittany Lions have built an “all as one” culture, according to Dambach.
“We’ve been driving home the point that every player is important, regardless of if you’re on the field, on the bench, you’re redshirting, you’re injured, and that’s why a night like tonight was so special.”
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Heating up in the cold.