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NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament: Penn State-Buffalo Preview

Penn State hasn't been to the College Cup since 2012. They begin their journey to get back there tonight.


For the 20th straight season, the Penn State Lady Lions soccer team will be playing for a national title, starting their journey towards the College Cup with a first-round matchup against the Mid-American Conference champion Buffalo Bulls at Jeffrey Field on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.

Penn State (17-3-0), coming off of their 16th Big Ten regular season title, earned a number-two seed for the tournament even after falling to Northwestern as the top seed in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. However, wins against ranked opponents such as Big 12 champion West Virginia, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan have provided the Lions with more than enough stiff competition to get the girls tournament-tested. Leading the team are Big Ten Defender of the Year Whitney Church, Big Ten Midfielder of the Year Rocky Rodriguez and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Emily Ogle.

While no player on the Penn State side has more than nine goals or 19 points (both notched by Frannie Crouse), the Lady Lions average 2.3 goals per game, good enough to rank 21st in NCAA. However, the strength of the team may lie in the defense as goalie Britt Eckerstrom has eight clean sheets to her name on the year while conceding 0.63 goals per game.

The first third of the pitch is also where the Bulls (16-2-3) dominate as MAC Freshman of the Year GK Laura Dougall has come away unscathed in 14 games this year, boasting a 0.37 GAA which ranks 4th in the nation. Katie Roberts is their top scoring threat with 11 goals on the year.

For some help on the UB side of things, Matt Gritzmacher from Bull Run was able to provide a quick analysis:

The strength of this UB team is unquestionably in the backline. In any sport, you're concerned about a strong MAC team simply not matching up to a power-conference opponent, but Buffalo has a defense that makes it all look easy. On the season UB gave up just thirteen goals, and five came in a single game against then-#5 Virginia Tech without a healthy goalie. Freshman keeper Laura Dougall is excellent in her own right, with a program-record 13 shutouts and a save percentage in the top-five nationally.

On offense, UB is not as prolific as the Nittany Lions, but will get shots off. Julia Benati and Kassidy Kidd will press up from the midfield wings and look to get the ball to forward Celina Carrero, who is the best dribbler in the MAC and led the conference in assists, usually through leading scorer Katie Roberts. The best way to keep UB at bay is to prevent Benati and Carrero from building chances from the corners and force UB to try through balls in the middle.

With a couple of stout defenses occupying the pitch, it's probably best to not expect a lot of scoring along Park Avenue tonight.

Matt's prediction:

First-year head coach Shawn Burke makes the best halftime adjustments I've ever seen in any sport, and no matter the situation UB will play better in the second than the first half. In terms of a prediction, we're all looking to Western Michigan's upset of #2 seed Marquette last year for hope from the MAC Champion. I do think that the Bulls defense can prevent a blowout. Knowing that PSU is better suited to capitalize on mistakes, I will predict a 1-0 Penn State victory, with a chance for a second goal late if UB is pressing.

Penn State has players who possess the ability to score in the midfield as well at the forward position. Because of that, and the lack of offensive firepower on UB's end, I think Penn State skirts by into the second round with a 2-0 victory.

For more UB coverage, head over to the Bull Run soccer page.