For the fifth time in program history, Penn State women's soccer is in the College Cup. Head coach Erica Walsh has one of the best teams in the country, one that is only two matches away from winning a national title. The squad is in action this afternoon, as it will take on Rutgers at 5 p.m on ESPNU in a national semifinal match. Win that, and the Nittany Lions will compete for the title on Sunday at noon against either Duke or Florida State.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, Friday afternoon poses a tough test, as the Scarlet Knights are surprisingly one of the best teams in the country. Penn State comes in ranked sixth in the nation thanks to an incredibly well-rounded squad. Their defense, led by Elizabeth Ball, Brittany Basinger, and goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom has allowed just 14 goals over 25 matches this season. The most impressive thing is that the unit has absolutely clamped down at the end of the season, as it has recorded shutouts in each of the last six matches.
In that span, the offense has shown incredible firepower as well. Frannie Crouse, Emily Ogle, Mallory Weber, and Megan Schafer are all among the top attacking players in the country, and Raqui Rodriguez is well on her way to international stardom. For proof of how good Walsh's side has been, here's everything you need to know: the Nittany Lions have outscored their opponents by a ridiculous 17-0 margin so far in their four postseason matches.
Rutgers, meanwhile, is coming off of an exhilarating penalty shootout victory over Virginia, the former number one team in the nation. Led by Casey Murphy, who won Big Ten goalkeeper of the year over Eckerstrom, the defense for the ninth-ranked Scarlet Knights has allowed only seven goals all season en route to 19 total shutouts. In attack, Colby Ciarrocca has both the most Rutgers name humanly possible and a remarkably well-rounded game, leading Rutgers in goals, assists, shooting percentage, shots on goal, and game-winning goals. Look out for her going forward.
The two sides have met twice this year in Big Ten play. Rutgers shocked the Nittany Lions with a 1-0 win in Piscataway on Oct. 18, while Penn State took the Scarlet Knights down on Nov. 8 in Happy Valley, 2-0.
This matchup is going to be an incredible display, with two elite defenses and offensive skills players in spades, not to mention arguably the two best keepers in the country. If you hated Rutgers in football, just imagine how much you will hate the university when they're in the way of a title for Walsh's squad. Make sure you tune in to ESPNU at 5 p.m. and cheer on the Nittany Lions on their quest for their first national championship.