Friday evening's match against Rutgers was never going to be an easy contest for the Penn State women's soccer team. Yes, the Lions were just a few weeks removed from a 2-0 win over the Scarlet Knights in the Big Ten Championship Game, but the Rutgers defense had been incredibly stout all year.
Twenty-two minutes in, sophomore forward Frannie Crouse provided exactly what her team wanted – an early goal. Crouse pounced on a Rutgers turnover and poked the ball over the Knights' goalkeeper while sliding in front of a defender to put Penn State up 1-0. The Lions had controlled much of the play to that point, but Crouse's breakthrough was huge against the stingy Rutgers backline.
A little over ten minutes later, it appeared that Penn State would have a great chance to go up 2-0 before the halftime break. Freshman forward Charlotte Williams came free in the Rutgers penalty box, and while being clipped from behind, put a shot on goal that appeared to be handled by a Knights defender. Play was allowed to continue, but replays confirmed that Penn State should have been granted a spot kick.
Penn State continued to control possession for much of the second 45 minutes and again narrowly missed the crucial second goal when senior forward Mallory Weber put a perfectly placed through ball off the far post in the 65th minute. Thirteen minutes later, the clincher finally came. Freshman defender Kaleigh Riehl got on the end of a loose ball at the top of the box and perfectly slotted it past several bodies into the corner of the net. The goal was Riehl's first of her collegiate career, and put State ahead, 2-0.
Rutgers spent the rest of the match trying to get something going, but the Nittany Lions never let them get a spell of possession. By the time the final whistle blew, the clearly superior team advanced to the final. The ultra-stingy Penn State back line lived up to its reputation, as redshirt senior goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom only had to make one save. With the win, Erica Walsh's squad made it seven straight matches without allowing a goal – the last time that Eckerstrom was beaten was on Nov. 1.
The Lions will play in the College Cup final for just the second time in program history on Sunday afternoon. It is scheduled to kick off at noon on ESPNU, and the squad will play against the winner of Friday night's match between Duke and Florida State. While Penn State has not played the Seminoles this year, it did take on the Blue Devils, and the two teams played a 0-0 draw in Happy Valley on Aug. 28.