For a team that leads the Big Ten in shots and goals, the Penn State women’s soccer team hadn’t looked the part in its last two games.
But Thursday afternoon against Ohio State, the Nittany Lions made an offensive statement by downing the Buckeyes 4-2 at Jeffrey Field after being shut out by Minnesota and Michigan in back-to-back games. Maya Hayes scored her 14th and 15th goals of the season, tied for the most in the Big Ten.
“I was tired of giving the same speech I gave them after the previous two games,” coach Erica Walsh said. “One thing I talked about before the game was they needed to have an angry energy to them, and I thought they did.”
The win improved No. 17 Penn State to 5-2 in the Big Ten. A loss would have put the team a game-and-a-half behind first-place Nebraska with just four matches to go, severely damaging its chances of winning a 16th straight conference regular season title.
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Senior midfielder Taylor Schram said it was a relief to snap the scoreless streak, and she hopes getting over that hump bodes well for her team on senior day Sunday against Illinois and through the rest of the season.
“We proved to ourselves that we are completely capable of doing it and I think we sent a message to the Big Ten, as well, that you woke a beast,” Schram said. “So we’re ready.”
Schram got the Nittany Lions on the board early with help from Mallory Weber.
In the sixth minute, Weber sent in a cross to Schram from the end line and the senior slid to bury it from six yards out. Then in the 34th minute, Weber did the same, but it hit off an Ohio State defender’s knee and it wound up in the net.
But the Buckeyes quickly answered in the 37th minute with a Nichelle Prince goal, then Morgan Wolcott beautifully redirected a corner kick with her head that Penn State goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom didn’t have a chance to stop in the 54th minute.
“When they tie it up 2-2, you watch your team,” Walsh said, “and either their shoulders drop or their heads are gonna lift. And they lifted today.”
Hayes helped lift those heads with an answer to Wolcott’s header about a minute later. Hayes ran down a backpass that hadn’t reached Ohio State goalkeeper Jillian McVicker, dribbled around her and tapped the ball into a wide open net.
“I was getting to that ball,” Hayes said. “That was like a gimme, and you definitely have to capitalize on the easy ones.”
Three minutes after that, Schram hit the crossbar from the top of the box and Hayes buried the rebound.
Walsh said after Sunday’s loss to Michigan she would make some changes to the formation or personnel. The coach decided to slide freshman defender Brittany Basinger up to the midfield, which paid off.
“I thought Britt Basinger was the best player on the park today,” Walsh said. “On both sides of the ball. She was a leader. You would never know she’s a freshman.”
Schram said manufacturing offense from the team’s defensive play was pivotal against Ohio State, especially in muddy conditions. Rain fell before the game and picked up considerably toward the end of the half.
Penn State was the more physical team in the wind and rain, racking up 11 fouls to Ohio State’s six.
“I think that we just got down and dirty,” Schram said. “That was sliding, diving, creating offense out of defense, which is what I think that we’ve been kind of lacking the last couple of weeks and we stepped that up today and it made a big difference.”