When the Penn State steps onto the field at Virginia’s Klockner Stadium at 4 p.m. Friday for the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Nittany Lions (15-6-1) will be facing off against a familiar postseason foe in Wake Forest.
In 2011, the No. 13 Nittany Lions fell to the No. 6 Demon Deacons in a third-round matchup, ending Penn State’s hopes of securing a berth in the College Cup. The loss ended a magical season for forward Maya Hayes, who finished one goal shy of both the school and Big Ten single-season record of 32 goals set by former Nittany Lion Tiffany Weimer in 2005.
Hayes and the Nittany Lions bounced back last season, securing a Big Ten title and winning five postseason matches en route to its first-ever National Championship game appearance.
The fourth-seeded Nittany Lions enter Friday’s second NCAA clash in three years with the Demon Deacons fresh off a dominating 3-0 victory over Monmouth in the opening round. Penn State dominated the Hawks (17-2-2), with two goals coming from senior forward Tani Costa.
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“ I thought that we had an unbelievable week of training,” Penn State coach Erica Walsh said after the triumph. “The energy was so good. Just the whole feeling within the team was so positive.”
Wake Forest advanced to the second round for the ninth time in program history with a 2-0 victory over Morehead State. Courtney Owen abd Riley Ridgik scored 34 seconds apart.
Penn State is has lost both its meetings with Wake Forest all-time, but boasts an 11-4-0 record in NCAA second-round matches.
Wake Forest (11-6-2) will have to find a way to stop a potent Nittany Lion offense, led by seniors Hayes (19 goals, six assists) and Costa (career-high 10 goals, seven assists). Penn State is among the top five in multiple offensive categories, ranking third in points (7.95), fourth in scoring offense (2.73), and tied for fifth in assists (2.50).
“They’re a very good team,” Wake Forest coach Tony da Luz said of the Nittany Lions. “Their front five is as good as anybody’s. We’ll have our hands full defensively, but if we play solid and take advantage of our chances and set pieces, we’re there with anybody.”
The Nittany Lions will be looking to beat Wake Forest goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, who has 70 saves and seven shutouts this season. Bledsoe has 32 career shutouts.
Penn State’s defense and goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom, coming off her fifth shutout of the season, will be tasked with stopping Deacon forwards Ridgik and Katie Stengel. The duo has combined for 17 goals and 12 assists. Ridgik tied a school mark by scoring in her fifth consecutive game in the triumph over Morehead State.
“I believe we are just as good as we were last year, we have all the same pieces and I feel that at this point in the season we are getting those details right,” defender Whitney Church said after the triumph over Monmouth. “We are coming together and we’re finding what makes us and it’s a great feeling to be at that point now in the NCAA Tournament when it means the most to keep the ball out of the back of the net.”
The winner will face the winner between top-seeded Virginia and Georgetown at 5 p.m. on Sunday.