A perfectly played ball means the Penn State women’s soccer team’s season keeps on rolling.
Emily Ogle’s free kick found the head of Mallory Weber for the game-winning goal with just under 20 minutes left as the Nittany Lions dropped Virginia Tech 2-1 Sunday afternoon at Jeffrey Field.
The second-seeded Nittany Lions (20-3) will meet Texas A&M in the NCAA quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Saturday in College Station, Texas. The top-seeded Aggies beat Notre Dame 2-1.
“It’s been right there, not even in the back of their brains, but in the front for the last two years,” coach Erica Walsh said of returning to the quarterfinals. “That was a very good Virginia Tech team. … They gave us everything we could handle today. Certainly it felt like we had to bend at times but never broke.”
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Raquel Rodriguez also scored for Penn State, Britt Eckerstrom made three saves and the team is in the quarters for the 10th time in program history, the last during 2012’s run to the national championship match.
Ashley Meier netted the goal for Hokies (16-6), as the teams got to play under sunshine and much milder conditions than Friday’s frigid temperatures for the second round.
Practicing set pieces is pretty standard in daily training sessions for teams, whether it is corner kicks, direct kicks or indirect kicks from a variety of spots on the field.
The most important one of the game for the Nittany Lions worked to perfection.
From 30 yards away near the right sideline, Ogle lined up the free kick toward the middle of the penalty box. The freshman’s boot was spot-on for Weber, who found a little space about six yards away from the net to head the ball in with 19:18 remaining on the clock.
“(Ogle) played a great ball and the goalie came out and I just needed a good touch on it,” Weber said of her eighth goal of the season. “… I think one of our players set a little bit of a screen and I got a little more space than I normally do. It was perfect.”
Virginia Tech was frustrated to give up a score on a free kick — defending them is also practiced frequently.
“You walk through set pieces all the time,” coach Charles Adair said. “It was a good service and a good run and a good header. We’ll look at it. I don’t know if the keeper could have come out. It was kind in that area where you test the keeper. Those are situations good teams put you in.”
Penn State struck for the first goal with about five minutes left in the first half.
Rodriguez was off and running after a long service up the middle of the field from Katy Keen. “Rocky” was a step behind the Hokies defense and unleashed a shot from 18 yards away that banked off the right post and in for her seventh score of the year.
Meier tied it just over 11 minutes into the second half, taking a cross from Danielle King and softly redirecting the ball past Eckerstrom to the far post for her seventh conversion of the season.
Virginia Tech nearly had a first-half goal when Murielle Tiernan was free on a break and tapped the ball past Eckerstrom, but as the ball rolled slowly toward the net sophomore Salina Williford raced back and cleared the ball about a foot from the line.
It was one of many key plays for the Nittany Lion defense, which was under relentless pressure from the Hokies.
“It was definitely a tough task that we had today,” senior defender Whitney Church said. “They were bringing it to us. We would bend at times, kind of give things away at times, but we never broke and it was really great.”
Statistically the shot count was 11 apiece, but Virginia Tech had far more possession time and pushed the ball much deeper into the Penn State end.
“The number of balls that they put into our penalty box alone,” Walsh said, “we’re not necessarily used to feeling that type of pressure.”