Penn State women’s soccer: Nittany Lions blank Monmouth to win NCAA first-round match

With two goals from Tani Costa and a stout performance from the Nittany Lion defense, the fourth-seeded Penn State women’s soccer team defeated Monmouth 3-0 Friday night at Jeffrey Field in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Playing in her final home game as a Nittany Lion, Costa scored her ninth and 10th goals of the season, setting a career high. The senior forward from Honolulu opened up the scoring 6:37 into the match, striking a well-placed cross from sophomore forward Mallory Weber into the back of the net. She added her second goal six minutes into the second half, assisted by fellow seniors Taylor Schram and Maya Hayes.

“I wasn’t sad, but I was motivated tonight,” Costa said of her emotions in her final home game. “I wanted to do well for my teammates, and I wanted to play well for our crowd, and I think we collectively did that as a team.”

Penn State will go to Charlottesville, Va., for the second round at 4 p.m. next Friday. The Nittany Lions will meet either Morehead State (10-10-1) or Wake Forest (10-6-2), who play their first-round match Saturday. The matches will be hosted by No. 1 Virginia, which ousted St. Francis 5-0 Friday.

Penn State (15-6-1) outshot the Hawks 25-11, and tallied a whopping 10-2 edge on corner kicks. Ashley Lewis made nine stops for Monmouth (17-2-2), her highest single-game total of the season. Penn State’s Britt Eckerstrom turned away all six shots she faced, posting her fifth shutout of the season.

“I thought all around it was a good performance against a very good Monmouth team,” Penn State head coach Erica Walsh said. “We had an unbelievable week of training. The energy was really good. The whole feeling within the team was so positive. We started the game off well, the crowd was into it, and things just go well. Honestly, that is why players come to play at Penn State — because of the feeling we had tonight.”

“We always like to play for those shutouts,” said junior defender Whitney Church, who added the final goal of the game on a header on a corner kick from Schram. “I think it’s great that we’re finding the shutouts now towards the end of the season when it matters most.”

Heading into Friday night’s contest, Monmouth had not allowed a goal in their last nine games, a streak that dates back to Sept. 28. The Hawks only allowed four goals all season, but could not handle the intense pressure put on by the Nittany Lions, who were able to control possession for most of the game.

“We were expecting that wave of intensity, and I think we rode it pretty well,” Monmouth forward Dana Costello said. “I think the difference between them and the people we play is their size and their strength. They’re smart. They know how to pass the ball around.”

Hawks head coach Krissy Turner echoed her players thoughts, saying that Penn State fielded a fearsome squad that can contend for a national title. However, even after a season-ending defeat, she admired the effort of her team.

“They have a lot of talented players, but I thought that our kids did everything that we asked them to do, in the best way that they could,” Turner said. “I think they were the better team, but I think my team competed hard and made it difficult for them to get the result.”

Even after a nearly flawless victory on home turf, Coach Walsh believes the team still has room for improvement.

“We’re still giving some errant passes away — unforced errors,” Walsh said. “It’s just about making decisions quicker. As the stakes get higher and the competition gets better, we have to get sharper.”

As the Nittany Lions advance to the second round of the national tournament, they will face the winner of Morehead State (10-10-1) and Wake Forest (10-6-2) next Friday in Charlottesville, Va.