Penn State women’s soccer (12-2-1) defeated SEC champion No. 16 Vanderbilt (9-6-1) 2-0 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday afternoon in Cary, North Carolina.
Despite a tense first half, goals from Kristin Schnurr and Eva Alonso sealed the Nittany Lions’ spot as one of 16 teams remaining in the tournament’s third round.
How It Happened
Not much changed for the Nittany Lions when it came to the starting lineup. Erica Dambach decided to once again push Sam Coffey higher up the field, inserting Cori Dyke into defensive midfield yet again.
Vanderbilt had one notable change. Goalkeeper Sarah Fuller, who made headlines in the fall for being the first woman to play in a Power Five football game, was on the bench. Freshman Kate Devine took her spot in goal after only playing 65 minutes the whole year.
The Commodores had a slight advantage in possession and chances created in the first 20 minutes, but neither side did much to trouble the opposing goalkeeper. Frankie Tagliaferri had two early shots for the Nittany Lions, but didn’t hit the target on either.
Penn State first showed flashes of its true attacking dynamics in the 22nd minute. Tagliaferri made a half-field run that beat three, and played a through-ball that Payton Linnehan eventually put in the back of the net. Unfortunately for Linnehan and the Nittany Lions, the initial pass was judged offside.
After that, the game opened up. Sam Coffey hit a hard drive that Devine saved just moments before the Commodores hit the crossbar on the other end.
The first half felt like a defensive battle for the Nittany Lions, their biggest problem coming with building out of the back. Penn State gave the ball away in costly positions a few times, leading to more Vanderbilt possessions than necessary, or the final pass was lacking in quality. Additionally, Penn State’s chances came from the individual play of Tagliaferri and Coffey instead of the typical build-up that Nittany Lion fans are used to.
Dambach’s team did have a strong end to the first half. The Nittany Lions appeared to have drawn a penalty after the ball hit a Vanderbilt defender’s outstretched arm, but the referee inexplicably waved it off. The resulting corner kick ended in a goalmouth scramble, but the offside flag once again bailed out the Commodores.
Halftime came without a goal for either team, and it was unclear whether Dambach would be happy with that. On one hand, Kat Asman was strong in goal and the defense held firm. But the lack of offensive threat from potentially the best attack in the nation was cause for concern heading into the locker room.
Penn State began the second half on the front foot. Coffey began hitting Linnehan on the run more frequently down the left side, which troubled the Commodore defense. Linnehan’s crosses to Schlegel looked the most likely avenue to a goal, until the former went out with an injury at the hour mark, replaced by Rachel Wasserman.
Soon after, Kristin Schnurr replaced Schlegel, and the second-string made it happen. A strong build up led to Wasserman crossing it in. Schnurr deftly clipped the ball from the top of the box, perfectly off the underside of the cross bar and into the net for the 1-0 lead.
Vanderbilt threatened for the equalizer, but subsequently left itself open for the counter attack.
In the 74th minute, Penn State earned a corner kick on one of those quick attacks. Coffey delivered a dangerous ball that Eva Alonso headed home off the rebound for a 2-0 lead. It was the first goal of her career, and couldn’t have come at a better time to seal the Nittany Lions’ third round berth.
The last 10 minutes were all about running out the clock. Vanderbilt went searching for a goal, and Penn State held everyone back in defense, crushing the ball toward Devine whenever possible. The Nittany Lions did a clinical job at running out the clock, and earned themselves the crucial win to stay dancing.
Player Of The Match
Frankie Tagliaferri | Senior | Attacking Mid
Frankie Tagliaferri earns our Player of the Match award for the second game running, and for good reason. The midfielder was the catalyst for all of the Nittany Lions’ potent attacks, and has been Penn State’s best player this tournament.
The biggest test of the season awaits. Penn State will face No. 1 Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen on Wednesday. Kick off time and broadcast information is TBD.