The Penn State Nittany Lions are NCAA Women’s Soccer Champions for the first time.
Senior Racquel Rodriguez tallied the lone goal of the match in the 72nd minute to give the Nittany Lions (22-3-2) a 1-0 victory over the Duke Blue Devils in the College Cup Finals, which were held in Cary, N.C. Rodriguez and fellow senior Mallory Weber, who was credited with an assist on the goal, were on the only other Lions’ squad that reached the championship game back in 2012. Penn State fell to North Carolina 4-1 in the final that year.
“It means the world to you,” Penn State coach Erica Walsh said. “To see these guys celebrate at the end of the game, to see these tears in their eyes and see how much it meant for them, that’s the reason you don’t sleep at night. It makes it all worth it because they’re incredibly deserving.”
Rodriguez scored, off of a feed from Weber, when she blasted a left-footer from the left side of the penalty area into the lower right hand corner of the net. Following a Duke turnover at midfield, Weber received a pass on the right flank and penetrated into the box drawing three defenders. The goal was Rodriguez’s sixth of the season.
Enjoy this first touch and turn from Raquel Rodriguez as she puts Penn State up, 1-0. Weber on the assist. pic.twitter.com/KX0zBwXu40
— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) December 6, 2015
After the Nittany Lions’ goal, Duke pushed its offense up in an attempt to get the equalizer over the final 15 minutes with sophomore Casey Martinez having the best chance while battling for a loose ball along the goal line after her shot was blocked by a defender. But the ball went over the end line for a goal kick.
Duke (14-5-5) had several chances overall, according to NCAA.com, particularly in the first half as two shots barely missed entering the goal. Both teams finished with 11 shots, though the Nittany Lions held a 5-3 edge on shots on goal.
“I thought (Duke sophomore) Imani Dorsey was a little bit terrifying today, to be honest,” Walsh said. “Every time she got on the ball she was dangerous. They have so many dynamic attacking pieces. You certainly catch yourself holding your breath.”
Goalie Britt Eckerstrom made three saves for Penn State, while Duke Sophomore EJ Proctor collected four stops. The victory was Eckerstrom’s 61st career win, which is the second most ever in school history.
Penn State is the first Big Ten team to win a national championship. The Nittany Lions outscored their opponents 20-0 in their six game tournament run. USA Today reported that shutout was the Lions’ eighth consecutive and that they have allowed one goal or fewer in their final 23 matches.
Penn State was one of the tournament’s four No. 1 seeds and entered the postseason ranked No. 6 in the country. The Lions defeated Albany (5-0), Boston University (6-0), Ohio State (4-0), Wet Virginia (2-0) before knocking off Rutgers (2-0) in the semifinals.
Duke missed the tournament last year and was a surprise title game participant as they entered the postseason as a No. 3 seed. The Blue Devils, ranked No. 20 in the nation, knocked off two No. 1 seeds on their way to the program’s third College Cup Finals appearance — defeating Stanford 3-2 on penalty kicks (1-1) in the quarterfinals and top-seeded Florida State (2-0) in the semifinals. Duke finished eighth in the ACC regular season standings.
“I’m so proud of our team and the heart of our team,” Duke coach Robbie Church said. “What an unbelievable run we’ve been on the last 10 or 11 games.”
The Blue Devils are now 0-3 in the championship games,losing to Stanford (1-0) in 2011 and North Carolina (11-1) in 1992.
Duke should be strong next year as the Blue Devils lose just one senior, Kara Wilson, and have an outstanding recruiting class coming in.
The all-tournament team was littered with Nittany Lions and Blue Devils. Rodrigruez was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player and Proctor was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Joining those two on the all-tournament team was Duke’s Toni Payne, Kayla McCoy and Christina Gibbons and Penn State’s Weber, Frannie Crouse, Kaleigh Riehl and Emily Ogle. Florida State’s Cheyna Williams and Megan Connolly rounded out the squad.
— Tony Mancuso (@GoPSUTony) December 6, 2015
[Photo courtesy of Penn State Women Soccer Twitter]