SAN DIEGO, Calif. – If making their first appearance in the College Cup since 2005 and facing a team that hasn’t missed the semifinals in 13 years is a little intimidating, Penn State’s coach and players aren’t showing it.
The Nittany Lions entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed, but are a decided underdog to their College Cup semifinal opponent, Florida State, also a No. 1.
“For Penn State that’s the next step for us, it’s one thing to get here one time, and we’re enjoying every minute of it, but the next step is for us to get here year after year,” said head coach Erica Walsh.
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It is a little surprising the team hasn’t reached that level yet. They have dominated the Big 10 Conference, winning it the previous 15 times and have made 18 consecutive NCAA tournaments, but haven’t been able to get past the quarterfinals in their last six appearances.
“I think we are a top team, I think the only difference is that we haven’t been here before,” said junior forward Maya Hayes. “But we have so much leadership and experience on this team from the coaching staff to the youngest players and I think that is a strength of ours. Between that experience and that we have faced challenges all season is really going to lead us not only [Friday], but throughout the tournament.”
A little insider knowledge might also help Penn State. Walsh was an assistant on the FSU team that reached the College Cup in 2005. Also Erin McNulty was Florida State’s goalkeeper for three years before coming to Penn State to play her senior year.
“Yeah it’s interesting because obviously that is a hot topic,” Walsh said. “And as you know my past goes through Florida State as well, and I was at the College Cup with them in 2005 and it seems like a million years ago at this point, and I think it’s the same for Erin.”
Though they have a past with FSU, there is no doubt where their loyalty lies.
“We’re here, we’re with this program, and Erin would do anything for these players and this university,” Walsh said. “She’s jumped in with both feet, she’s Penn State through and through. I think she’s learned from her opportunities through Florida State, but here and now she’s a Penn State Nittany Lion.”
Sophomore defender Kori Chapic looks at McNulty’s time with Florida State as an advantage for her current team.
“Erin’s got such great experience with the time she spent at College Cups, playing at the highest level,” Chapic said. “I think that it goes for all over the field and she’s been a very key role for us in the back line, and she helps us there. I think she has definitely stepped up at the correct times and I think that we’re looking forward to keeping it going with her.”
That along with the Nittany Lions tough non-conference schedule, playing No. 1 seeds Stanford and BYU, gives them all the experience they feel they need for the semifinal and hopefully the championship.
“I mean we’ve kind of had that mentality all season,” said senior midfielder Christine Nairn. “We might not have won those games but we learned a lot about ourselves and where we’ve come from in the past few years and where we want to go. I think maybe not getting the results in the beginning of the year will help us kind of take the steps in the right direction for games like Florida State.”