In a game highlighted by strong defense, it was a lone goal by Penn State defender Raquel Rodriguez that tipped the balance – and the 2015 women’s College Cup national championship to the Nittany Lions. It is the first women’s soccer title in the school’s history.
An assist from fellow senior Mallory Weber gave Rodriguez the ball, exactly where she needed it at the 71:23 mark of the game.
“I got a ball wide and just starting running at her,” Weber said. “I heard Rocky screaming in the middle … and when Rocky wants the ball, you try and find a way to do it. I found her feet with a little magic, turned and passed it. It was a pretty good shot.”
The “when Rocky wants the ball” crack was the quote of this year’s College Cup, and Rodriguez’s goal was the most important one.
“What I remember is Mal was just running with the ball toward the backline, and I did ask for it,” Rodriguez explained. “She gave it to me and I made a half-spin, I think, and then just hit it as soon as I could across.”
Rodriguez scored the first goal ever for Costa Rica in this year’s World Cup, and when she was asked which was bigger during the post-game press conference, she broke out into a huge grin. Uh-huh. No way. She wasn’t about to go there.
Related: DI women's soccer hub
Then … she came up with quite the diplomatic answer.
“I think every goal’s special,” she said. “Those two … you can’t compare either. But I can tell you right now, I was dreaming to score in the final. It’s the most important thing right now. The World Cup was great, but right now, this was all I was thinking of. I couldn’t be more grateful and happier. It’s another dream come true, and I don’t think those dreams are more or less. They’re all special … that’s why they’re dreams.”
Duke had its chances, especially in the first half when at least two potential goals missed by what might very well have been a combined width of a single soccer ball. They were that close.
“I thought (Duke sophomore) Imani Dorsey was a little bit terrifying today, to be honest,” said Penn State head coach Erica Walsh. “Every time she got on the ball she was dangerous. They have so many dynamic attacking pieces. You certainly catch yourself holding your breath.
“To see these guys celebrate at the end of the game, to see the tears in their eyes and to know how much it meant for them, that’s the reason why you don’t sleep at night. It makes it all worth it.”
“What ifs” are a part of every sport, and not just soccer. What if either of the first-half closest calls had gone the other way, and into the net? Duke head coach Robbie Church wasn’t looking to what might have been following the game, but instead preferred to think about what the future might hold for his program.
“I think the bigger motivation is being in this setting, playing for the national championship,” Church began. “I obviously know the score, but I’m looking at the stats over here and seeing how even the game was. We’re right there.”
Duke loses just one senior who started for the Blue Devils this year. That spells hope for Church.
“The groundwork is there for us to make a return, and so our challenge is we move forward,” Church added. “Our challenge is to continue to strive to get to the College Cup. This is a very self-motivated team. I know when the hurt wears off and we get back at it, it’s going to be a very hungry team to get back to this and to continue to play at an elite level.”
If the game had been any closer, it would’ve been a tie … but that wasn’t going to be possible with a national championship on the line. One team was going to come out of here with a title, the other disappointed.
This time around, it just happened to be Penn State.
“When you get to a national championship game, obviously, you never expect it to be easy,” Walsh said. “But I thought that Duke gave us absolutely everything that we could handle today. They came out the first twenty minutes with the crowd behind them and put us on our back foot. We had to kind of struggle through that time and didn’t quite find a rhythm. But once we kind of passed that time, I really felt like we were able to get back on top of the game. That is an extremely good Duke team that we were able to beat today.”