The Marquette women’s soccer team (18-3-0) will soon find out what kind of team it is on a neutral field against an opponent that is nearly equal, both statistically and mentally.
Penn State (20-4-0) enters its second round match with Marquette on Friday in Winston-Salem, N.C., on the campus of Wake Forest, as the No. 4 seed after beating Army, 1-0 last Friday.
The Nittany Lions won their 14th straight regular season Big Ten title this year and beat Northwestern and Minnesota in the Big Ten Championship tournament, before falling to Illinois, 2-1 in overtime on Nov. 6.
“Penn State, traditionally and especially this year, has been excellent at scoring and they are very efficient with their ability to finish,” coach Markus Roeders said. “We’re just excited to be here and just looking forward to the next game and hopefully we’ll come out loose and play well.”
In addition to the loss to Illinois, Penn State’s other losses have come against No. 1 Stanford, Central Florida and Wisconsin. With the exception of Wisconsin, the other teams are still in the NCAA Tournament.
The Nittany Lions are led on offense by sophomore forward Maya Hayes, who leads the nation in goals (27) and points (62). She leads the Big Ten in goals per game (1.12) and game-winning goals (nine). Hayes was named the Big Ten Forward of the Year and named to the All-Big Ten First Team following the regular season.
Hayes, along with fellow sophomore forward Taylor Schram (12 goals, 12 assists) and junior midfielder Christine Nairn (three goals, 11 assists) will give the Marquette defense a challenge.
“We just have to be organized in the back and make sure we communicate with each other,” junior defender Megan Jaskowiak said. “We’ll have to be extra cautious with Hayes, but any one of their forwards and midfielders are good enough to score.”
Nairn is a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team and has been named to the All-Big Ten First Team the last three seasons, while Schram was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team this past season. Roeders sees them as some of the best players in the nation.
“I think you can compare Nairn to (Georgetown redshirt senior midfielder) Ingrid Wells and Schram is sort of like (Notre Dame’s senior forward Melissa) Henderson. And then you’ve got Hayes who has a Latin or South American flair to her game, so they’re going to be a challenge for us, no doubt,” Roeders said.
In order for Marquette to advance to play either Wake Forest or Boston on Sunday, it will have to score on senior goalkeeper Erin McNulty, an All-Big Ten Second Team member, who leads the Big Ten in shutouts (12) and ranks third in the conference in goals against average (0.83).
For the sake of comparison, Marquette senior goalkeeper Natalie Kulla ranks first in the Big East in shutouts (11) and goals against average (0.63).
Sophomore midfielder Ashley Stemmeler acknowledged the challenge of facing a team that has only allowed 19 goals in 24 games.
“We just have to control the tempo and possession in the game and dictate the pace,” Stemmeler said. “Offensively, obviously we need to score to win, and they’re really good. And we’re just hoping to come out and play our game and if we do that, we have a great shot to win.”