Nov. 7, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. -
Just over 24 hours after capturing the Patriot League Women's Soccer Championship, Army learned that it will face 11th-ranked Penn State Friday evening, 7 p.m., Jeffrey Field, at University Park, Pa. The Nittany Lions, playing in their 17th consecutive NCAA Tournament, are seeded for the first since 2009 in earning one of four national No. 4 seeds.
It will be the first-ever meeting between Army and Penn State. The Black Knights (12-3-5) captured the Patriot League Tournament title and automatic bid, their second in the last four years and third overall, over the weekend with 2-0 shutouts over top-seeded Colgate in the semifinals and No. 3 Navy in the championship game. Army is just the second No. 4 seed in league history to capture the title.
"We are excited about going to the NCAA Tournament and we didn't care who it would be," said Army third-year head coach Stefanie Golan. "We are going to start gathering information tonight and tomorrow, then start our preparation for Penn State now that we know who we are playing.
"The reason why we did so well in the Patriot League Tournament is because we focused on us, and we were Army and we were the best version of Army that we could be."
Penn State has one of the top players in the country in Maya Hayes (23 goals, seven assists, 53 points), ranked third in points per game and scond in goals per game in leading a Penn State offense that lists fifth nationally.
"In my opinion, we have one of the top defenders in the country in Molly (McGuigan)," added Golan, who was the associate head coach in Army's first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2008. "Our defense has been solid all year and very strong.
"Duke is the No. 1 team in the country from an RPI standpoint right now, and we played them early in the season in a 2-0 game that we lost. It was good to have that game early because now we are going into a match where we have seen this caliber of team before."
McGuigan, a sophomore who has been a starter since her freshman year, is a two-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and two-time first-team all-star, along with being among a select group of players named to this year's MAC Hermann Watch List.
The native of Boulder, Colo., has helped backstop the Black Knights to 31 blankings over 41 games the past two years. The Black Knights ranked No. 1 in the country in goals-against average, shutout percentage and save percentage in 2010. In the most recent NCAA release this season, Army lists fourth in shutout percentage, fifth in save percentage and 10th in GAA.
"I love a challenge on defense," said McGuigan, who has helped Army to 15 shutouts this season following last-year's record-setting 16. "We have worked all season trying to improve our defense for a moment like this. We have worked hard for it, and we are going to go in like it is any other team and do what we always do."
It will be a homecoming for senior Errin Helbling who visited the Penn State campus growing up in Wayne, Pa.
"I have friends that went to Penn State," said the second team league all-star. "It will be nice to see some of the girls I played with when I was in high school. I am excited and it will be fun."
In its first NCAA trip, Army fell 2-0 to No. 16 Virginia in 2008, yielding just a goal in each half.
Army heads into its second trip to the NCAA taking on a Penn State (19-4-0) squad that won its 14th consecutive Big Ten title this year.
Dee Clegg, one of five seniors on the 2008 team, commented "it is exciting because we get to play a high-ranked and quality team. I think it will be a good challenge for us, but I also think that we are going to step up to that challenge and do well."
The Black Knights will look to be the first Patriot League team to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament since Navy accomplished that feat in 2006. The Mids played William & Mary that year to a 0-0 draw and advanced 5-4 on penalty kicks. The league's last first-round victory was in 2004 when Colgate blanked Arizona, 1-0.
The last time a Patriot League team took on Penn State in the NCAA Tournament was 2009 when Colgate fell 5-0 at University Park, Pa.
The winner of the Army-Penn State matchup moves to the next round to play the team advancing from the Marquette-Toledo matchup in Milwaukee, Wis. The Nittany Lions are 30-15-1 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, and Friday's match will be the 31st NCAA Tournament game at Jeffrey Field.