From WVU/Penn State athletic department reports
As far as NCAA Division I women’s soccer programs in our region that have reached national prominence — West Virginia and Penn State have been the two that have risen to the top.
After each program was victorious in the NCAA tournament’s round of 32 on Friday, they’re now poised to meet WVU in an intriguing Sweet 16 match-up between two teams ranked in top 10 in Morgantown on Sunday.
In 2015, with one-time WPIAL all-time leading scorer Frannie Crouse (Greensburg Central Catholic) playing a key role as a sophomore, the Nittany Lions captured the NCAA title defeating Duke in the final. In 2016, West Virginia made a run all the way to the NCAA final — losing to USC in the College Cup final.
Again, this season, both have NCAA title aspirations.
On Friday, Crouse returned to Penn State’s starting 11 for the first time since Oct. 8 due to injury, but it was her two German teammates who scored goals to led Penn State to a 2-0 win over Wake Forest.
After a scoreless first 45, Penn State began the second half by continuing its strong flank attack which had led to chances in the first half.
In the 59th minute, outside back Maddie Elliston took the ball down the right wing and sent in a picture-perfect early cross to the far post.
German midfielder Alina Ortega Jurado barely had to move as the ball hit her head from pointblank range and nestled into the right side of the net to give the Nittany Lions the 1-0 advantage.
Moments later, after being given the ball at the top of the 18-yard box, Laura Freigang took a touch and sent a thundering shot into the upper right corner of the goal. It was her eighth goal in as many games.
No. 7-ranked Mountaineers advanced, edging the No. 22 Scarlet Knights 4-3 in a penalty-kick shootout after playing to a scoreless draw through regulation and two overtime periods at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
Make no mistake, West Virginia had the foot on the gas most of the match, outshooting RU 19-1, through 110 minutes but not could not produce a winner.
WVU’s keeper Rylee Foster came up big in the PK shootout — punching the Mountaineers’ ticket to Sweet 16 with a push at the right post on Brianna Starr’s attempt.
“Rylee will tell you that we knew Rylee is that type of goalkeeper,” Nikki Izzo-Brown, WVU’s long time coach, said. “She showed everybody exactly what she could do, and I’m so proud of her and everything she’s done thus far.”
This is the fifth all-time tournament meeting between the Mountaineers (16-3-3, 7-1-1) and the Nittany Lions (14-4-4, 6-2-3 Big Ten). The teams’ last tournament meeting was in 2015, a 2-0 victory for the No. 6-ranked Nittany Lions on Nov. 28, also at Jeffrey Field. PSU went on to claim its first-ever National Championships.
Overall, the squads are 7-7-2 in the 16-match series. WVU earned the upper hand in the last meeting, a 2-1 win at Dick Dlesk Stadium earlier this season on Sept. 2
“They (Penn State) are just so dynamic with their movements and their ball movement,” Izzo-Brown said. “Obviously, they were able to finish two against a very good Wake Forest. We know we’re going to have our hands full on Sunday. Everyone wants to go to the Elite Eight now, so it’s going to be a battle and it’s going to be a tough opponent in Penn State.”
Sunday’s winner will face the winner of No. 1 Stanford – Florida State in a quarterfinal match on Nov. 24 or Nov. 25 at a site to be determined.