The University of Minnesota women’s soccer team (20-3-0) fell by a 2-1 score to Penn State (16-7-0) in the Big Ten Tournament championship match Sunday afternoon in Iowa City, Iowa. Freshman midfielder Shari Eckstrom tallied the only goal of the game for the Golden Gophers.
The Gophers outshot the Nittany Lions by a 23-16 margin, but Penn State was able to get timely play from goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and forward Danielle Toney to secure their second Big Ten Tournament title in three years. Naeher and Toney were named Big Ten Tournament defensive and offensive players of the tournament, respectively.
“Penn State was the better team today. They were able to make the most of the opportunities they had,” Minnesota head coach Mikki Denney Wright said. “We’re very proud of the performance our team put forward this weekend there were many teams that would have loved to have an opportunity to play in this game. We’re very much looking forward to making our first NCAA Tournament appearance in a long time next weekend.”
Penn State defender Emma Thomson scored the first goal of the match at the 22:45 mark. PSU’s Carly Niness got loose behind the Minnesota line and sent a cross for Thomson. At first, it was unclear whether Thomson’s shot crossed completely over the Minnesota goal line, but the referees awarded the Nittany Lions the go-ahead tally.
Eckstrom tallied an equalizer in the closing minutes of the first half, converting a rebound attempt after her initial shot was blocked by Penn State goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Eckstrom’s second shot beat Neaher to tie the game at 1-1.
The Eckstrom goal that tied the score at the 39:08 mark came on the strength of a great play by sophomore forward Katie Bethke. Bethke beat a Penn State defender after driving the ball toward the PSU end line and was able to deliver a high cross to the PSU goalmouth that led to Eckstrom’s initial shot.
Senior midfielders Clare Grimwood, who scored the only goal of the match in Minnesota’s 1-0 win over Purdue in the semifinals, and Kaitlin Wagner, who punched in a goal in the Gophers’ 3-1 quarterfinal victory over Northwestern, were named to the All-Big Ten Tournament team at the conclusion of the match.
Danielle Toney was able to get pressure on the Minnesota net several times in the opening minutes of the second half before breaking through with the game-winner at the 65:05 mark. Minnesota goalkeeper Lindsey Dare had thwarted the dynamic Penn State striker on a pair of great scoring chances previously.
With the tournament crown, Penn State earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which begins next weekend. Minnesota awaits a likely at-large bid to a field that will be announced Monday evening. The NCAA Tournament selection shows airs Monday at 7:00 (CT) on ESPNews.
The NCAA will also select 16 host schools for the first and second round games to be played Nov. 14 and 16. The 16 schools named as hosts on Monday are not necessarily the top 16 seeds of the 64-team tournament field.