Army's goal heading into the first round of the NCAA women's soccer tournament was to beat host Penn State. The Black Knights (12-4-5) came close to pulling off an upset as they held the 13th-ranked Nittany Lions (20-4-0) scoreless for 86 minutes before yielding a goal in a tough 1-0 loss Friday evening at Jeffrey Field.
Senior goalkeeper Monica Lee had an outstanding performance, recording a career-high 12 saves. Five times she denied the No. 1 scorer in the country, Maya Hayes, from tallying. The Penn State forward, ranked first in the country in goals (27), had all five of her shots on goal rejected. Lee made four stops in the first half and eight in the second.
The Black Knights defense was solid as they fought Penn State tooth and nail throughout the game. Though the Nittany Lions outshot the Black Knights 11-2 in the first half and 18-1 in the second, along with an 8-0 corner kick advantage, it wasn't until the end of that game when they were able to crease the net following a barrage of shots.
"We played as a unit," explained sophomore Molly McGuigan, the Patriot League's Defensive Player of the Year. "Each defender could not defeat Maya Hayes by ourselves, so we had to play as a unit and cover for each other the entire game.
"Penn State had a lot of shots from a distance because we prevented them from getting behind us a lot. We made them take shots further out, which gave Monica (Lee) a better chance, and she was amazing."
Over an eight-minute span late in the game, Penn State booted seven shots at the Army goal, the majority from in the box. Two were blocked and Lee pulled up with four saves (two against Hayes) before Christine Nairn, who had a game-high 10 shots, lifted Penn State to the win when she connected on her fourth shot on goal. Nair rifled a 12-yard shot that landed in the lower left side of the Army net off a cross from Bri Hovington for her first game winner of the season.
"I just kept my composure when Penn State was throwing up a lot of shots against me," stated Lee following one of the finest games in her Army career. "I played off my line a lot more than I usually do knowing that Penn State tried to play those slot balls, and I was able to intercept them."
"I am proud of our team tonight," said Army third-year coach Stefanie Golan. "It was a phenomenal performance from our team. We came out to play and we came out to win. We didn't come out to sit back and defend for 90 minutes to see what happens.
"We kept the ball a little bit and we frustrated them quite a bit, which is always a good thing. Penn State has won the Big Ten numerous times, and for us to have a 1-0 result says something about where the program is.
"I feel every player left their heart out there and I am proud to be their coach."
Though Army was limited to just three shots, the Black Knights took the first two shots of the game with Errin Helbling's header on goal just 1:32 into the match followed five minutes later by Kim An's shot from the left wing that went wide.
Helbling's attempt late in the second half was blocked three minutes prior to Nairn's winning tally that sent the fourth-seeded Nittany Lions into the NCAA Second Round.