The Virginia Cavaliers under Coach Steve Swanson do not give up. Ever. They have as much resilience as any team in college. And the Cavs needed every last drop of that resilience to overcome 1 – 0 and 2 – 1 deficits against the Penn State Nittany Lions in State College. With the win, the women advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
Penn State is the class of the Big 10 and, given that they are a relatively short five hour drive from Charlottesville, the teams have met frequently in out-of-conference play in recent years. Just last year, the Nittany Lions visited Klöckner and walked away 4 – 2 winners, taking off the shine of UVA’s win over reigning champion Santa Clara. This time, on a bigger stage, revenge was sweet.
Just three minutes in, it looked like Penn State’s Allie Schlegel was going to score the kind of goal that has so victimized Virginia this year. Samar Guidry’s mis-hit of the ball was pounced on by Penn State and Schlegel was given a through ball — very much like the one she converted in last year’s win — but keeper Cayla White came quickly off her line and snuffed it out. Maybe it would be an omen.
Of course, five minutes later I noted that Alexis Theoret finally got her first touch on the ball. UVA’s midfield typically does not fare well if Theoret’s not actively involved. So, we had dueling omens.
These are both quality, high scoring, teams and for 30 minutes they traded great counters. Penn State’s attacking trio of Schlegel, Penelope Hocking and Payton Linnehan has more speed than Virginia’s trio of Alexa Spaanstra, Haley Hopkins and Maggie Cagle. In terms of danger around the six yard box, Penn State’s early chances were more dangerous than Virginia’s and, 30 minutes in, Virginia finally cracked.
Schlegel fed a through ball to Linnehan who slipped the ball just wide of an on-rushing Cayla White. Even with defender Laney Rouse on the goal line, Linnehan had the presence of mind to slot her shot into the goal for a one-goal lead.
Over the remaining 15 minutes, Virginia played their worst ball of the NCAA tournament (playing Penn State can do that to you). Communication seemed to be off. Half a dozen give-and-gos or through balls went wasted as Cavaliers didn’t make the run their teammates expected. For the first time in half a decade watching this team, I saw some finger pointing and blaming for balls not going where they were expected to.
And yet despite this, Virginia, very subjectively, seemed to have the better run of play for the last 15 minutes. Dueling omens, right?
As they have done all season long, Virginia came out on fire for the second half. Virginia was all over the ball and Penn State was reduced to hoofing the ball long out of midfield. The ‘Hoos sent in maybe too many crosses to Hopkins for she was double-covered every step she took inside the penalty box. But, UVA was getting plenty of touches inside the penalty box, there were just too many defenders.
Even the announcers noted that Penn State couldn’t defend like this — on the back foot — for an entire half. The goal was going to come.
And it did. The breakthrough came when Hopkins received the ball in the middle of the box, took it wide, fired the cross, and found Jill Flammia at the penalty spot. It was a great header, Penn State keeper Katie Asman made a great save, but she couldn’t hold onto the ball. Flammia pounced on the rebound and slipped the ball home for the equalizer.
A minute later, Rouse drove to the corner of the box and whipped in a lovely cross (might have been a shot) just inches ahead of Hopkins. Virginia had Penn State on the ropes.
But Penn State is just as proud as UVA and the Nittany Lions would take the lead, fully against the run of play, when they caught Virginia napping as they playing the ball out of the back. Another beautiful through ball found Linnehan and she shot. The ball hit the upright and bounced into play where Schlegel tapped it in.
With eight minutes left, anyone who hadn’t watched these women over the years might be excused for thinking that was it. But, that person would be wrong. These women do not give up. A minute after the goal, Claire Constant hit a lovely, driving shot that forced a great save for Asman. A minute later, Cagle forced another great Asman save. And three minutes after that, Lia Godfrey hit the post.
There were only three minutes left…
And then Maggie Cagle happened. In a foot race with Penn State’s Ellie Wheeler to a ball that should have by rights gone out of bounds for a Penn State goal kick, Cagle kept the ball in, abused Wheeler, and chipped an exquisite cross to Maya Carter who headed the ball home for the equalizer. Cagle has been abusing defenders all year long. You’re reading it here first: Cagle’s going to win a MAC Hermann before she leaves Grounds.
The game went into overtime. As a reminder, this year overtime is no longer a sudden death affair. Both teams were fated to play a full 20 minutes.
Virginia had Maggie Cagle and Penn State did not. Three minutes into the first overtime period, Cagle pounced on a Penn State deflection, crossed the ball over the Penn State keeper to the awaiting Hopkins who changed direction on the ball with her thigh into a wide open goal.
For those of you scoring at home, that was a goal by a freshman (Flammia,) a second goal by a freshman (Carter) and two assists by a freshman (Cagle.) Cagle now has eight game-winning assists. Virginia has only won 16 games. Cagle has assisted on half of the game winners.
There were, predictably, some nervy moments. With about 10 seconds left in the first OT, Talia Staude slipped on the ball and ig ping-ponged around the Virginia penalty area. For the second OT, Swanson inserted Lacy McCormack as a fifth defender and Virginia went into prevent mode. And that rarely works out well, does it? Penn State owned the second OT period, but it was too little, too late and Virginia advances to the quarter finals.
Up Next: Virginia plays #1 seed UCLA after the Bruins handled Northwestern tonight. That game will be at UCLA next Saturday.