Penn State appeared in their first ever women’s College Cup final on Sunday afternoon in San Diego. Their opponent, North Carolina, had appeared in 23 finals, winning 20. That history, while not terribly relevant between the lines, was on full display during a the Tar Heels’ 4-1 victory over the Nittany Lions.
Things did not start terribly well for Penn State, as UNC went up 1-0 just 71 seconds in. Junior striker Kealia Ohai took a pass outside the penalty area, driving to the penalty spot, creating enough space to let a rocket go that beat PSU keeper Erin McNulty off of the crossbar. The Lions dealt with several more nervy moments in their own end early, but were able to settle down, and begin attacking the Carolina goal. Friday’s overtime hero Christine Nairn was just high from outside the box in the 5th minute, while All American striker Maya Hayes sent a cross just over the bar in the 9th minute.
The pressure finally paid off in the 19th minute, when Nairn took the ball just over the midfield stripe, and immediately played a beautiful through ball Taylor Schram, who perfectly timed her run to beat the Carolina offside trap. Schram drew out UNC keeper Adelaide Gay, and chipped the ball into the far side netting to even things up. The Tar Heels had the best chance to close out the half, forcing a solid save out of McNulty from a long shot in the 34th minute.
North Carolina would seize control of the match quickly in the 2nd half, scoring off a corner kick just 48 seconds in. PSU left Hanna Gardner all alone on the set piece, and Gardner easily beat McNulty to put the Heels up 2-1. UNC would continue to pressure the Penn State goal, again finding the net on another corner in the 64th minute, when Satara Murray found a loose ball in front and poked it in for the 3-1 lead. Ranee Premji would close out the scoring, converting an end line pass for the Tar Heel’s 4th goal. The Nittany Lions struggled to control the ball over much of the pitch in the second half, let alone in the attacking third, not even sending a shot towards the Carolina goal until the 71st minute.
Penn State finishes the season as the national runner-up with a 21-4-2 record, having claimed a record 15th straight Big 10 regular season title. Junior striker Maya Hayes and senior midfielder Christine Nairn are also semifinalists for the Hermann Trophy, which goes to the top soccer player in the country.