1:00 PM – (2) Penn State vs Virginia Tech
It’s been steady as you were for Penn State through two rounds. Given some of the displays of their seeded brethren, PSU’s calm 4-1 demolition of MAC double winners Buffalo flew under the radar a bit. And so it was once more on Friday for the Nittany Lions. Against a UConn side that posed a very real threat to PSU’s ambitions of advancing, the Big Ten champs put together a confident display in the first half to take an early lead through Frannie Crouse and didn’t really look back. Things evened out in the second half a bit, but keeping a clean sheet and holding Rachel Hill without a shot on goal was a positive sign for the future. Defensive solidity will be a must again on Sunday against a Virginia Tech side that exploded offensively on Friday against Georgetown.
The Hokies surely though that Friday was going to be a walkover against Georgetown akin to their regular season meeting, scoring in just the third minute. But the Hoyas hardly rolled over, even taking the lead at the hour mark before a wild final eleven minutes of regulation saw VT score twice and concede once to send the match into extra time at 3-3. They’d make their eightieth minute equalizer count, winning just thirty seconds into extra time off of an Ashley Meier goal. Meier’s goal was assisted by Murielle Tiernan, who scored and assisted on two goals in a brilliant display. But the defense has to, obviously, do a much better job against Penn State. Georgetown netted their three goals on just five on-target attempts. PSU doesn’t figure to let the Hokies off the hook so easily on Sunday.
CM – Raquel Rodriguez (PSU) vs DMC – Candace Cephers (VT)
Whether or not Rodriguez plays in an advanced position in midfield or in a deeper role remains to be seen, but Candace Cephers will probably be her shadow all day long no matter her position. The very definition of an uncompromising force in midfield, Cephers has added an offensive dimension to her game this season with six goals in her sophomore season. Any offense she can provide will be a bonus here, as the Hokies well likely be hell bent on stopping Penn State’s Costa Rican dynamo in midfield. The Nittany Lions are a much, much worse team when Rodriguez is quiet, so if Cephers is at her best, Virginia Tech will fancy their chances of an upset that much more.
CF – Murielle Tiernan (VT) vs CB – Whitney Church (PSU)
Tiernan’s been an underrated stud in the Hokies’ quest to replace Jazmine Reeves from last year’s College Cup squad but made a major statement on Friday in the win over Georgetown with a goal and two assists, including the helper on Ashley Meier’s golden goal. Tiernan boasts ridiculously strong usage rates leading the line for the Hokies with fourteen goals on just sixty-one shots and could further her reputation with a strong showing here. Whitney Church gets the difficult assignment of trying slow Tiernan down, a task not made easier by the fact that she’s giving up six inches to the Hokie forward. But Church has been consistently one of the best defenders in the Big Ten for quite some time and will surely relish the challenge that Tiernan and the Hokies attack presents.
CF – Fannie Crouse (PSU) vs CB – Jordan Coburn (VT)
Replacing Maya Hayes on the frontline for Penn State was obviously going to be a thankless task, but the Nittany Lions have found a solid source of goals in rookie Fannie Crouse. Crouse doesn’t have Hayes’ pace, nor her nose for goal yet, but she has still been the ace up front for PSU thus far, netting ten goals to lead the club as a rookie. Rookies don’t find the NCAA Tournament an easy experience much of the time, but Crouse certainly played her part Friday in netting the lone goal over UConn. She draws a tough task against Virginia Tech center-back Jordan Coburn though. Coburn is one of the steadiest central defenders in the nation and has been a key part of the Hokies’ rise over the past few years. The experienced Coburn’s ability to keep Crouse in her back pocket will likely be vital for hopes of an upset from the Blacksburg side on Sunday.