10 Nov Monmouth women’s soccer seeks NCAA upset vs. Penn State
WEST LONG BRANCH – Jill Conklin has been to a few NCAA Tournament selection show gatherings during her time with the Monmouth women’s soccer program. But Monday’s at the Varsity Club inside OceanFirst Bank Arena had a distinctly different feel to it, as the Hawks learned they’d be playing at Penn State Friday (6 p.m.)
“I just think this program has unfinished business in the first round of the NCAA Tournament,” the former Toms River East standout said. “I think if there’s a team that can move on to the second round it’s this one right here. We have been so improved since the start of the season. We really have come together as a team and I truly don’t think there’s a team that we can’t beat.”
In many ways, Conklin embodies the spirit of a team seeking to advance beyond the opening round for the first time in its eighth appearance in the national championship.
After sustaining torn ligaments in her left knee in the first game of the Hawks’ COVID-delayed spring season, the senior returned to game action five months later against Harvard on Sept. 12.
“She is a next-level competitor. She has an all-out, all-the-time championship mindset in everything she does,” said Monmouth head coach Krissy Turner, whose 24-year record now stands at 294-167-45.
Heroics on, off the field
Even after reinjuring her knee and missing several games, Conklin returned to the field to score the eventual game-winning goal in Monmouth’s semifinal win in the MAAC Tournament.
“I knew the risks coming back from an injury like that so soon, but it being my senior year I was willing to risk it all,” she said. “I feel great, and I felt like I was healthy enough to be out there.”
And just hours that semifinal, Conklin put her nursing school training to use in real time on campus.
“A fellow student was having a medical emergency as I was walking through the student center,” she said. “Luckily, I was in the right place at the right time and I was able to use some emergency assessment skills that I have acquired over the last four years of nursing school, and just help him in that moment. I was walking into to get some lunch and had just come from clinical, so I was in full uniform.”
Added Turner: “Very composed and confident in that situation. She helped somebody else and then just went about her business and that is just who she is. She is cool, calm and collected, and extremely competitive.”
Closing the gap
While Monmouth has lost twice in the opening round to Penn State (2007, 2013), the program has been closing the gap on the top teams in the country. In 2019, Monmouth went to No. 13 Brown and lost in penalty kicks after playing to a scoreless draw. A year earlier, the Hawks lost at No. 11 Virginia, 2-0.
“I think we definitely know we can hang in there with whoever we play against,” said Lauren Karabin, a Wall native who leads the Hawks in scoring with 10 goals and three assists.
Monmouth lost three straight early this season against Rutgers, Harvard and Providence, all in the NCAA Tournament field. But the Hawks, who have overcome a wide range of injuries since the start of the spring season, are playing their best soccer of the season right now. They have lost just once in their last 13 games. They’ve outscored opponents by a 14-2 margin over the last four games, including a 4-0 win over second-seed Quinnipiac in the MAAC Tournament final Sunday.
“We have three games against top 30 teams and the results were not favorable for us,” Turner said. “But that was a long time ago and we are a different team now. Way different then we were then.
“In the spring I thought we had the strongest team in the league but I don’t think we were as strong as a team as we needed to be. Right now, I feel very confident in saying they are a very strong team.”
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Monmouth NJ women’s soccer seeks NCAA upset vs. Penn State Nov. 12
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