Penn State women’s soccer falls to Northwestern, 2-1, at Jeffrey Field

Penn State women’s soccer falls to Northwestern, 2-1, at Jeffrey Field

In brisk fall weather at Jeffrey Field on Thursday night, Penn State women’s soccer made history — but it was probably a benchmark the program never wanted to hit.

The blue and white succumbed 2-1 to Northwestern Thursday night in its Big Ten home opener, falling to 0-2 in conference play for the first time in the program’s 28-year history.

Last season, it took coach Erica Dambach’s unit until the Big Ten Championship for the team to drop two conference games.

It was a similar story in the Nittany Lions’ last full campaign in 2019, when they went 8-3 in conference play en route to a Big Ten Tournament crown.

This year, though, Penn State has opened conference play with two games and two losses.

With her team giving up two first-half goals to the Wildcats, Dambach had a quick diagnosis of her team’s performance in the opening 45 minutes.

“I think we were slow coming out,” Dambach said. “We looked a little disjointed and had a hard time putting our passes together, and they took advantage on the counterattack.”

Northwestern opened the scoring with a Kaylee Titus strike off of an opportunity from the corner in the 11th minute. The goal was the defender’s first of her four-year career with the Wildcats.

The next bit of scoring would come a little over 25 minutes later, with Northwestern’s Josie Aulicino putting her team up by two goals with nine minutes to go until halftime.

It wasn’t until the final 10 minutes when Penn State found twine, as Kerry Abello poked a rebound into the bottom right of the goal to make it a one-score differential in the waning moments of action.

The goal was assisted by Sam Coffey, who picked up the 50th assist of her career and 26th as a Penn Stater, moving her to 10th all-time for assists in the blue and white.

And although the Nittany Lions made it interesting in the final handful of minutes, their hole proved too big to dig out of.

“Once our backs were up against the wall, we responded — a decent enough response,” Dambach said. “But it was too little too late in the Big Ten.”

With a couple of Big Ten games under their belt early in the conference slate, Dambach and company see the 14-team conference as a gauntlet of different play styles and schemes.

“I think it’s the best conference because there’s so much variety in it,” Dambach said. “Some games you play and it’s gonna be big, strong and fast, and the next game is going to be technical. That’s what I love about this conference — I think it prepares you well for the postseason.”

Penn State now sits at 0-2 in Big Ten play, tied with Illinois for last place as the only two programs to start with two conference losses this year.

The affair may not have ended in the Nittany Lions’ favor, but the team was raring to get back to its home field.

And that could have played a part in the eventual result, according to Dambach.

“There’s nothing better than playing in front of the army and playing in front of our home fans,” Dambach said. “It was a nervy performance for us because it’s been a long time since we’ve been here.”

Penn State hasn’t played at Jeffrey Field since Aug. 29 in the final leg of a three-game homestand to kick off the campaign.

Having won a conference-best eight Big Ten championships, the blue and white knows that other teams circle dates with the Nittany Lions on their calendars each preseason.

“This team is gripping things a little bit too tight right now,” Dambach said. “There’s a target on our back, and I think the group’s feeling it. We just need to relax a little and play, to be honest.

“The group’s too tense, and I think you can see it in their passing and inability to connect the way that this group usually does.”

With a tilt with Ohio State on the immediate horizon Sunday, Dambach sees silver linings in her team’s failure to find conference points through two contests.

“Taking two losses might be what this group needs right now,” she said.

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