Penn State women’s soccer’s 27th-straight NCAA Tournament appearance overshadows subpar season | Opinion | Penn State Soccer News

Penn State women’s soccer’s 27th-straight NCAA Tournament appearance overshadows subpar season | Opinion | Penn State Soccer News

Penn State secured its 27th-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance Monday, although the recent feat comes in spite of the team’s most disappointing season in recent memory.

It goes without saying: As a perennial top-tier program, Penn State ventures into each campaign under the weight of astronomical expectations.

Its high standards have allowed it to recruit top prospects from around the world and compete for a national title every year, and coach Erica Dambach deserves all the credit for keeping Penn State at or near the top over the last 14 years.

While heading into the NCAA Tournament with an 11-7 overall record isn’t catastrophic, Penn State’s performance falls below the lofty example the program has accustomed itself to over its 27-year Division I history with a sixth-place, 5-5 performance against Big Ten opponents and a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal exit.

After falling to eventual runner-up Florida State in the third round of last season’s NCAA Tournament, the Nittany Lions began the fall 2021 season as the nation’s No. 10-ranked team.

An impressive start saw them win six of their opening seven matches — which included victories over then-No.13 West Virginia and then-No. 3 Virginia.

Once the interconference portion of the season arrived, Penn State derailed, losing four of its opening five Big Ten matches.

The Nittany Lions rebounded by winning four of the remaining five contests, but they could not take advantage of better form when they fell 3-1 to eventual conference champion Michigan in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Penn State’s loss of its perennial attacking threat of the last four years, Frankie Tagliaferri, contributed to an increasingly ineffective offense that scored 17 goals in 10 conference matchups — a stark contrast to its 32 goals scored in 11 Big Ten games a season ago.

Reigning Big Ten Forward of the Year Ally Schlegel saw her goal tally drop from 11 in the spring to six in the fall.

The Nittany Lions struggled to create and capitalize on chances in the attacking sector, also evidenced by midfielder Sam Coffey’s six assists this fall compared to her 12 assists in the spring.

As one of the most competitive conferences in the nation, the Big Ten has seen the meteoric rise of teams like Rutgers and Michigan, who currently rank No. 5 and No. 9, respectively, and hold No. 1 and No. 2 seeds heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Nonetheless, Penn State has long maintained a stature as the Big Ten’s powerhouse — which appears to have diminished this season.

Now six years on from the program’s first national championship, Penn State has failed to make it past the quarterfinals of the national tournament since lifting the trophy in 2015.

The Nittany Lions are searching for something to salvage as they enter the campaign’s final stage, due to their lowest overall winning percentage since 2010 and their worst conference record in program history.

For most programs, Penn State’s fall 2021 season would not be a bad season by any means, but for a top-tier program like Dambach’s, it must be considered below par.

As the Nittany Lions prepare to host Monmouth on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, they will need to put the season’s shortcomings behind them in hopes of ending a forgettable year on a high note.

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