Women’s soccer looks forward to second-round test against Penn State

NCAA Championship dreams hang in the balance

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Senior goalie Morgan Stearns has been the cornerstone of the Cavaliers' defense this season, and she'll need to continue her stellar play if they look to advance in the NCAA Tournament. 

Wyatt Eck | Cavalier Daily

After taking care of Monmouth last weekend, the No. 3-seeded Virginia Women’s soccer team has had a week to prepare for their second-round matchup. It’s win or go home in the NCAA Tournament, so the margin for error is incredibly slim.

The No. 15 Cavaliers (14-4-2) are set to take on Penn State (12-4-4) in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament Friday after the Nittany Lions took down Bucknell 6-0 in the first round.

Virginia beat Monmouth 4-1 last Friday, but the team was not too pleased with their performance, although it was a positive result.

The Cavaliers felt they lacked the intensity they needed last game, and for the team to put together a complete performance, they need to be playing 100 percent throughout the game, especially in the NCAA tournament.

“I think from the start of the game, we need everyone to 100 percent compete and give it their all,” senior midfielder Alexis Shaffer said. “This is the NCAA Tournament. If you lose, you’re out, and this could be every team’s last game, so everyone is going to come out 100 percent, so that’s the way we need to look at it as well.”

As Shaffer mentioned, in the NCAA Tournament, if you aren’t playing 100 percent, and you lose focus for even a moment, the game can change in an instant. Focus, intensity and consistency will be key for the Cavaliers going forward.

A key for Virginia will be cracking the Penn State defense, which has been nearly impregnable over the past 15 games. The Nittany Lions defense has allowed one goal or less in 12 of its last 15 outings, and have tallied nine shutouts in that same span.

The Cavalier seniors do not want to end their season so abruptly, and consistency in their game is going to be the difference between wins and losses.

“I think we’ve been struggling to get our consistency and we need to play much better in the long haul over 90 minutes,” coach Steve Swanson said. “We’ve given up some soft goals and that’s something that is more our focus. I think we’re going to have to be more consistent. I think we’re going to have to compete at a higher level and we need much better soccer over a 90 minute match.”

This consistency needs to spread throughout the team and it starts with the team’s senior leaders. Shaffer has been incredible for the Cavaliers, as she leads the team in points (32), goals (13), assists (six), shots attempted (81) and shots on goal (32).

She knows her team can play better — they have all the necessary pieces, and if the talented freshmen can step up, there is no reason the Cavaliers can’t make a deep run in the tournament.

“We can play a lot better than we have been,” Shaffer said. “We’re a very talented team, but we haven’t been showing it on the field.”

In the NCAA Tournament, it’s “survive and advance.” There is simply no room for error and one slip-up can cost the team an entire season’s worth of work. It’s incredibly important the team remains focused and keeps their focus on their current opponent and doesn’t look ahead.

“The NCAA Tournament is one of those things,” Swanson said. “It’s kind of cliché, but you got to really just keep your eyes on the next game ahead and I’m confident we’ll do that.”

Kickoff is set for Friday at 11 a.m. from Shaw Field at Georgetown University.

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