On Thursday evening, JMU women’s soccer fell to No. 5 Penn State by a score of 3-0. The Dukes moved to 1-4 on the year and will have four more non-conference games to rebound before CAA play.
“Obviously, Penn State’s a really good team,” head coach Joshua Walters said. “I thought [we] did a really good job of implementing our game plan and being flexible to change it.”
The Nittany Lions hopped on the board first after a sliding goal by redshirt junior forward Kristin Schnurr, assisted by sophomore midfielder Kerry Abello. Penn State was on the offensive for most of the first half and took seven shots in the first 45 minutes — three of which were on goal — while the Dukes had none.
“We need to work on getting up, with more numbers into the box,” junior forward Haley Crawford said. “We’ll win the ball back there and one person’s up there with nowhere to go.”
Coming into the game, JMU averaged 10.8 shots per game but managed just four against Penn State. JMU never found a rhythm on offense and was a step behind the Nittany Lions for much of the night. Penn State was sharper and crisper on passes and cuts and played with a contagious energy that the Dukes didn’t match.
“We did try to get numbers up when the ball was up,” senior midfielder Hailey Stein said. “We need to pump our line. Our defense needs to get up, our midfield needs to get up and when we have the ball up top, we need to take shots and test their keeper. We didn’t do that enough tonight.”
Penn State quickly built on its lead coming out of the break with a pair of goals in the first five minutes of the second half. The first was from the foot of Abello assisted by senior midfielder Charlotte Williams and the second was a penalty kick put in by redshirt senior midfielder Emily Ogle. Walters talked about how the Dukes made in-game adjustments in an attempt to slow the Nittany Lions’ attack.
“They want to keep the ball,” Walters said of Penn State. “If we know they want to play with their holding [midfielder] and their outside backs, we try to split our forwards in an effort to take away their outside backs. We got too stretched, on the outside edges we got overloaded. Out of that, we decided we couldn’t play that way and we formed a new line.”
Every JMU field player got playing time and as the season goes along, key role players are sure to emerge off the bench. Although the scoreboard didn’t show it, the team made strides defensively and gained valuable experience playing together against one of the nation’s top teams.
“The big thing we’ve been stressing is team defense,” Stein said. “[We’ve focused on] sitting in, pressing together and I think we really honed in on that. We denied to the outside backs and when things weren’t working, we shifted our formation and forced them out and were able to pick off passes that gave us opportunites up front.”
It’s clear the Dukes still have things to smooth out, and a transition period is to be expected. The nationally ranked Nittany Lions are likely the most polished and complete team JMU will face all season.
“This game was good for us,” Walters said. “We need to play games like this. We need to understand how to play at this level and speed of play. There’s a lot of stuff we’ll be able to take out of film.”
JMU has room for improvement, but the players made it clear they’re hungry to improve and have sights set on this season. Some may view this year under a new head coach as a transition period, but the team’s leaders made it clear their sights are set on this season’s CAA tournament.
“These are the games that are setting us up for conference [play],” Stein said. “Even after this game, this is setting us up for the CAA championship.”
Contact James Faris at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more soccer coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.