Blue White Illustrated

December 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 48 of 67

D E C E M B E R 2 0 2 3 4 9 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M A fter finishing with a 6-6-4 overall record a year ago, the Penn State men's soccer team wasn't among the favorites to capture a Big Ten title this fall. The Nittany Lions placed fifth in the preseason coaches' poll, well behind league favorite Maryland. In the months that followed, however, the Lions handily out- performed those expectations. On Nov. 9, with Penn State trail- ing host Wisconsin 1-0 early in the second half, junior forward Van Danielson outran a Badgers de- fender and scored the tying goal in the 67th minute. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, and while that might not have been a particularly sat- isfying score, the effect on the league standings was significant: The Lions had needed only a tie to clinch a share of the Big Ten regu- lar-season title alongside Indiana. Penn State's championship was its second in Jeff Cook's six years as head coach. The Nittany Lions had claimed both the regular- season and tournament titles two years ago, winning the latter with a 3-0 victory over Indiana in the Big Ten championship game. Like its 2021 predecessor, this year's team has excelled both on offense and defense, as evi- denced by the postseason awards that PSU collected. The Nittany Lions took home the Big Ten's Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year trophies (senior forward Peter Mangione and senior defender Femi Awodesu, respectively), the Goal- keeper of the Year award (graduate Kris Shakes) and also Coach of the Year honors (Cook). Through 17 games, Penn State was leading the Big Ten in scoring with 32 goals (1.88 per game) and was second in goals allowed with 13 (0.76 per game). Those numbers were largely due to the team's depth. In addition to Mangione and Danielson, the Lions boast a Big Ten All-Freshman honoree in forward Caden Grabfelder (3 goals, 3 assists) and a veteran scorer in fifth-year senior forward Liam Butts (3 goals, 2 as- sists), among others. The Nittany Lions got the post- season off to a strong start, routing Rutgers 3-1 in a Big Ten Tourna- ment quarterfinal game Nov. 3 at Jeffrey Field. Danielson, Mangione and freshman defender Mohamed Cisset all scored for PSU. The Li- ons had been determined to start fast after struggling at the outset of a 2-1 loss to the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway on Oct. 17. "The second half at Rutgers, we dominated," Mangione told The Daily Collegian. "We knew we could dominate them. When we played them at Rutgers, we pressed with one striker. Today we pressed with two, and it made all the difference." The victory over the Scarlet Knights set up a semifinal clash with sixth-seeded Ohio State on Nov. 8 at Jeffrey Field. The Big Ten championship game will take place Nov. 12 at the home field of the higher-seeded finalist. Heading into the league tourney, no Big Ten team was assured of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tourna- ment. As Victor Olorunfemi of Top Drawer Soccer noted, "Indiana and Penn State did well to share the regular-season trophy, but each has had too many poor results … to feel safe in an at-large bid." Cook went into the postseason feeling as though the key for the Nittany Lions was to avoid straying too far from their identity. "At this stage of the season, it's about staying true to who we are as a team and not changing too much," he told The Collegian. "It's got to be about really honing the focus on our team and stay- ing true to that philosophy." ■ OLYMPIC SPORTS The Lions' Share Penn State ties Indiana for the Big Ten regular-season men's soccer title M AT T H E R B | M AT T. H E R B @ O N 3 . C O M Forward Liam Butts was part of a Penn State attack that produced a Big Ten- best 32 goals in the team's first 17 games. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL

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