Virginia scored the first try, and they didn’t let the score get too out of hand until the very end, but the first women's DI college semifinal at Stanford’s Steuber Stadium Friday was dominated by Penn State, with the Lions winning 34-15.
Wing Erica Cavanaugh raced in the match’s opening score, and UVA’s forwards were able to keep Penn State uncomfortable the opening 10 minutes, but once the Lions established possession territory, they wouldn’t relinquish either for a sustained period the rest of the day.
Rebecca Koons got Penn State on the board by pounding in a point-blank try after UVA was pinged for a penalty at a ruck five meters from their goal line. Sadie Anderson hit the conversion. Just over a minute later Anderson touched down her own score after centers Deven Owsiany and and Olivia Lindsey gutted Virginia’s defense with some powerful runs. Anderson converted.
Penn State looked to pull away with a score from Lauren Barber, which was set up and converted by Anderson, giving the Lions a 21-5 advantage near the end of the half. However, Virginia outside center Sharlyn Carter punished a panicked kick from Penn State, who was put deep in their own end by a UVA kick. Carter was fed the ball by Stephanie Chubb, and then outraced multiple PSU defenders for a try to pull her team within a pair of scores at halftime -- 21-10.
The second half was all Penn State. They constantly pressured Virginia, who rarely saw possession. When UVA did get the ball, they were usually forced to kick for clearance, and those kicks never reached touch. Instead, they were punished by Anderson and back three mates Kate Flanagan and Lisa Henneman.
“We knew that they were going to be kicking a lot more since the last time we played them,” said Anderson, “so our backs, me and the wings, we really worked on how we were going to counter and attack, so we were prepared and we knew how to attack.”
PSU’s territorial game and pressure should have produced several more tries than it did in the meat of the second half, but knocks, penalties, forward passes, etc. cut down numerous scoring opportunities. Penn State finally got points out of their dominance 23 minutes into the half when Anderson slotted a penalty to go ahead 24-10.
Minutes later, Cavanaugh got her second score of the game, a long range individual effort, to keep UVA in the contest, but they wouldn’t be for long. Kyle Armstrong and Anderson ran in successive tries to seal the win, actually capitalizing on the pressure Penn State had created throughout the half.
“We were able to pressure them and keep them in their end in that second half, and I think that was our goal, and I think eventually our pressure showed,” said PSU coach Pete Steinberg.
“We weren’t as sharp as we’d like to be down near that line…We really struggled a little bit in providing clean ball in the breakdown. They were really good at playing those gray areas and slowing down our ball, which I think prevented us from getting some good attack, but generally I was pleased with our performance to play some territory and pressure the ball.”
Penn State’s bench flashed a pair of signs that spelled out ’for 1999’ throughout the game, and you could hear several PSU players yelling ’for ’99’. 1999 was the last year Penn State didn’t reach the Sweet 16, and it was because they lost to Virginia in the territorial playoffs.
“A couple of our players had kind of a little project to do to make up for something, and they did a bunch of research with alumni and past coaches and put together a presentation and basically told our whole history,” said Anderson. “We wanted to make sure we came out with something to play for, for the people in the past that didn’t have a chance to.”