Quinnipiac falls 4-1 to Penn State in NCAA Tournament


Peyton McKenzie

Quinnipiac was eliminated in its first NCAA Tournament game since 2000.

Benjamin Yeargin, Associate Sports Editor

STATE COLLEGE, Penn – The MAAC magic that Saint Peter’s had when it made its run to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament last March is something the Quinnipiac women’s soccer team wanted to replicate.

But the magic faded as the Penn State Nittany Lions outpaced and outplayed the Bobcats en route to a 4-1 victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. It was Quinnipiac’s first tournament appearance since 2000.

Penn State bombarded the Bobcats with non-stop shots in the beginning of the match, which forced the road squad to play physical, showcased by two fouls committed in the first six minutes. The talent of the Nittany Lions players was visible from the start.

“You’ve just got to give credit to the ability the (Penn State) players have, not to open up and not get taken apart,” Quinnipiac head coach Dave Clarke said.

Quinnipiac did what it does well in the beginning of the first half. It pressured the defense and goalkeeper, forcing them to make extra passes and increasing the potential for mistakes.

But it wasn’t enough in the first 45.

In the 23rd minute, Nittany Lions senior forward Kate Wiesner buried a ball from the box into the bottom right corner off a feed from senior midfielder/forward Payton Linnehan. Penn State’s aggressive offense left the Bobcat defense wide open, leading to the early advantage.

The Nittany Lions continued their aggressive offensive style throughout the first half, never giving Quinnipiac an opportunity to relax.

This style of play was evident in the 39th minute as the Bobcats’ junior goalkeeper Sofia Lospinoso entered her inner “sweeper keeper” mode. She came outside of the goal, punched the ball away then saved multiple shots to keep Penn State ahead by one.

Sofia Lospinoso saved 11 Nittany Lion shots Sunday. (Peyton McKenzie)

In the weaning moments of the half, you would’ve thought it was Usain Bolt flying up the field, but it was Nittany Lion freshman forward Amelia White, who soared upfield and made a heads-up play. Penn State is a fast team and that play showed evidence to exactly how dangerous its pace is.

Quinnipiac freshman forward Madison Alves cruised up the field on the counterattack, when the 2021-22 Indiana Girls Soccer Gatorade Player of the Year came from nowhere and made a D.K. Metcalf-esque play, running up the field and slide tackling the ball away from Alves and killing all the Bobcats’ momentum.

Going into halftime, Quinnipiac was certainly down, being outshot 13-1 by Penn State, but not out of this contest.

Clarke had brief, yet temporarily effective words of affirmation for his team.

“I told them to believe they belong,” Clarke said.

In the second half’s opening minute, senior midfielder Markela Bejleri fired an outstanding ball towards the net. Nittany Lions’ redshirt senior goaltender Katherine Asman dove to her left but Bejleri’s left-footed finish into the net soared right above her. It was arguably the goal of the year for the Bobcats, as she evened the game at one.

Pure ecstasy rang throughout Jeffrey Field as the Bobcats’ bench and the Quinnipiac players on the field screamed and shouted because they were back in the game. For the moment.

In the 50th minute, all of the Bobcats’ positive momentum seemed to disappear into thin air. First, junior forward Rebecca Cooke fell to the ground with an injury, as she had to be helped off the field by two trainers. Cooke would check back into the match shortly after as snow flurries fell on the field.

Secondly, Nittany Lions senior midfielder/forward Payton Linnehan crisply scored the ball past Lospinoso into the bottom left corner off of a senior forward Penelope Hocking assist.

One step forward for Quinnipiac, two steps back. 2-1 Nittany Lions.

With 31 minutes to go for the Bobcats, they started striding in the right direction. Cooke broke the lines of the Penn State defense twice, though both her touches were saved.

In the 65th minute, Hocking added another point, finessing the ball past Lospinoso finishing in the middle of the net to extend the Nittany Lion lead to 3-1. Penn State’s one-on-one play style showed itself throughout the entire day, but it was especially evident on this goal.

“The NCAA Tournament is all about surviving and advancing,” Linnehan said. “Every goal is super important.”

In the 77th minute, Penn State sealed the deal. The Nittany Lions pierced the dagger through the heart of Quinnipiac as senior midfielder Cori Dyke kicked the ball off of her left foot, finding the back of the net through an abundance of players in the box.

The game would remain 4-1 and the Bobcats would end their season in the oxymoronic Happy Valley.

Seniors and graduate students close a page in their lives, but this season is a historic one for Quinnipiac. A MAAC Championship, the second NCAA berth in program history and a regular season title are some of the many accolades the Bobcats earned over the course of this illustrious year.

“The evolution of the program over the last four years has gone step higher, step higher, step higher,” Clarke said. “It’s bittersweet.”