After a slow start, Penn State is on course for its 11th straight Big Ten regular-season title. With tough games at Illinois and Purdue this weekend, the Nittany Lions will be challenged, however.
Despite the presence of All-American goalie Alyssa Naeher
, the Lions struggled in the early going. They went 5-5-0 in non-conference play, though
three of the losses were to Top 10 teams -- Florida State (4-1), Notre Dame (3-1) and Portland (4-1).
Coach Erica Walsh
has a young team, so it
took time for first-year players Emma Thomson
, Nikki Watts
, Jackie Hakes
to integrate themselves into the PSU lineup.
Junior Katie Schoepfer
has been on fire, leading
Penn State with nine goals and five assists. She assisted on both goals in the 2-0 triumph over Minnesota and scored the lone goal in the 1-0 win over Iowa last week.
The Minnesota win
gave the Lions the lead in the Big Ten. They lead the Gophers and surprise Michigan State by three points with three games to play. Purdue and Ohio State round out the top five.
State's lone defeat since the start of conference play was to Michigan State -- its first in 13 years.
One concern heading into the postseason: Naeher is a member of the U.S. under-20
women's national team that is headed to Chile next month for the world championships.