CARY, N.C. — Every college soccer player dreams of a storied ending to his or her playing career.
Penn State stars Mallory Weber and Raquel Rodriguez ensured that they could write the final script to their four years at State College at the summit of Division I women's socccer.
The senior attackers connected for the only goal of the 2015 national championship, leading Penn State to a 1-0 victory national title and the first in program history.
Weber’s storming run in the 72nd minute opened up just enough space in the stout Duke back line, and her low cross found Rodriguez in front of goal. The Costa Rican took two touches around Duke’s Morgan Reid, burying the winner past goalkeeper EJ Proctor.
“I thought that Duke gave us everything that we could handle today,” Penn State head coach Erica Walsh said after the game. “They came out in the first 20 minutes with the crowd behind him, and put us on our back foot. We had to struggle through that time and couldn’t find a rhythm, but once we passed that time, I really felt like we were able to get back on top of the game.”
The first half ebbed and flowed, with Penn State in possession for long stretches, after recovering from Duke's strong opening 20 minutes. The looks were limited, however, for either side. The 24th minute provided a good look for the Nittany Lions after Raquel Rodriguez slipped in a pass behind the back line for Frannie Crouse. Her cutback found Weber, though Duke’s defense closed quickly and her shot tamely fell to Proctor.
With Penn State forced deeper into more of a defensive shell than on Friday night, Duke managed to orchestrate a few chances of their own towards the end of the half. Toni Payne and Imani Dorsey tried shots from range that Eckerstrom had covered. Dorsey had an effort from the right flank that struck the top of Eckerstrom’s bar in the 39th minute.
"I looked to shoot it because I had taken a couple of chances earlier in this season and gotten some good goals off it," Dorsey said. "So I just wanted to keep the goalie on her toes and put a tough shot on net."
Duke’s performance forced some adjustments from Walsh.
“Testament to Duke, they came at us right away, we had trouble pushing up our line,” she said. “[Megan] Schafer had trouble getting a little bit higher, and it was absolutely the efforts that Duke was making that didn’t let us get higher up and defend higher. That was not intentional and we had to go into halftime and solve a few things."
A trademark Toni Payne run almost provided the opener for Duke ten minutes into the second half. After drawing a trio of Penn State defenders, Payne slipped in a ball for a cutting Dorsey, who was forced wide and couldn’t find the target.
In the 60th minute, a rare Duke mistake gave Nickolette Driesse a good look at the top of the box. But as they have all tournament, the Duke defense swarmed the ball and closed quickly, blocking Driesse’s attempt.
As the seconds ticked off the clock, Penn State’s pressure slowly started swinging the tide back into the Nitanny Lions’ favor. From there, the breakthrough finally came when Weber connected with Rodriguez.
“It was good buildup out of the middle and I got a ball wide and just started running at her,” Weber said. “I heard Rocky screaming in the middle, and when Rocky wants the ball you try to find a way and give it to her. So I found her feet and after a little magic, [she] turned and placed it.”
Added Duke head Robbie Church: “[Rodriguez] has a great feel for the game. I thought she was as effective against us as any of the players that we’ve seen, and we’ve seen a lot of really great players.”
The last two women’s DI title games have been decided by a 1-0 score line, and Penn State dug deep, making it three in a row. Malinda Allen’s 84th minute effort represented the best chance for Duke to equalize as the minutes ticked off the clock, but her well-driven shot bounced in front of Eckerstrom for a routine save. A late offside call on Duke negated its final chance, and when the whistle blew, Penn State could celebrate a national crown at last.