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Nairn’s OT winner sends Penn State through to final

The Penn State women’s soccer team has advanced to its first-ever championship game of the NCAA Women’s College Cup after defeating Florida State 2-1 in overtime in a semifinal match in San Diego on Friday night to advance to Sunday’s final against North Carolina.

Just over one minute into overtime, Penn State’s team captain Maddy Evans sent a ball into the box and senior midfielder Christine Nairn knocked it in for the golden goal and the win.

“To be honest I don’t really remember the play, the whole night I guess is a little blacked out,” Nairn said. “You know we had been trying to counter attack them –  I think Florida just played the ball forward and we just kicked it off higher up on the field to our goal and played the ball to Maya and she does what she does and Maddy Evans with the assist… and I was in the right place at the right time. They did all the hard work I just tapped it in.”

The Nittany Lions took a 1-0 lead in the 57th minute after Mallory Weber’s shot was knocked down by Florida State’s goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, and Maya Hayes easily knocked the loose ball into the goal.

The Seminoles continued to press forward and with just 41 seconds left in the game, Kristin Grubka fought defenders to get a ball into the box and onto the head of Tiffany McCarty for the equalizer.

“I just saw that (Kristin Grubka) didn’t give up on that play,” said Florida forward Jamia Fields.  “She went into two tackles, there were two girls on her, so she played that ball and then that’s who Tiff McCarty is – she finishes goals like that.”

Having been so close to the win, it looked like Penn State might have a tough time battling the momentum of Florida State’s new life.

But, Penn State head coach Erica Walsh said that her team is accustomed to adversity and Nairn is a proven leader.

“When we went into overtime the staff got together and looked over and Christine’s there right in the middle of the group looking them in the eyes, giving them the poise, the composure, and all the confidence in the world to go into the overtime period and win the game,” Walsh said. “And when you can turn it over to your players and they can step up in those big moments – that’s probably your proudest moment as a coach, and your work is done because soccer is a player’s game…”

Walsh is a former assistant to Florida State head coach Mark Krikorian, who credited Penn State with playing a competitive game.

“Total credit to Penn State. .. We had to battle back at the end,” Krikorian said. “It was very difficult to concede that golden goal at the end, but that’s soccer and that’s how it is. Good luck to Penn State going forward, exceptional team, exceptional coaches, we battled the best.”

Penn State goalkeeper Erin McNulty, who came up with three saves in the game, also has ties to Florida State. McNulty was the starting goalkeeper for FSU a couple of years ago, but lost her spot to Wyes. With eligibility left after graduation, McNulty transferred to Penn State. While this could be great fuel for revenge, McNulty said the game wasn’t about her history with Florida Stat

“I think I’m just as happy to beat Florida State as I would have been had we beaten any other team,” McNulty said. “I think that bringing any of my personal experience into it would be kind of selfish of me, especially since our team has been doing so well. The attention should be on our team.  Again, I’m just so proud of our team and getting to our first national championship I couldn’t be more happy.”

Sunday’s championship between Penn State and North Carolina begins at 4 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPNU.

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