UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The top-seeded Penn State Nittany Lions entered the 2006 Big Ten Tournament championship game in search of their first title in five years. Despite locking down the regular season championship for nine consecutive seasons, the Nittany Lions knew claiming tournament title was anything but a lock. With the homecrowd support at Penn State's Jeffrey Field, the squad came out roaring to take a 3-1 lead over second-seeded Illinois in the first half.
With six minutes left in the first half, Allie Long drilled a penalty kick into the left corner while Illinois goalkeeper Lindsay Carstens bit right to give Penn State a 2-1 lead. Under the two minute mark, the Nittany Lions capitalized on their third corner kick opportunity when Long sent the ball into Katie Schoepfer at the goal line. The freshman forward redirected the kick past Illinois keeper Lindsay Carstens for a 3-1 Penn State lead.
The Nittany Lions jumped on the board first when Ashely Dwyer attacked down the left side off of a pass from Aubrey Aden-Buie to beat Illinois defender Kristy Weeks into the box. With only the Illini keeper between her and the goal, Dwyer played the ball off of her shoulder and faked out Carstens in the six-yard box for a 1-0 Penn State lead.
It marked the first goal allowed by Carstens in five games, with the last coming in Illinois' loss to Michigan on October 15.
Illinois tried to level the game at 1-all with 14 minutes left in the half, lining up a goldern scoring opportunity on a corner kick from Weeks. A diving Penn State goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher pulled in the save from the ground after Kara Gostisha attempted to send the ball between the posts with a header.
The Illini tied it up up on a corner kick with eight minutes left to play.
Ella Masar delivered the high kick into traffic, but the ball remained untouched and went right through the hands of Naeher.
Penn State almost struck 20 minutes in when Dwyer got the free kick rebound off the Illinois defense. Denay Riley intercepted Dwyer's shot right outside the goal line, but the junior defender couldn't fight off Illinios' Carstens.
In the 15th minute, the Illini earned their first dangerous scoring opportunity. Eva Strickland crossed to Masar who was waiting in the middle of the six-yard box. The shot from the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year went right to Naeher between the posts, who alsmost watched the ball sneak past the goal line as she slipped. The rookie keeper managed to fall right on the ball and keep the score at zeroes.
Both teams were aggressive early in a back-and-forth battle. Masar put Illinois on the offensive from the first kick, charging against Penn State defender Jessie Davis down to the 18-yard box before sending a kick well wide of the goal.
In the 12th minute, the Nittany Lions were the first get in a shot on goal. Dwyer launched it into the box with Sheree Gray wide open about six yards out, but Gray couldn't get past Carstens to complete the play.
Illinois' title hopes weren't diminished by the first half results, and the only conference team to have beaten Penn State since 2003 came out in the second stanza ready for a physical half. Right of the bat, Illinois had a huge corner kick opportunity but couldn't capitalize as Gostisha's header sailed wide.
In the 54th minute, Masar beat Ali Kreiger in the box, but her shot missed by about six inches right of the goal and Naeher puched it out of bounds for the save. On the ensuing corner kick, the Illini again nearly put in a goal on a header from Masar, but Carly Bedesem kicked it out with a huge save from the goal line.
With 11 minutes left in the game, Big Ten Defensive Co-Player of the Year Emily Zurrer battled with Aden-Buie, charging the length of the field into Penn State offensive territory. Aden-Buie tried to fake out Zurrer, but the Illinois defender regained her footing and was able to halt the scoring threat.
Sharing those annals with Zurrer is Penn State's Ali Kreiger who was sent to the sideline at the end of the first half after a collision with Illinois Ella Masar. The relentless Kreiger returned in the second half as the x-factor for the Nittany Lion defense in the unit's staunch effort against the potent Illinois offense.
Penn State's Zoe Bouchelle had a chance to stretch the lead to three going one-on-one with Carstens with less than six minutes less to play. Bouchelle kicked it ahead but couldn't catch up with again. Less than a minute later, the junior midfielder had another opportunity with a header deep inside the box, but again Carstens came up with the save.
The tournament title marked the Nittany Lions' fourth overall and second on their own Jeffrey Field after claiming the crown when they hosted the event in 1998. Penn State also notched back-to-back titles from 2000-01.
Penn State earned the No. 1 seed in the tournament after capturing its ninth-straight title with an 8-1-1 conference record. No. 12 in the nation, Penn State holds a 15-2-0 record against the Illini after falling 3-2 in their only Big Ten loss this year on Oct. 1.
At the conclusion of the game, the 2006 All-Tournament Team was announced with Penn State sweeping MVP honors. Krieger received the nod for her defensive performance, while Aden-Buie picked up the offensive award after scoring three times and notching two assists.
All the action from the 2006 Tournament final will be televised Monday, Nov. 6, on CSTV at 2 p.m. ET. The NCAA women's soccer selection show will also be aired between 3-4 p.m. on Monday on ESPNews.