WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - As one of six teams fighting for the final three Big Ten Tournament berths, Purdue women's soccer travels to No. 12 Penn State for Friday's regular-season finale knowing it will need a positive result against the conference champion to extend its campaign.
Kickoff at Jeffrey Field in University Park is set for 7 p.m. A video webcast will be available live on the Internet at BTN.com or BTN2go.com (free for subscribers of specific cable networks), and the game will be televised via tape delay on the Big Ten Network Sunday, Oct. 30 at 6 p.m.
The Boilermakers (7-10-2, 4-5-1 Big Ten) enter the weekend in a three-way tie for seventh place with Michigan and Ohio State. Purdue currently owns the tiebreaker and would be the last team in the Big Ten Tournament field. But much is to be determined this weekend with Minnesota (14 standings points), Iowa (14), Purdue (13), Michigan (13), Ohio State (13) and Nebraska (12) all in action and looking to lockup a spot in the eight-team field.
Besides Purdue-Penn State, the other key games around the league includes: Nebraska at Minnesota (Friday), Iowa at Wisconsin (Saturday), Michigan at No. 20 Illinois (Saturday) and Indiana at Ohio State (Sunday). A victory for the Boilers would all but assure them a spot in the Big Ten Tournament field, but it would not be a 100 percent guarantee. For example, if Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan also won and Ohio State lost, Purdue would be the first team out. A draw vs. PSU would only aid the Boilers with a lot of help from other teams.
Purdue currently wins a three-way tiebreaker with Michigan and OSU thanks in part to Big Ten goal differential. Because Purdue defeated Ohio State, Michigan defeated Purdue and Ohio State defeated Michigan, the standard head-to-head tiebreaker is not applicable. The Wolverines enter the weekend with the poorest goal differential (minus-4), eliminating them from the tiebreaker. Purdue's head-to-head win vs. OSU then comes into play. However, even if Purdue, Michigan and OSU all lost and goal differential remained the same, Nebraska could leap frog all three teams and earn the final tournament berth.
The Boilermakers and Wolverines face the toughest tests this weekend. Purdue takes on a Penn State (16-3, 9-1 Big Ten) team that has won 10 in a row since dropping its conference opener at Wisconsin, and is 7-0 in Happy Valley this fall. Michigan squares off against an Illinois team that has won seven straight games, and is 7-1 in Champaign-Urbana this season. But having locked up the first and second seeds in the Big Ten Tournament, the Nittany Lions and Fighting Illini only have NCAA Tournament seeding prospects to play for.
With Penn State having clinched its 14th consecutive regular-season Big Ten title Sunday, it makes sense that the Boilers have struggled more against PSU than any other conference rival. The Nittany Lions lead the all-time series 10-1-1. Last year's game in West Lafayette marked the first time the teams had squared off when PSU was not nationally ranked. Purdue's only positive results in the series were a draw in 2001 and a weather-shortened win in 2003. Penn State has won seven straight in the series and each of the previous six meetings in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions are led by the nation's leading goal scorer, sophomore forward Maya Hayes. She has scored 12 of her 25 goals in Big Ten play. Penn State has managed to score three or more goals in seven of its 10 Big Ten games. Only Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota were able to slow down the PSU attack. The Nittany Lions still managed to win the Illinois and Minnesota games, 1-0.
For the season, eight of PSU's 16 goals against have come in just two games. Stanford and Nebraska both managed to score four times. Penn State still found a way to defeat the Huskers, 5-4.
Purdue led last year's game in West Lafayette for the first 16 minutes after an opening-minute goal from Kaitlyn Blacha. But with six goals in a span of just over 60 minutes, the Nittany Lions quickly pulled away. Blacha is the only active Boiler with a goal against PSU, accounting for Purdue's first in the series since 2005.
Kellie Phillips and Hayes represent the two most prolific goal scorers in the Big Ten over the last month. Phillips has a goal in a Purdue record five consecutive games, and eight scores in the last seven games. Hayes has scored in six straight contests, accounting for 10 goals during that stretch.
With her 20th career goal Sunday in the win at Minnesota, Phillips joined Lauren Sesselmann (34 goals, 22 assists) as the only players in program history to reach the 20-20 club. Phillips has now scored against eight of the other 11 Big Ten teams, all but Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State.
Even if the Boilers cannot earn a win or a draw Friday, they still may not know their Big Ten Tournament fate until Sunday and the conclusion of the Indiana-Ohio State game. However, a Purdue loss coupled with a Nebraska win at Minnesota Friday would officially eliminate the Boilers from tourney contention.