Penn State routs Illini soccer 6-0 behind Schoepfer’s hat trick

What started out as an opportunity for the Illinois soccer team to bolster its postseason resume ended in nightmarish fashion Sunday after a 6-0 loss at Penn State.

Illinois and Penn State faced different circumstances entering the match, as the Illini (6-7-3, 1-4-2) were forced to fly out to University Park, Pa., after a rain-soaked 3-0 loss to Ohio State on Thursday, while the Nittany Lions (9-5-2, 5-1-1) had an open week to train.

The varying levels of fatigue showed, as Illinois staved off the Penn State attack early by coming out with four midfielders, yet couldn’t keep the Nittany Lions off the board, allowing forward Katie Schoepfer to pick up the first of her three goals in the 23rd minute. The goal, which came on a cross and a turn in front of the Illini defense, was the first hat trick of Schoepfer’s career and came a week after being named co-Big Ten offensive player of the week.

“It wasn’t a six-goal game from penalty box to penalty box. The difference was how (Penn State had) confidence inside the box to score goals. We didn’t have the team confidence we need to have inside the penalty box, and that’s a problem we have to solve,” head coach Janet Rayfield said.

“We had a lot of success holding the ball… but tired legs, being on the road, being stretched out a little bit, we just need to do a better job of keeping the ball,” assistant coach Christian Michner added.

The Illini appeared poised to tie the game about 10 minutes before halftime when a swarm of orange jerseys formed in the Nittany Lions’ box, but no one stepped up with a dangerous shot on goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, a pattern that would plague the Illini for the much of the game.

Junior Danielle Toney, who came into the game leading Penn State with 21 points, put the Nittany Lions up 2-0 with seconds left in the first half, and the Illini were unable to recover from the momentum swing.

After a scoreless 20 minutes to start the second half, Schoepfer and company put the Illini away for good by scoring three goals in six minutes. Schoepfer’s second and third goals of the game were followed by senior Alli Rago chipping in her first goal of the season and freshman Maddy Evans netting the team’s sixth goal, marking the first time the Nittany Lions had scored six goals since 2005.

The Illini were outshot 19-12 and were held without a goal for the second straight match.