Illini come of age
They might have been newcomers to the Big Ten tournament, but two Illini freshmen looked like veterans in the biggest game of the season.
Goalkeeper Sarah Anderson showed the form that won her the starting job late in the season.
And when starter Lindsay Johnson left for good 12 minutes into the game with a leg injury, Jennifer Smith got her chance.
Smith, who got some relief from fellow freshman Kelly Walker, launched one shot on goal.
"(Smith) was thrown into the fire," Taliaferro said. "She came out there, didn't miss a beat and worked until she couldn't go anymore. She was thrown into the second round of the Big Ten as a freshman, and she made an impact for us."
Anderson made a career-high 13 saves – several of highlight-reel quality – as Illinois was outshot 36-11.
She challenged onrushing Nittany Lions attackers in the open field and intercepted a few of Penn State's 13 corner kicks.
"Anderson was fantastic," Taliaferro said. "Just from her first game against Ohio State in the middle of the season to this game, she was great. She was all over the place. She was communicating and making saves she needed to."
Illinois midfielder Emily Brown, who scored the Illini goal, missed some minutes while suffering from migraine headaches.
Illini Field will make its broadcast debut when Sunday's championship is broadcast on Fox Sports Chicago.
Mike Liederman will handle play-by-play, and Richard Broad, who was at Friday's semifinals, will do color.
Broad, the former men's soccer coach at George Mason, has been a part-time broadcaster for 12 years and worked on ESPN's "College Soccer Weekly."
He praised Brown, Colleen Joyce and Lisa Baldwin throughout the Penn State game. Broad also believes Illinois should be rewarded with an NCAA berth Sunday.
"You can't tell me there's 48 teams better than Illinois," Broad said. "They're dangerous."
There was no dramatic finish this time for Big Ten Player of the Year Christie Welsh.
Welsh, the injured star who scored the winner with less than a minute left in Penn State's quarterfinal match with Minnesota, played the final 12 minutes of the first and second halves, reeling off four shots. But she sat during the overtime periods.
"She was allotted 10 minutes each half and no more time for the overtime," Penn State assistant coach Paula Wilkins said. "She was done for the game."
Joyce said the Nittany Lions were tough enough without Welsh to worry about the Big Ten scoring leader.
"They're all of equal caliber up there, so we weren't going to be that worried if she didn't come in the game or not," Joyce said. "She's a great player. She's amazing. But I think (Meghan) Kolze and Sue Hodson played amazing today.
"Everyone as a team, especially the defense, played amazing today."