School has begun, and the air is slowly but surely getting crisper. To denizens of the Park Avenue Army, that only means one thing: It’s time for Penn State soccer!
The start of the Penn State men’s soccer season is upon us, and there is a lot to be excited about. The team is coming off an excellent 2013 campaign, which saw the Nittany Lions finish the regular season as Big Ten Champions, post a record of 13-6-2 (including a 5-1-0 conference record), reach the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, and make the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
But, that was last year. Heading into this season, the Nittany Lions are ranked No. 15 in the NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Association of America) preseason poll. Despite winning the Big Ten in 2013, the Nittany Lions were picked to finish fourth in the conference, behind preseason favorite Maryland, Michigan State, and Michigan.
Head coach Bob Warming’s roster remains somewhat intact from last year, and returns some key seniors. Goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton, midfielder Owen Griffith, and forward Mikey Minutillo highlight the team’s top returning players. All three of these players have been named as Big Ten Preseason Players to Watch, making their presence crucial to the team’s success.
Senior goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton is the most significant returning player for the Nittany Lions. Wolverton had a phenomenal 2013 campaign. His list of honors include being named to the 2013 All-Big Ten First Team, the 2013 NSCAA All-Great Lakes First Team, and being recognized as the 2013 Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year. His mighty 6’6″, 222 pound frame makes him a monster in the net. The team feeds off of his presence, and thrives when he performs. Wolverton posted eight shutouts last season, along with a GAA of 0.81 and a save percentage of .809. Just as the US Men’s National Team has Tim Howard, Penn State has Andrew Wolverton.
Penn State’s ability to score goals and move the ball will be another catalyst to its success. Players like sophomore forwards Mark Wadid and Connor Maloney, along with Minutillo, will all generate a great deal of the offense. Where Maloney lacks in size (5’6″, 145 pounds) he makes up for in assist ability and his overall knack for making plays. His two goals and team-high seven assists in 2013 made him a facilitator up top, and he will undoubtedly be counted on again in 2014 to create scoring opportunities. Wadid scored three goals last year, and has big game experience as he was a stud on Canada’s Under-18 National Team. For Minutillo, 2014 will be a fresh start after missing all of 2013. His return to the pitch will be a welcome one for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State’s schedule kicks off with a three game home stretch at Jeffrey Field, starting on August 29th against Oakland, but a trio of Big Ten games highlight this year’s calendar. The first big matchup will be the September 13th showdown versus Indiana in Bloomington. This will be the first time that the Nittany Lions face the defending Big Ten tournament champs since falling on penalty kicks in the tournament semifinals. The team will be tested again when it heads to Ann Arbor on September 28th to take on Michigan. Finally, Penn State will face Big Ten preseason favorite Maryland for the first time as conference opponents on October 12 in College Park.
The Nittany Lions will have three games broadcasted on the Big Ten Network this season. The Big Ten Network slate begins with a road contest against the Wolverines on September 28th, followed by the trip to Maryland on October 12th, and concluding with senior day against Wisconsin on October 26th.
There is a buzz surrounding the Penn State men’s soccer program, and expectations are high. There’s no better way to cure that World Cup hangover than going out to support a team in position to have a special season!