Penn State women’s soccer head coach Erica Dambach believes in giving her players the best possible summer training experience, even if it isn’t in State College.
“Over the years, we’ve tried to provide the student-athletes with opportunities to go play if they choose to,” Dambach said Friday. “Sometimes they’ll go back to their hometown, sometimes they’ll train here on campus with our strength coach, but sometimes they take the chance to go and train in a different environment.”
A few years ago, Britt Eckerstrom and Mallory Weber spent the summer working out in Colorado. This offseason, a quintet of Nittany Lions including Charlotte Williams, Emily Ogle, Maddie Elliston, Laura Freigang, and Shea Moyer are training with the Seattle Sounders Women. The club was formed in 2001 but joined the Women’s Premier Soccer League in 2016 after the USL-W League shut down. It’s a tier below the NWSL, which was founded in 2012.
— Penn State WSOC (@PennStateWSOC) June 19, 2017
Dambach said she spent time this spring hunting around for the perfect environment for a select group of her players to train. She called coaches from some of the other top programs in college soccer to see where they were sending their student-athletes and quickly came to a consensus.
“Time after time it kept coming back that Seattle would be the best place for the players to [go]this summer,” Dambach said. “In talking with these guys, it sounds like it’s been an incredible experience for them. They’ve spent the last two weeks actually training with the pro team out there — Seattle Reign FC.”
The Nittany Lions had a special chance to learn from Megan Rapinoe, one of the game’s most talented and creative midfielders. Moyer, a freshman who enrolled at Penn State last spring, even went head-to-head with the U.S. women’s national team star in practice. “For somebody like Shea, that’s a dream come true,” Dambach said.
While a handful of their teammates are still in Seattle, Penn State’s two-time captains Brittany Basinger and Elizabeth Ball are hard at work here on campus organizing team activities.
“Britt and E have really dedicated themselves to pulling this team together right now,” Dambach said. “They both had a fabulous spring, both individually as players and in their fitness, but more importantly, collectively for our team, they’ve certainly established themselves with their peers as the two to turn to.”
Penn State’s roster is loaded with depth at each position, and it returns five players who missed the 2016 season to play in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea. Ogle, Elliston, Kaleigh Riehl, Ellie Jean, and Rose Chandler took redshirts last fall, but now they’re fully focused on leading the program to another national championship. Perhaps the main storyline heading into this season is the competition between Chandler and incumbent starter Amanda Dennis in goal.
“The philosophy of iron sharpens iron will definitely be the case all over the field, but specifically in the goalkeeping area. [They’re] obviously two top international goalkeepers that train hard, they push each other; it’s an ideal situation,” Dambach said. “Whichever one happens to be the choice for the day, they’re gonna be prepared to get in.”
The Nittany Lions also have a small but talented incoming group of freshmen who Dambach thinks can make an early impact. Like the rest of their new teammates, this bunch has logged plenty of time on the international stage.
Moyer, Kerry Abello, Emma Thomson, and Frankie Tagliaferri have all trained with the U.S. youth national teams, while Casey Ballow led her high school team, Urbana, to a 3A Maryland state championship as a senior. Thomson and Tagliaferri were recently named Gatorade State Players of the Year for Illinois and New Jersey, respectively.
“With Shea coming in early, she feels like she’s already a part of our program,” Dambach said. “I think that we’re gonna have players in that group that are gonna be able to come in and push and help us right away.”