Throughout her storied career, Penn State women’s soccer co-captain Elizabeth Ball has played her best when the Nittany Lions need her most.
Ball’s head coach, Erica Dambach, knows she can count on her to lead the back line with a strong voice and an even stronger mentality.
“E-Ball’s a different breed. She’s an absolute mental monster,” Dambach said. “I think this team looks to her in these moments to provide strength, to provide guidance, and she never disappoints.”
Ball has come up clutch for the Nittany Lions on plenty of occasions this season, helping a dominant defense give up just 15 goals in 23 matches. The senior defender from Richmond, Va., tallied a goal and an assist in Penn State’s 3-1 win over West Virginia last Friday.
Ball and junior midfielder Alina Ortega Jurado garnered TopDrawerSoccer Team of the Week honors for their performances in the Morgantown regional.
“OJ is one of the hardest-working players on our team,” Ball said. “She’s small but she really just makes a difference every single time she comes in whether or not she’s starting.”
The No. 3 seed Nittany Lions clash with top-ranked Stanford Friday at 5 p.m. ET at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium in Palo Alto for a berth in the College Cup in Orlando. Penn State currently owns a 12-1 advantage over its opponents in goal differential heading into the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
“We just try to pull teams apart, and it’s good when we can keep the ball and keep it moving — and once we find our opening go for it,” Ball said.
Dambach put together a brutal non-conference schedule in hopes of preparing her team for another shot at the national championship. Though there were some bumps along the way, Ball is confident it readied the Nittany Lions for this enormous test against the Cardinal. Penn State won 2-0 the last time these teams saw each other in 2015.
“I definitely think all the adversity is only going to help us,” she said. “Being down a goal, being in a weather delay, all that just shows how much grit our team has and how up for it we are.”
Penn State didn’t let a pair of lengthy lightning delays derail its goal of winning a Big Ten championship, rallying past Northwestern 2-1 for its seventh conference tournament crown on Nov. 5. Sophomore midfielder Laura Freigang scored Penn State’s first goal in that match and has shown a flair for the dramatic all season, leading the team with nine goals.
“Sometimes we joke that she does it on purpose,” Ball said of Freigang’s late-game heroics. “She loves that. She’s just a strong player, she can finish. It’s incredible that she’s been able to come through for us at these very important moments.”
Ball said the physical nature of Big Ten soccer gives the Nittany Lions an advantage when heading to the West Coast to face an outstanding Stanford squad that’s 21-1 on the year. The preferred style of play tends to be more possession-based in the Pac-12.
Redshirt junior defender Maddie Elliston couldn’t be more complimentary of her teammate, saying her toughness and versatility is what truly makes her stand out. It certainly won’t be an issue in California, but Ball, who seemingly never gets cold, has yet to wear long sleeves in a college match.
“She’s a beast — physically, mentally — she’s a great leader, a great captain, a great person,” Elliston said. “I trust her to go score some goals, to knock someone on their butt.”