Looking Back On A Women’s Soccer Season For The Ages
Erica Walsh’s Nittany Lions spent nine years preparing for Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015. Ironically, when the ladies in blue and white finally realized their dream of ascending to the pinnacle of women’s college soccer — thanks to a thrilling 1-0 victory over Duke in the National Championship (the first in program and Big Ten history) — the accomplishment marked another major milestone for the university: An incredible nine-straight years with at least one national title.
No. 1 Penn State (22-3-2, 8-2-1 B1G) put together a spectacular run during the course of the fall semester, spanning from an electric standing-room-only crowd at Jeffrey Field for the team’s season opener, a 2-1 win against Hofstra, all the way to Cary, N.C. for the College Cup. In fact, while tying the school record for home wins with 14 (2005-’06), the Nittany Lions also set the bar for attendance with an unprecedented 21,078 total fans for their 16 University Park matches.
Walsh, who has 157 wins during her nine-year Penn State tenure, watched her squad blend the perfect balance of offensive firepower and shutdown defense. The Nittany Lions found the back of the net on 64 occasions this season (32 in both the first and second halves), while their opponents managed to score on senior goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom only 14 times, a ridiculous 50-goal disparity. If you think that’s impressive, consider what the Nittany Lions did on their way to the championship. In six NCAA Tournament matches, Penn State put up an unthinkable 20-0 clip. Below, we’ll further break down the Nittany Lions’ stellar season, going into detail on each of the classes (27 team members in all) that made it happen:
Penn State’s senior class could not have pictured a better way to go out than the dream scenario it experienced this past weekend. After falling to heavyweight North Carolina 4-1 in the 2012 National Championship as freshmen, losing in the round of 32 to Wake Forest as sophomores, and dropping their Elite Eight showdown with Texas A&M as juniors, these five ladies helped write a storybook ending to their careers in 2015.
None of this would be possible without the efforts of San José, Costa Rica, native Raquel Rodríguez. Rocky, as her teammates call her, was an essential part of Penn State’s dominant midfield. The versatile Rodríguez, who was named an NSCAA First-Team All-American, finished with six goals and assists apiece, none bigger than her game-winner in the National Championship. Rodríguez also scored the first-ever Women’s World Cup goal for Costa Rica this past summer in Canada. You can vote Rodríguez for the prestigious MAC Hermann Trophy — the Heisman of women’s college soccer — right here. Voting ends Dec. 10 at midnight.
— Onward State (@OnwardState) December 6, 2015
Eckerstrom undoubtedly provided Penn State’s identity as a team opponents feared when they took the pitch. The savvy veteran from Germantown, Md., continued to prove herself as one of the most athletic and disciplined keepers in the nation, calling the shots for the Nittany Lions’ underclassmen-led backline.
Novi, Mich., forward Mallory Weber was named a First-Team All-Big Ten selection alongside Rodríguez, while dishing out a team-high 11 assists and adding eight goals, four of which proved to be game-winners. Weber’s leadership cannot be understated, as she consistently offered a guiding voice for the predominantly-young Nittany Lions. You can vote Weber for the Soccer News Net College Boot until Dec. 16 right here.
Teddy Chase (Wayne, Pa.) and Megan Ritchey, a State College native, saw action in nine and six matches respectively. Ritchey came on in relief during Penn State’s 6-0 blowout victory over Boston University in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and recorded a career-high two assists.
Surprisingly, Penn State only boasts three juniors on its 2015 roster, leading to the wealth of young guns filling out the underclassman ranks. Midfielder Nickolette Driesse (Wayne, N.J.) transferred to Happy Valley from Florida State, and has been a great addition to the Nittany Lions’ offensive efforts, tallying four goals and six assists this fall. Driesse was a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team U-20 World Cup squad that also took the pitch in Canada last summer.
Midfielder Salina Williford, who also hails from Wayne, Pa., like Chase, redshirted this season after starting all 24 matches for the Nittany Lions in 2014. Penn State will undoubtedly love to have her back next fall. Interestingly, defender Anna Witte, who conducted the preseason team interviews for GoPSUTV, grew up in Morrisville, N.C. — attending Cary High School — minutes from where the team recently captured the College Cup at WakeMed Soccer Park. She made one appearance against Arkansas on Aug. 30.
Penn State’s goal-scoring efforts were paced by second-year standouts, Megan Schafer and Frannie Crouse. Schafer, who hails from Langhorne, Pa., the same hometown as James Franklin, topped the stat sheet with a terrific 13 goals. Crouse (Greensburg, Pa.) notched the most shots on goal of any Nittany Lion (40), connecting on 11 of them. The clutch Crouse tallied five postseason goals, including the all-important first strike of Penn State’s 2-0 win over Rutgers in the Final Four.
Schafer and midfielder Emily Ogle were honored with Second-Team All-B1G nods. A Strongsville, Ohio, native, Ogle — recognizable by her signature bobbing curls — came on strong down the stretch for the Nittany Lions. Aside from starting each and every match of her Penn State career, Ogle was extremely productive on the biggest stages, as she wound up scoring four of her seven goals in the NCAA tourney — highlighted by a three-point outing (two goals) against Albany — in the 5-0 first-round win. Ogle also has experience playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team U-20 squad.
A pair of starting Nittany Lion defenders, Brittany Basinger and Maddie Elliston (both U-20 members) helped make the unit one of the most feared in the country. The duo proved excellent at tracking down countless attacks and boosting the ball upfield to their teammates. Basinger’s first career goal couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Purcellville, Va., product struck paydirt in Penn State’s enormous 2-0 road victory over then-No. 2 Stanford on Sept. 11. She would find the back of the net again versus Albany. Elliston, who joined the starters as the season wore on, added an assist.
Elizabeth Ball (Richmond, Va.) was arguably Penn State’s steadiest defender, logging the third-most minutes on the team (2,318), behind only Eckerstrom and superb true freshman Kaleigh Riehl. Ball picked up three goals on the season, one of which was the game-winner against Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament final, marking the sixth time the Nittany Lions had captured the B1G postseason crown. Additionally, Penn State has garnered at least a share of the regular-season conference crown a shocking 17 of the past 18 seasons.
Rounding out the sophomore class, midfielder Haleigh Echard (Lebanon, Pa.) scored her lone goals on the season in back-to-back fashion in the NCAA Tournament, a stellar score with eight seconds left against Boston University and the final goal of the 4-0 drubbing of Ohio State. Joining Echard were fellow reserves Lilsi Vink-Lainas (Wynantskill, N.Y.), who finished the season with an assist, and defenders Isabelle Clauss (Clarks Summitt, Pa.), and Naperville, Ill., native Angela Widlacki.
Kaleigh Riehl exploded onto the scene early for the Nittany Lions, starting each match of her debut campaign. Riehl, who hails from Fairfax Station, Va., was named to both the Second-Team and All-Freshman Big Ten Teams. Riehl logged a goal and a pair of assists, while playing 2,360 minutes, good for second on the squad.
Joining Riehl as B1G All-Freshman selections were speedy midfielder Charlotte Williams (Rochester, N.Y.), who scored the most goals of all first-year players with three, while adding seven assists, and forward Alina Ortega-Jurado (Wetzlar, Germany). Ortega-Jurado should certainly add to her marks of one goal and three assists next season, while Williams will again be a key cog in the Nittany Lions’ midfield in 2016. Coventry, Conn., native Ellie Jean was yet another encouraging newcomer on defense — starting 21 of the 26 matches she played in this year — while dishing out six assists.
Sellersville, Pa., midfielder Marissa Sheva — a dual-sport athlete who also runs long-distance track and cross country events for Penn State — was a steady first-time contributor for the Nittany Lions, registering a trio of goals and assists. Midfielder Cecilia Knaubb (Phoenixville, Pa.) and defender Taylor Campbell-Phipps (State College, Pa.) saw action in nine matches apiece this season. Bristow, Va., forward Kristin Schnurr used her redshirt in 2015.
Rose Chandler (Atlanta, Ga.) will almost certainly get her shot in net next season, taking over for the graduated Eckerstrom. Chandler played in five matches this season and — like Driesse, Ogle, Basinger, and Elliston — has seen time with the U-20 team. The rising redshirt sophomore made two appearances with the U.S. in Spain this past October.
2015 was an unforgettable season for Penn State women’s soccer that saw the Nittany Lions accomplish a litany of goals in more ways than one. Next fall, Walsh’s ladies will enter the season with plenty of momentum as they prepare to defend their National Championship.