Women’s Soccer Hitting Its Stride As Big Ten Season Commences
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the Penn State women’s soccer team this season.
Following the departure of all three captains from last season’s College Cup winning team, the Nittany Lions looked like they still had the depth to continue their success.
But with the U-20 World Cup taking place during the season in November and December, Head Coach Erica Dambach decided it would be best to redshirt players that would be missing this crucial period in the season. Goalkeeper Rose Chandler, who already used her redshirt year, is also missing to take part in the World Cup.
The first couple games were tough. Penn State tied West Virginia and lost to UCLA and BYU. The offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders and the defense made some mistakes due to blatant inexperience. It makes sense — four of the five missing players are defenders or goalkeepers. The other is a holding midfielder, a position that plays a key role on both the offensive and defensive ends of play.
The loss also showed in the rankings — Penn State fell from No. 2 down to No. 16.
The Nittany Lions had a bit of a breakthrough in a win over then No. 18 Long Beach State. Penn State managed to get a win against a ranked opponent for the first time this season. Since that match, Penn State is on a three-game winning streak.
A few factors are playing into the team’s apparent turnaround, but none compare to Frannie Crouse’s prolific goal-front presence.
In her first four games of the season, Crouse scored one goal and one assist, both of which came in the loss to BYU. In her latest three games, she’s scored five times including a pair of braces against San Diego State and nationally-ranked Long Beach State.
As a forward, you need service to score goals. Crouse noted that her recent form couldn’t be possible without the quality play her teammates have shown in recent weeks.
“I give all my credit to my teammates,” she said. “I couldn’t get the ball without them. So when my team’s playing well, I step up and play well too.”
As important as it is to create the scoring opportunities, it means nothing unless Crouse converts those chances.
“Just her confidence and the team’s confidence in her [is paramount],” Dambach said. “Every time she gets the ball, we feel like she’s going to be dangerous. She feels that way and with all athletes, confidence is the key.”
Since getting shutout by UCLA, the offense has gone on a scoring spree. But what about the defense that gave up three goals on three turnovers against BYU? That game was a turning point.
“We haven’t given up a goal in the run of play since BYU. I’m proud of the way the defense has come together. They’re a young group and they’re getting better each game,” Dambach said.
With this win, Penn State enters Big Ten play 4-2-1. Despite all of the departures and thanks to a three-game winning streak, the Nittany Lions seem ready to take on the new challenges the conference schedule entails.
“We can’t wait for the Big Ten season,” Crouse said. “We always have high expectations in the Big Ten, but like the Big Ten is, you can dominate a game and lose. This has happened to us many times. So, we’re going to go in with the best we can and hope we pull off a win every time.”
Penn State opens Big Ten play on Friday against Minnesota. The Gophers were one of just two teams to beat the Nittany Lions in conference play last season, so the rematch could be a big chance for Penn State to really find its form.