Freshman Goalkeeper Amanda Dennis ‘Digs In’ For Women’s Soccer
Amanda Dennis — the freshman heir to Britt Eckerstrom’s castle and moat net at Jeffrey Field — has already proven to her teammates and coach Erica Dambach she can be one of the nation’s top young goalkeepers.
“She’s digging in right now. I think she learned some valuable lessons early and didn’t let it get to her too much. It made her better,” Dambach said following Tuesday’s practice. “She’s putting all the time and effort in she needs to be great and I think she’s got a really bright future.”
Dennis had her choice of elite college programs, but decided after ninth grade the cross-country move to Penn State offered her the best possible situation to succeed both on and off the pitch. She accomplished her goal of being the starter from day one.
“When I committed here, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. That was my goal,” Dennis said. “I committed at the end of my freshman year, so I had a lot of time to think about it and a lot of time to prepare.”
While most freshman goalkeepers typically spend their first years on campus observing from the sidelines, Dennis is already starting to play like a veteran with 26 saves and only eight goals allowed through nine matches. Redshirt sophomore Rose Chandler would have provided competition for the job this preseason, but she’s one-of-five Nittany Lions taking the year off to pursue a spot on the U.S. Women’s U-20 World Cup roster. The fearless six-foot Dennis helped Penn State to a big four-point weekend as it drew Minnesota 1-1 and escaped Madison with a huge 1-0 win over Wisconsin for her third career clean sheet.
“The physicality is just a whole other world. You can’t really explain Big Ten play, you can only experience it,” Dennis said. “For sure, I think we all experienced it this weekend, we had a lot of freshmen playing. It’s very physical, girls are very strong, girls are not gonna be afraid to hit you.”
Dennis had the opportunity to work out with Eckerstrom and absorb as much advice as she could from one of Penn State’s all-time greats before Eckerstrom was drafted in the third round of the 2016 NWSL College Draft.
“I came here early in the spring and I was able to train with her a bit before she went and got drafted [by] the Flash, which was really helpful, and over the summer, I was talking on the phone with her,” Dennis said. “Obviously, she was kind of in the same situation as me, coming in freshman year and having to start a bunch. She’s experienced it all, so it’s great to reach out to those players — they become your mentors in the long-run…and they can help you along the way.”
Dennis has spent countless hours in the film room analyzing what makes the pros tick and how she can improve her own consistency and preparedness in net. She’s logged extensive time with the U.S. developmental teams, in her own right, ranging from U-14 to U-20, and one day hopes to earn her first cap for Jill Ellis. Two goalies in particular who play for Ellis and the U.S. Women’s National Team stand out to her (hint: one’s a Penn State alum).
“Growing up, probably Ashlyn Harris, even though she went to [North Carolina],” Dennis said with a laugh. “I did watch her a lot. Alyssa Naeher I’ve been watching a lot recently as well since she went here. You always have to watch the pros, you always have to look and see the techniques they’re using. They’re at the highest level in the world, and that’s my goal, to play for the full national team as well, so they’ve gotta be your role models.”
Dennis touched on how her training with the U.S. and time spent on the international stage helped prepare her for the rigors of being the starting goalkeeper for the defending national champs. “You can play some of the best club teams in the country, but it’s nice to be able to go and play these international games [against] these foreign girls, cause there’s a lot of styles that you get to [see].”
The Nittany Lions went wheels up for a West Coast swing earlier this season with stops in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., which allowed Dennis’ friends and family the chance to see her play in-person against UCLA and Long Beach State.
“It was a nice little Homecoming. I had a lot of teammates there and their families out there, so it was a lot of fun,” Dennis said. “It’s kinda hard to get out here to Pennsylvania for a lot of my family and friends. Everybody was always like, ‘Why did you come to Pennsylvania?’ This is the greatest place to play soccer, the fans are fantastic, but it was nice to go home and have the California weather again.”
Dennis and Penn State will be back at Jeffrey Field for a weekend homestead against Iowa on Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Nebraska on Sunday at 1:00 p.m.