Freshmen Grace Fisk And Laura Freigang Find Early Success For Women’s Soccer
Grace Fisk and Laura Freigang arrived at Penn State a little over two weeks before the team’s first match, but despite the minimal preparation time, the English and German true freshmen made an immediate impact.
Fisk, who hails from Bromley, London, made her first career start on defense in the season opener against West Virginia, while Freigang, an Oppenheim native, entered the match off the bench and quickly scored her first collegiate goal, earning her Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
“I couldn’t have wished for a better start, except for maybe winning the game, but it was a great feeling,” Freigang said following Tuesday’s practice. “The crowd was amazing…It was one of the best nights ever.”
Head coach Erica Dambach discussed how Fisk and Freigang have been able to bring a different mentality to the 19th-ranked Nittany Lions, as they both have extensive experience playing on the youth international stage. But their upbeat personalities are what really set them apart from your typical, wide-eyed freshmen.
“They’re a riot. They’re so much fun to have around,” Dambach said. “I think the team’s really enjoying them, and vice versa. Just a little bit of a different flair. They see the game in a different way, they talk about the game in a different way, and I think it brings so much to the experience of all of our student-athletes. They’ve been an absolute pleasure to have within this squad.”
Dambach also mentioned how the team’s international recruiting has continued to improve under the direction of assistant coach Tim Wassell, and why it’s so beneficial to have players from many different backgrounds.
“I tip my hat to Tim Wassell, our recruiting coordinator,” Dambach said. “He’s done a nice job of getting us into the international market, and really made some headway in that area. They’ve been a really big part of our program, obviously, starting with Rocky [Rodríguez], but even before that, we’ve had plenty of international players come through here. I think that it’s something that we feel is important to our entire program, is making sure that we expose our players to the highest level in the world.”
Dambach complemented Fisk’s work ethic and how she’s really hitting her stride just two months after touching down in State College. “I think she started the season trying to figure out what college soccer was all about. I think the Friday-Sunday caught her off-guard a little bit, because she’s never played this much soccer in her life…But I’ll tell you what, she’s quietly put together a tremendous freshman season.”
Fisk netted her first goal off a corner kick in a 2-0 win over La Salle, but for her, playing shutdown defense is without a doubt the top priority. “Scoring felt great,” Fisk said, “but I take more pride in clean sheets and shutouts, which I think, as a back four and as a team in general, we’ve been doing really well.”
She’s started 10 matches thus far for the Nittany Lions (didn’t play against San Diego State) alongside fellow backs Brittany Basinger, Elizabeth Ball, and Alina Ortega Jurado, as well as goalkeeper Amanda Dennis. “I play in between Britt and E, and obviously, they’re amazing,” Fisk said. “I have Britt on one side, E on the other, so l’m just like, ‘Look left, learning. Look right, learning.’ They’re always talking to me, always helping me out, encouraging me. And OJ on the other side — wizard, she just does her thing. We have Amanda as well at goalie. She’s also a freshman, but she doesn’t act like it, she’s crazy good.”
Fisk and Freigang touched upon their respective recruiting processes and how they decided Penn State was the place for them. Both came away amazed with what University Park had to offer, not just from a soccer standpoint, but also from a lifestyle and an educational perspective.
“I was looking around places in England and nothing was really appealing to me,” Fisk said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and then Tim kind of randomly messaged me — he had watched me play. I don’t like saying fate, but I guess it would be that, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or college or university or anything. I had a couple of friends who had been out in the States and they had the time of their lives. Everything kind of fell into place. I looked Penn State up and it just looked amazing.”
Freigang, who’s played in eight matches with two starts, knew right away that Happy Valley was for her. Once she made the trip to check out the soccer facilities and see what the atmosphere on campus was like, she was sold. “I Skyped with Coach [Dambach] and Tim a couple of times and decided to look at this place,” Freigang said. “I came over in March and I really liked it, it was amazing, and I immediately knew I wanted to come here after visiting.”
Both have spent plenty of time with their respective youth national teams and Freigang feels the opportunity was an excellent way to prepare her for college soccer and perhaps a call-up to the full squad down the road. “Playing with the German youth national teams, everything’s very professional, and it’s the same case here,” Freigang said. “We have a very high level of training [at Penn State] and that’s kind of similar to what we have in Germany.”
The Nittany Lions’ lone senior, Nicky Driesse, has taken Freigang under her wing this fall and taught her some of the intricacies of playing midfield in the Big Ten. “I think one thing that I’ve learned from her is talking all the time. She’s talking, organizing, coaching everybody, and it’s helpful having a player like that,” Freigang said. “She’s one of the players I look up to and can learn from a lot.”
While some believe the American style of play lacks the kind of detail-oriented passing that signifies a disciplined international team, Fisk doesn’t think there’s any drop off from the level she played against in England and what the Nittany Lions see in each conference match.
“I feel like America has this perception, it’s not as technical, but it is,” Fisk said. “I don’t feel like the standard’s lower at all or anything. I feel like maybe in the past it would have been, but now it’s a high standard…and it’s a good challenge for me.”
Fisk and Freigang have wasted little time making a connection with their new teammates. The chemistry they’ve been able to build in such a short period highlights how their glowing personalities are a perfect fit for the defending national champs.
“I’ve been here for two months, but I feel like I’ve been here for so much longer,” Fisk said. “I feel like I fit in fine and the girls have been so welcoming.”
There’s little doubt that these two have outstanding potential, and, judging from what we’ve seen already, Nittany Lion fans should be extremely excited about the next three years. You can catch them in action this Friday at 6:00 p.m. against Illinois at Jeffrey Field.