Women’s Soccer Leans On Veteran Talent To Anchor The Back Line
In its College Cup run to a National Championship, Penn State women’s soccer refused to do one thing: concede a goal.
The defense held off opponents’ attacks for 733 consecutive minutes, which included the Big Ten semifinals, final, and the entire NCAA Tournament. The feat was heralded in college soccer circles and without a senior on the back line, Penn State’s incredible defense was primed to stifle its competitors once again in the 2016 season.
However, it was announced officially hours prior to the opening game of the season that Penn State would be redshirting four players to play for the United States in the U-20 World Cup — three of whom were defenders.
The defense was left with two of its core players, Brittany Basinger and Elizabeth Ball, to integrate a handful of freshman and inexperienced players at the collegiate level into the bread and butter of the Championship run. After some issues in the opening few games, the defense has come into its own with five shutouts in its last eight games.
“Defensively as a team, we’ve gotten a whole lot better,” Coach Erica Dambach said. “It was a big area of focus for a couple of weeks there, and I think all the way from the strikers back to Amanda Dennis, they’ve been very good. I think the back line has come together as a unit and it’s made a big difference for us.”
Basinger and Ball have played a huge role in the transformation of this young defense, which starts a freshman, a sophomore who had just one start last season, plus a freshman goalkeeper behind them.
Basinger is a redshirt junior outside back. She has started every single game of her career as a Nittany Lion with the exception of the season she redshirted to partake in the U-20 World Cup. Often getting into the attack on the flanks, she’s tallied six assists in her career including two this season.
Ball is a center back who’s been the rock for the Penn State back line the past two seasons. She’s a converted forward who still has a knack for scoring goals as one of the main targets on set pieces in her three seasons with the Nittany Lions.
The two of them were tasked with bringing in this young group and getting them up to the high standards they set last season.
“We’ve definitely grown through this season,” Basinger said. “The newcomers in the back line have really stepped up this season and helped us come together as one big unit back there.”
“The two of us have really tried to step up and communicate,” Ball continued. “Just make sure we’re all on the same page.”
In particular, Ball and Basinger have been important in the emergence of freshman defender Grace Fisk.
Fisk, an English youth international, joined the team August 1. With most players having time to mesh during the spring and just more than two weeks before the start of the season, getting Fisk acclimated to the college game in time was be a tough task.
But according to the freshman who’s started all but the first game of the season, the two veterans have been key in helping her meet the demands of college soccer.
“I play between [Basinger] and [Ball],” Fisk said. “So it’s just like, look left and I’m learning, look right and I’m learning. It’s been great. They’re always talking to me, helping me out, and encouraging me.”
With the defense succeeding in a critical portion of the season, Dambach can’t say enough of what the veterans of the back line have meant to its success.
“I would give them a ton of credit in the success of the defense right now,” Dambach said. “They’ve been vocal. They keep a high standard. So certainly they’ve been a huge part in bringing the young group along.”
Coming off a tie Thursday night against Indiana, the Nittany Lions will be back in action Sunday on the road against Maryland.