Penn State Fall Sports Are More Than Just Football
In the world of Happy Valley, where Penn State football is as hyped as it’s been in years with a top ten AP ranking and a serious Heisman contender in Saquon Barkley, it’s easy to forget the quality of the school’s teams outside of football.
This fall alone, Penn State has five teams ranked in the top 15 — No. 4 women’s soccer, No. 5 women’s volleyball, No. 6 football, No. 7 field hockey, and No. 11 women’s cross country.
Penn State, which tied for most NCAA titles (19) in the past 10 years, heads into the season with a chance to claim multiple national titles in the fall sports stretch for the first time.
Penn State fall sports are going to be historically good in the next few months regardless of what the football team does.
Penn State women’s volleyball, for many years, was in a class of its own — both in its sport and on campus here in Happy Valley.
Legendary head coach Russ Rose led his team to seven national titles and a 109-match winning streak, which was the longest in all NCAA sports until UConn women’s basketball surpassed that mark earlier this year.
While it hasn’t claimed an NCAA title in the past two seasons (falling in the Sweet 16 both years) or a Big Ten Championship in the past three, Penn State has a very legitimate chance to take home both titles this year.
The team returns pretty much all of its key contributors from last season, including AVCA first team All-American Simone Lee and NCAA Lincoln Regional All-Tournament Team member Ali Frantti. It also returns senior middle blocker Haleigh Washington, one of Penn State’s most exciting, energetic, and all-around fun athletes.
Penn State is off to a 3-0 start after a tournament in West Virginia last weekend, but will play the No. 1 team in the nation Stanford on Friday in Texas A&M’s tournament.
The Nittany Lions’ home, Rec Hall, has become known packed crowds, especially during Friday night matches of football weekends. Penn State returns to the building September 15 and will host a number of top 25 opponents as part of its schedule in the nation’s toughest conference, the Big Ten.
It just won a national title in 2015, but this year’s Penn State women’s soccer team might be the best in school history, and could possibly compete with some of the legendary North Carolina teams that have claimed a total of 22 of the 36 NCAA Championships.
In fact, Penn State will get a chance to square off with the current edition of the perennial-power Tar Heels on Thursday.
Erica Dambach returns for her 11th season as head coach, where she hopes to lead her team back to the College Cup after it fell in the NCAA Tournament second round last season.
She will have a surreal amount of experience and depth to work with — returning nine starters from last season on top of five players that would’ve started in 2016, but were called up to play with the national team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup and had to redshirt.
Of the players that fall into the two categories above, none are Marissa Sheva, who’s been the team’s breakout star this year with four goals in three games and earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.
The Nittany Lions have started this year 3-0 with two wins over ranked teams and hope to continue their form as they wrap up the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation and head into Big Ten play with six home games left on the schedule during the regular season.
Penn State field hockey is coming off its first Big Ten Championship since 2012 and returns its top two leaders in points, Moira Putsch and Aurelia Meijer, as well as U-21 United States national team goalie Jenny Rizzo.
Hall of Fame coach Char Morett-Curtiss has done just about everything in her illustrious career — captaining the Nittany Lions to an undefeated season in 1978, winning the United States’ only field hockey Olympic medal in 1984, and taking Penn State to five Final Fours in her 30 seasons as head coach.
The one thing that is missing from her resume is leading the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA Field Hockey national title, something that her team could be built to do after beginning the season 2-0 with both wins coming against ranked opponents.
With its home field, the Penn State Field Hockey Complex tucked right behind the Wagner Building, Penn State led the nation in attendance during the 2016 season. The Nittany Lions will play the first two of six home games this weekend against Temple and No. 15 Wake Forest.
Penn State men’s soccer might not be nationally ranked like its fall sports counterparts, but a soccer game at Jeffrey Field with the Sons of Jeffrey is still a unique experience.
The Nittany Lions are led by Bob Warming, their eighth-year head coach who has been in the college game since the 70s and has been at the helm of a number of programs, including the historic St. Louis Billikens.
On the field, the team is a mix of local products and international flair that could help bring Penn State back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. Despite a rough start with a loss to Hofstra last weekend, the Nittany Lions believe they can challenge the best of the Big Ten during the six remaining home games in 2017.