Penn State Women’s Soccer Poised For Strong 2018 Season
Nearly nine months removed from a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals, Penn State women’s soccer returns plenty of talent in 2018, checking in at No. 4 in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll.
Erica Dambach will begin her 12th season as head coach of the Nittany Lions this Friday at 7:30 p.m. when West Virginia visits Jeffrey Field. Her squad was labeled the favorite to win the Big Ten regular season title by the conference’s coaches for the 16th consecutive year Monday.
Dambach discussed new captain Maddie Nolf’s impact on the locker room after one of the team’s preseason practices last week, hinting that an upperclassman or two may soon be joining her in that role.
“She was the one decided in the spring,” Dambach said. “It’s still undecided as to what the fall will look like, but right now she’s got a great support group around her. She’s comfortable discussing different things with the coaching staff and competing at a really high level.”
Nolf, neé Elisston, married Penn State wrestler Jason Nolf earlier this summer in her hometown of Omaha, NE. The redshirt senior defender was named to the Big Ten preseason honors list alongside Emily Ogle and Kaleigh Riehl — two of the top candidates to earn a promotion to captain.
The Nittany Lions lost 57 percent of their goal-scoring production from last season, but there’s a nice mix of veterans with national championship experience and underclassmen who have competed for various U.S. youth national teams.
Laura Freigang, last year’s leading scorer with nine goals, signed a pro contract with 1. FFC Frankfurt in June, ending her college career after two strong seasons in Happy Valley.
Freigang scored the game’s first goal in Germany’s 3-2 win over Haiti Monday at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in France. Germany sits atop Group D after winning each of its first three matches of the tournament and will advance to the knockout stage.
Penn State is incorporating another international player into its lineup this season, as Swiss forward Kim Dubs was a late addition to the team’s 2018 recruiting class. She signed her letter of intent with the Nittany Lions without ever having stepped foot on campus.
“I think they’re doing a good job of taking her in, but it’s a lot and it’s going to take some time to adjust,” Dambach said. “She’s doing a wonderful job with the team, but I give her all the credit in the world. That takes a lot of courage to get on a plane and move over here. She’s going to fit in just fine.”
Nolf, Ogle, and the rest of the team welcomed Dubs with open arms this August, helping her adjust to new surroundings that are no doubt different than her hometown of Zürich 4,084 miles away.
“She’s been awesome,” Ogle said. “She’s actually come out of her shell some and has been dancing around. We’re seeing her personality, which is awesome since she just got here a few days ago.”
Over spring break, associate head coach Ann Cook had the opportunity to take the team to Nicaragua to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of her involvement in the country’s Soccer Without Borders program.
Penn State players interacted with children in Granada and Managua, teaching clinics and playing pickup soccer. They stayed with host families in open-air barrios, shared communal meals, and even beat the Nicaraguan women’s national team 2-1 in a friendly on International Women’s Day.
“There have been so many things that have come out of that trip,” Dambach said. “I think probably the biggest is just appreciation. Appreciation for who we are and what we have and the opportunities that we have. Being out here on the training fields with this gorgeous Nike gear and just not taking a minute for granted.”
Dambach routinely assembles one of the toughest schedules in the nation for the Nittany Lions, knowing early season tests against perennial NCAA tournament teams like Wake Forest, Virginia, and last year’s College Cup runners-up UCLA will come in handy when November rolls around.
The Bruins will make their first trip to Jeffrey Field since a top-five matchup to start the 2006 season, a game Penn State won 3-1 in Alyssa Naeher’s first career start in goal. U.S. standout Ashley Sanchez and No. 2 UCLA will meet the Nittany Lions on Saturday, Aug. 25 at 4 p.m. on ESPNU.
“I think probably the group that has made the most progress has been last year’s freshman class, who in most cases sat on the bench behind our seniors that graduated and were waiting for their moment,” Dambach said. “Looking at them now, they’ve come into their own a little bit and now it’s their time.”
Kerry Abello, Shea Moyer, Frankie Tagliaferri, and Casey Ballow all made their first appearance in a Penn State uniform last season, developing their skills in various roles for the Nittany Lions. Each are in line to take a significant step forward this fall, but the team can also rely on a host of other veterans who have played hundreds of Big Ten minutes.
Charlotte Williams, Marissa Sheva, Alina Ortega Jurado, and junior goalkeeper Amanda Dennis are also part of the team’s strong core of leaders who Nolf can trust in big-game situations. Dennis started all 21 matches as a true freshman in 2016 before Rose Chandler took the job last season. Chandler has since left the program, opening the door for Dennis to regain her spot.
“Amanda’s ready,” Dambach said. “She was ready her first year, her second year, and her third year. But she’s taken on more leadership within the team. She carries herself more like a starter right now and understands the importance of kind of leading that back line. This team is ready for her to be the starting goalkeeper.”
Parker, CO, midfielder Ally Schlegel and Munster, IN, defender Caitlin Haislip are among the freshmen generating some early buzz. Stick around after this Friday’s season-opening match against West Virginia and you’ll have a chance to watch Disney’s Moana with the team.
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