Experienced Core Returners, Talented Newcomers Improve Penn State Women’s Soccer’s Season Outlook
As summer training sessions fall from the calendar and a new season approaches every August, talk of No. 6 Penn State women’s soccer’s hopes for a 20th Big Ten regular season title, eighth conference tournament win, and second national championship intensify.
This year is no different.
Head coach Erica Dambach’s squad seemed to earn an impressive new accolade every week throughout the offseason. Three of its core players were named to MAC Hermann Trophy watchlist. It retained a top 10 preseason national ranking despite a disappointing College Cup run last year and is a preseason favorite for the Big Ten title. Many of its players are continually called up to USWNT youth squads, and Dambach’s impressive record in Happy Valley and previous national team stint earned her a nod as a potential replacement for Jill Ellis.
In addition to the prestige of the program and its core group of players, the Nittany Lions have added a group of newcomers that will only raise their level. But they face an unforgiving schedule and will need new leaders to fill the cleats of the program’s recent graduates.
Here are three key aspects of the team’s upcoming season:
Core Starters Remain
Seven of the 11 players that started in Penn State’s final College Cup match return to Jeffrey Field for the 2019 season. This total includes three defenders — the reliable captains Kaleigh Riehl and Ellie Jean among them — as well goalkeeper Amanda Dennis at the back. Senior Shea Moyer’s presence should offset the absence of the recently-drafted Emily Ogle in midfield, while Frankie Tagliaferri, Kerri Abello, and Kristin Schnurr, who led the team last year with 22 goals between them, return up front.
With an experienced backline intact and energetic forwards who have already established a connection, the Nittany Lions should retain their style of play nicely. But Jean, Riehl, and Dennis will need to lead a team without Ogle and right back Maddie Nolf, distinguished captains who were solid under pressure for Penn State. All three of the Nittany Lions’ new captains have at least one year of experience as starters in Happy Valley, and they should easily fit into this new role.
New Players Will Add Attacking Boost
Dambach’s staff secured the top-ranked recruiting class in college soccer for 2019. Nine freshmen — four of them ranked within the nation’s top 20 recruits — will join the Nittany Lions, including No. 1 overall recruit, USWNT U-17 captain, and midfielder Kate Wiesner.
Hermann Trophy semifinalist Sam Coffey, one of college soccer’s most exciting talents, will join Wiesner among Penn State’s new midfielders after transferring from Boston College. She scored 12 goals and notched 13 assists in the ACC last season. Expect Coffey to step into the team as an immediate starter, either as an attacking or holding midfielder.
Then watch as she pulls things off like this:
Penn State has curated a schedule equal to the level of the program. But an opening game against No. 3 Stanford at Jeffrey Field will be a tough start to the season. The Nittany Lions will have a solid chance to take down the Cardinal, and if they do, confidence and ratings prospects should rise.
But the Stanford match isn’t the only challenging fixture on the schedule. The Nittany Lions travel to California to play Long Beach State and Loyola Marymount on August 30 and September 1, respectively, before traveling south to take on No. 11 West Virginia the following Friday. The team will then face No. 9 Virginia the following week.
If the squad can win each match during this grueling period of travel and tough opponents, they will be well prepared for the beginning of the regular season against Michigan on September 19.
Penn State opens its season against Stanford at 7 p.m. on Friday, August 23 at Jeffrey Field. Park Avenue Army — the official student section of Penn State’s soccer programs — is holding a March to the Match before things kick off at Jeffrey Field.
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