Ally Schlegel: The Infectious, Pink-Headband-Wearing Soccer Star Who Wishes She Played Football
Ally Schlegel’s journey to being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, scoring 12 goals (and counting) in her first season for the Nittany Lions, and becoming the latest in a long line of legendary Penn State forwards began in a neighborhood of sports-loving kids.
Playing a variety of sports with her neighbors in a cul-de-sac in her Colorado hometown, Schlegel initially preferred the idea of donning football cleats and tackling people to scoring goals on the soccer field. The game runs in her family, after all — her father, Mike, played for Kentucky. Her brother, Drew, is a current Kentucky tight end and aspiring alpaca farmer.
“I love football. Football is my favorite, and I was a beast,” Schlegel said. “I honestly was a tank, and all the boys were scared of me when we were kids, because I wasn’t afraid to knock somebody out.”
Schlegel said that if she were to play football today she thinks she would enjoy being a safety. She feels playing this position would allow her to not only watch the game in front of her but to blow her opponent out. Interestingly, that’s very similar to how she plays soccer.
On Jeffrey Field, Schlegel plays with both a toughness and a persistence that set her apart from her opponents and teammates. She’s thrown her entire body into aerial duels for headers with her trademark pink headband leading the way, either to score or set up her teammates. Combine that with her subtle awareness and deft finishing ability, and it’s easy to see why head coach Erica Dambach chose her to lead Penn State’s line this season.
“I want to make those plays because I think that something can come off of it for my teammates,” Schlegel said. “If my teammate’s making a hard run, and they playing the ball in the box, I’m going to put my body on the line for them. If I need to make that tackle so somebody doesn’t have to make a 60 yard run then I’m making that tackle.”
Schlegel and junior midfielder Sam Coffey have also developed an attacking partnership that is hard to defend. She quickly became one of the midfielder’s most frequent through pass targets.
“She obviously is so scrappy and gets to the end of everything and I know if I play a ball to her she’s going to put her body on the line to try and get there,” Coffey said.
Schlegel’s precocious talent allowed her to commit to Penn State when she was only 15 years old.
“I think the mindset after that, it made everything so that I could be deliberate about things because I knew there was something big coming in the future,” Schlegel said of her decision.
During her sophomore high school season, she tore her ACL. But the driving force for her to recover was that in two seasons, she would be playing for the Nittany Lions on Jeffrey Field.
“When I have the ‘I’m coming into a big program and I’m going to have to be a big part for them,’ it makes things not easier, but more deliberate that I can work hard for this in the future,” Schlegel said.
With her physicality and tenacity, Schlegel stood out to head coach Erica Dambach, even all the way across the country in Parker, Colorado. But it wasn’t just her scoring ability that stood out. Schlegel’s brilliant sense of humor and infectious attitude have added another aspect to the team.
“She’s an absolute beast in the air, she scores goals, she’s a competitor but just the way she approaches life,” Dambach said. “She’s always smiling and again this is an intense environment and she’s able to take a deep breath and make sure you keep things in perspective.”
Although Schlegel earned the Big Ten Freshman of the Year title this season, this is her second year in Happy Valley. She spent her first season as a Nittany Lion redshirting due to a second injury. That didn’t mean, however, that she wasn’t contributing to the team’s success.
“I learned that just because I couldn’t be on the field didn’t mean that I couldn’t use my personality to affect my teammates, and I couldn’t use who I was as a person to impact the team still,” Schlegel said.
These personal developments didn’t go unnoticed to her team.
“Just like being friends with her, it’s awesome and energetic she gives it everything she’s got every game and I think that inspires the people around her to do the same,” Coffey, who arrived in Happy Valley last spring, said.
She also had time to balance two of the most noticeable things about her, her competitive spirit and ability to have fun.
“[Schlegel is] a balance of competitiveness but also “let’s have some fun doing it,” and that’s invaluable,” Dambach said. “It’s a tough balance to strike and she manages to do it as well as anybody that I’ve ever coached.”
Schlegel said she would dream about this season while walking to class. She constantly looked forward to the day that she could fully fill the role that she wanted to for her team.
“I wanted to be as fit as I could be coming off of the injury because that is something that I had struggled with in the past,” Schlegel said early in the season. “And you know, I’m still working, still getting there.”
She spent the summer running and training to regain her fitness before taking the final step — making her full return against Stanford in August.
“Going out against Stanford, it was like, everyday dream that I had had finally being like a real thing,” Schlegel said.
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