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Two Nittany Lions Crowned NWSL Challenge Cup Champions

Penn State women’s soccer alumni Amanda Dennis and Christine Nairn won the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup alongside the Houston Dash Sunday.

The duo helped Houston take down the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 en route to the tournament title. The competition marked the first professional sports tournament since the coronavirus pandemic began this spring.

The Houston Dash were never a favorite at the Challenge Cup, a one-month summer tournament created for play during the coronavirus pandemic. The club missed the playoffs in 2019 and finished Challenge Cup pool play in fourth place among eight total teams.

Neither Dennis nor Nairn played during the final match. However, the two faced fellow alum and World Cup champion Alyssa Naeher, who played goalie for the Chicago Red Stars.

Despite already winning professional silverware, Dennis has yet to get on the field for the Dash. She currently sits second in the goalkeeping depth chart behind Stanford graduate Jane Campbell.

Naeher played for the Red Stars in six of their seven tournament matches. The national team starter conceded just seven goals in that time and saved 77% of the shots on target during the tournament.

While Naeher helped her team reach the final, she wasn’t the only Penn State goalkeeper making headlines during the cup. Portland Thorns netminder Britt Eckerstrom starred for her club in the quarterfinals when she defended against the NWSL Cup champions, the NC Courage, and earned Woman of the Match honors.

Eckerstrom is typically the backup to Bella Bixby. However, the Rockville, Maryland native stepped up in the knockout rounds.

Penn State alumna Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez assisted Moran Weaver for the lone goal in Portland’s win over the Courage.

Portland Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said Eckerstorm had the “game of her life” during the July 17 match.

A total of 11 Penn Staters featured for their respective clubs in the tournament, which was good for third-most of any university.

The Challenge Cup was the only source of competitive fixtures in 2020 for NWSL clubs. Earlier this summer, the league announced the cancellation of its regular season.

Assuming the coronavirus remains in effect for the foreseeable future, Dennis, Naeher, and the league’s Nittany Lions will return to action in 2021.

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About the Author

Otis Lyons

Otis is a sophomore majoring in print journalism and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He lives just north of San Francisco, and is a diehard San Jose Earthquakes fan. Feel free to send over your soccer hot takes to his twitter @otisnlyons1 and instagram @otislyons

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