Penn State Women’s Hockey Adjusts To Newfound National Spotlight

Following a historic start to the 2020-21 season, Penn State women’s hockey is finding itself in uncharted territory.

During head coach Jeff Kampersal’s first three years at the helm, the Nittany Lions have not finished above .500 and have sat toward the bottom of the CHA standings. Now, two months into the season, Penn State sits at 9-1-2 and No. 8 in the country.

In Kampersal’s eyes, the Nittany Lions have found success on the back of a disciplined approach to the season, which has been backed by pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The women in our program handle their hockey like pros, their school like pros, and show up to do their jobs,” Kampersal said.

Like any other program, the Nittany Lions had a limited offseason and rarely bond off the ice. With a roster of nine freshmen, that amount of turnover usually breeds struggles, especially early on in a season. Despite all that, the Nittany Lions have been better than in years past.

“They all have each other’s back,” Kampersal said. “The trust that they all have in each other plays a big factor in our success too.”

The play of the freshman class has catapulted the Nittany Lions into the national spotlight. Three out of the top five point-getters on the team are freshmen, including Kiara Zanon, who leads the team in goals and assists. She also leads the CHA in points.

The stability of freshman netminder Josie Bothun has also kept the Nittany Lions at the top of the CHA. Bothun is second in the conference in goals-against average (1.56) and save percentage (.944).

Kampersal notes recruiting in recent years has been difficult, as he and his staff have needed to start recruiting players as soon as eighth grade. In the past, Kampersal admits the Nittany Lions have made some mistakes on the recruiting trail.

“You never know how a player is going to develop from eighth grade to 11th grade,” Kampersal said. “You’re bound to make mistakes along the way.”

Kampersal knows he hit when it comes to the current freshman class of players like Zanon, Bothun, Olivia Wallin, Lyndie Lobdell, and others.

The success Penn State has had so far this season has put it in an unfamiliar position. The Nittany Lions have gone from the hunters to the hunted.

“We saw it against Lidenwood this past weekend where they had nothing to lose and they were throwing everything at us,” Kampersal said.

Lindenwood sits second to bottom in the CHA with a 2-7-1 record but managed to tie the Nittany Lions 2-2 in the second game of the series last weekend. Kampersal’s mentality doesn’t come from if the Nittany Lions win or lose. Instead, it’s if his team plays a full effort, 60-minute game. He didn’t see that in the second game versus Lindenwood.

“If we take a team lightly and start not playing with our normal habits, it’ll cost us like it did this past weekend,” Kampersal said.

Despite the success, Kampersal and the Nittany Lions know the job is nowhere close to done. Penn State needs to adjust to its new role while still pushing for more.

“I asked them if they knew who was No. 8 in the polls during the month of January last year and no one knew,” Kampersal said. “It’s a matter of winning the CHA title, making the NCAA Tournament, and trying to win the national championship.”

Penn State continues its historic season at Pegula Ice Arena on Friday against Robert Morris. Puck drop is scheduled for 6 p.m. on BTN+.


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About the Author

Connor Donohue

Connor is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. He hails from the great state of New Jersey and is proud of it. Lover of the greatest city in the world, New York City, he strongly dislikes the city of Philadelphia and will not hesitate to tell you that. He's also been cursed as a Penn State fan since birth. If you want to call him a bum or maybe go out on a date with him, follow him on twitter @ConnorDonohue00 or email him at [email protected]

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