Five Takeaways From Penn State Soccer’s Regular Seasons

It was a long time coming, but the Big Ten’s spring soccer season has successfully come to a close for both the men’s and women’s regular seasons.

Just like everything in the past year or so, COVID-19 made things pretty unpredictable. Regardless of the adversity faced, both Penn State’s women’s and men’s programs had seasons to remember.

Erica Dambach and Penn State women’s soccer clinched the team’s 20th Big Ten regular-season title in commanding fashion and sit at No. 6 in the nation heading into crunch time.

On the men’s side, a win-by-committee approach saw Penn State finish second in the conference behind Indiana for the second season running. It took arguably too long, but the Nittany Lions were also ranked for the first time of the year on Tuesday at No. 19.

As the page is turned on the regular season, here are five combined takeaways from Penn State soccer as the do-or-die matches loom.

Women’s Soccer: Attacking Trio Among Nation’s Elite

Dambach has always been able to recruit and manage some fantastic attacking players. This year, however, may be the most dynamic and exciting frontline that Penn State’s had at its disposal since the 2015 national championship team.

Redshirt sophomore Ally Schlegel has lived up to and surpassed her 2019 season. The “pink headband” has flourished from the service of Sam Coffey, earning nine goals and five assists in just 11 regular season matches. Her 23 points are the most of any player in the Big Ten.

In fact, Penn State is so offensively dominant that the top three points leaders in the Big Ten are all Nittany Lions.

Frankie Tagliaferri has found a ton of success when Schlegel is marked out of the game, as seen last weekend when the New Jersey native bagged a remarkable two goals and four assists in the 6-0 demolition of Maryland. She is currently back-to-back Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and is trending up at just the right time.

Additionally, Sam Coffey has lived up to her billing as a MAC Hermann Trophy contender. The New York-born senior has scored six goals and assisted eight from a deep-lying role.

Simply put, this team has more weapons than most anyone in the country. It will take a stout defensive performance to give the attackers fits in the postseason.

Men’s Soccer: Key Injuries Didn’t Stop Winning Ways

The low point of the season for Penn State men’s soccer undoubtedly came on February 27 in a shock loss at home to Michigan State.

The Nittany Lions lost 1-0 in a last-gasp Spartans goal after starting the year 2-0. What’s more, Jeff Cook’s side had five players come off due to injury throughout that match.

While players like Alex Stevenson and Peter Mangione made relatively quick returns, midfielder Callum Pritchatt still hasn’t returned to the pitch. And February 27 wasn’t the only instance in which Penn State has lost key figures. Sophomore striker Liam Butts — one of the Big Ten’s preseason players to watch — has missed the past few matches, and it remains unknown if the former Atlanta United academy product will play during the postseason.

Against the odds, Cook has found a way to work with what he has. The team has gone its last five games without a full squad to choose from, but it hasn’t mattered. In that time, Penn State has won four and tied one, rising up to No. 2 in the Big Ten.

So who’s stepped up to make this happen?

On the offensive end, Ghanaian Danny Bloyou has been a revelation. The Old Dominion transfer has speed but isn’t just defined by it. Bloyou is impressively deceptive and cunning in the box. Despite being one of the faster players on the field, most of his production has come from being a deadly poacher.

Defensively, freshman wingbacks Tyger Evans and Femi Awodesu have stepped up following injuries. Both players have commanded their sides despite their tender age and have given goalkeeper Kris Shakes a reason to breathe easier.

Women’s Soccer: Kat Asman Is A National-Class Goalkeeper

Speaking of goalies, Kat Asman has impressed in her first year as a starter.

It was unclear who would replace Amanda Dennis between the sticks following the 2019 campaign. Asman played in five games that season, although Julia Dohle was perhaps the leading candidate after redshirting in 2019.

In the fall, Dohle announced her retirement from soccer because of a rare heart condition. Dohle’s departure was undoubtedly a loss for the program, but it opened the door for Asman’s breakout year.

Asman has coughed up only eight goals against in 10 appearances and owns an 83% save percentage, which is second-best in the Big Ten.

The 5’10” redshirt sophomore has bailed out the backline many times this year and should be the long-term option for Dambach.

Men’s Soccer: Can It Beat The Best?

Fans may have felt that Penn State men’s soccer has been relatively underrated this season. After all, the Nittany Lions didn’t get ranked in the top 25 until this week, while Michigan was as high as the top 10 despite trailing Penn State in the standings.

There is no doubting that this team is worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid. However, in the two years that Jeff Cook has brought the program back to prominence, the Nittany Lions have failed to win when it matters most.

In two consecutive second-place finishes, Penn State has been able to win when it’s supposed to but typically falls short against elite opposition. In 2019, the team fell to Indiana 3-0 and drew Michigan in the regular season, before losing to the Wolverines in the Big Ten semifinals. Additionally, the team lost at the first hurdle of the NCAA Tournament to Providence.

This season, COVID-19 delayed the rematches with both Indiana and Michigan. While a 6-1-1 record is great for any team, the Nittany Lions haven’t played their top two rivals this season.

Should Penn State win on Saturday in the Big Ten quarterfinal, it may be in the program’s best interest to hope Michigan avoids the upset and travels to Jeffrey Field next Wednesday. The Nittany Lions need a litmus test sooner rather than later.

Both: Penn State Is A Soccer School

OK, maybe not a “soccer school.” But nonetheless, Penn Staters who are fans of the world’s game should rejoice at just how good both programs have become.

Dambach’s women’s team has always been a blue blood within the sport. But in the past two years, their male counterparts are stepping up to join Big Ten’s elite programs.

Of the nine schools in the conference that have two soccer programs, Penn State was by far the most impressive.

All told, Nittany Lions soccer heads to the postseason with a combined 15-2-2 record, two nationally ranked programs with a realistic shot of hoisting Big Ten trophies. Indiana is the next best, far behind with a 13-5-1 combined record.

Enjoy it, folks. Both of these teams can make runs deep into May.

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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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