Both Penn State Soccer Programs Finish Season Ranked No. 11 Nationally

Both Penn State men’s and women’s soccer completed an unorthodox, COVID-19-altered spring season among the top teams in the nation, according to the United Soccer Coaches poll.

Jeff Cook and Erica Dambach both coached their respective programs to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen and a No. 11 national finish in the poll.

The men’s team narrowly fell to Georgetown 3-2, which stripped the group of its first quarterfinal appearance since 2002.

Despite the departures of midfielder Aaron Molloy, striker Christian Sload, and defender Will Campbell, the team didn’t skip a beat. Penn State nearly won the Big Ten championship but lost on penalty kicks to eventual national finalist Indiana.

Cook’s recruiting efforts once again paid off as well. Freshman Peter Mangione and Old Dominion transfer Danny Bloyou formed a potent partnership with sophomore Liam Butts, a trio that could remain together for two more years should they use their remaining eligibility. Femi Awodesu and Tyger Evans also impressed in their freshmen campaigns by filling in for injured Alex Stevenson and Jalen Watson and becoming important players in the NCAA Tournament.

Penn State was one of just two Big Ten teams to feature in the final national poll. Indiana placed No. 2 after making it all the way to the national title game. The Hoosier’s conquerors, Marshall, rightfully vaulted all the way to No. 1.

Dambach coached the women’s team in yet another head-turning campaign. Penn State had a dominant regular-season effort by clinching its 20th title, with an incredible 11 coming under Dambach’s watch.

Penn State had a less fortunate outcome in its postseason campaign, including a shocking loss at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten semifinals.

However, the Nittany Lions still managed to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the seventh time in nine seasons. Attacking midfielder Frankie Tagliaferri took charge for Penn State in the NCAA Tournament, dismantling a hapless Alabama State before pushing past SEC champions Vanderbilt 2-0 in a gutsy Second Round performance.

The Nittany Lions’ road ended in the Sweet Sixteen, although it came at the hands of No. 1 Florida State. The Seminoles didn’t advance easily, as Tagliaferri even gave Penn State the lead in the first half.

Just like the men, Penn State women’s soccer received impressive productivity from its newcomers. Freshmen Eva Alonso and Ellie Wheeler slotted into the backline without hesitation and started every match of the season. Alonso even scored a rare goal in the win over Vanderbilt and gave Florida State a lot to worry about before the Nittany Lions were finally overpowered.

As the No. 11 team in the nation this year, Penn State should feel very good heading into the fall season. Looking at the top 10, there aren’t many teams that will have a roster that can compete with the Nittany Lions, especially considering that Sam Coffey, Kerry Abello, and Tagliaferri will all use their extra year of eligibility.

Penn State finished just behind Georgetown in the final poll of the year. National champion Santa Clara was granted the No. 1 ranking ahead of Florida State and UNC, while Rutgers (No. 24) was the only other Big Ten team listed.

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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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