Penn State Women’s Soccer Midseason Report Card
No. 6 Penn State women’s soccer is on a tear. The Nittany Lions are unbeaten through their first eight games, a feat only accomplished by one other squad in program history: the 2005 women’s soccer team that finished the regular season undefeated.
Because of its previous success, it’s safe to say coach Erica Dambach’s side has high expectations halfway through its slate.
Stacked with a stifling defense, clever midfield, meticulous attack, and enough depth to field another team in the championship conversation, Penn State breezed through its competition and stuffed its stat sheet full of mind-bending figures. Let’s take a journey through the numbers to see where the blue and white has triumphed and some spots for improvement.
Goal Differential: 23-2 | A+
The Nittany Lions’ goal differential is a tale of two halves put together flawlessly. First and foremost, the offense is firing on all cylinders. Led by super-senior Payton Linnehan at striker, the entire unit has gotten in on the fun this season. With four goals this season, Olivia Borgen is the Nittany Lions’ top scorer. Linnehan and Kaitlyn MacBean aren’t far behind with two goals apiece. The unit also has its share of playmakers including Kate Wiesner and Eva Alonso who have tallied a combined eight assists, respectively.
In addition to the forwards, defenders have made their mark in the opponent’s net as well. Center-back Mieke Schiemann has shown utility as a striker late in games as a header target, tacking on three goals of her own thus far.
On the other end of the field, the Nittany Lion defense has been top-notch and has kept goals-allowed low. A unit that pounces on poor touches, Penn State routinely baits its opponents into pushing the play upfield before it has fully developed where Cori Dyke and Ellie Wheeler, among others, lie in wait to steal the ball back.
The defense has only allowed 25 shots on goal in eight games, a total that would have most goalkeepers completely checked out. Graduate goaltender Katherine Asman, though, has had the season of her career in the cage with an unreal save percentage of 95.8%.
This two-headed monster has rendered attacking teams completely inert and defensive teams utterly overwhelmed en route to its 23-2 goal differential statline.
Goals Per Shot-On-Goal: 0.316 | A-
This figure is a little bit more applied, but the story it tells reveals more about how well the offense has been operating this season.
The Nittany Lions have two distinct modes of attack: counterattack with a lob to a sprinting forward or siege the defense with cautious passing. Either way, Penn State creates matchup advantages on the goaltender while exercising discretion on when and where it makes its advance. One-on-ones, two-on-ones, and three-on-twos with the goalie and a woefully under-leveraged defender are the norm when the blue and white set its sights on goal. Alone on goal, Linnehan, MacBean, and Borgen make it look easy as they rack up points.
Creating prime opportunities with such regularity only works with the patience and precision the midfield has. No bad shots are taken, the premium shot quality means that each strike is an almost sure goal, making even great goalies look amateur. For example, Maryland’s Liz Beardsley entered Friday night’s matchup with a 73.9% save percentage. Against the Nittany Lions, she only tallied a 50% game. By effectively removing the keeper from the equation, Penn State’s discipline removes the anchor from its opponents and exposes weak defending.
Fouls Per Game: 7.5 | B
Speaking of discipline, the Nittany Lions don’t get penalized. The group has been through some chippy games, specifically the UCF matchup where five Golden Knights were shown a card and one was ejected. Rising above emotions and playing solid defense has been the clear mantra of the blue and white with no Nittany Lions booked for cards in that particular tilt and very few throughout the season. Additionally, the team has conceded the third-lowest amount of total fouls in the Big Ten, rarely allowing the other team to run set pieces.
Aside from level-headed players, the style of defending played by Penn State keeps tacklers out of risky positions. It’s rare that an attacker breaches the backline with possession as the play usually dies out before an opponent sets up in the box. By keeping the enemy in front and allowing them space to pass the ball forward in the midfield, the Nittany Lions poach heavy touches by wingers and attacking midfielders rather than challenging the ball carrier outright.
When an emergency does occur, though, sure tacklers Alonso, Dyke, and Wiesner have each displayed heroics with clean slide tackles in the penalty area. The team has yet to concede a penalty kick, keeping its opponents from grabbing any easy points.
Overall Grade | A
Leadership, skill, and speed have carried the team through its first eight games unbeaten and the calendar doesn’t show a comparable opponent anytime soon. The team will certainly plan around the likes of Indiana and Northwestern, but if it continues to play like it’s capable of, there’s not a lot the Big Ten can muster to slow this train down.
Anything less than a conference-clinching season will be a disappointment, and Penn State (and the Big Ten preseason poll) know it. Expect more crafty tactics, highlight goals, and dominant play from the entire squad moving forward.
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For the second year in a row, the Land Grant Trophy is headed back to State College.
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Were the Ford Field end zones Penn State fans?