By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State women's soccer has won the Big Ten conference title 15 years in a row. It's an incredible feat that defines the winning tradition fostered by the University and is highlighted by the team's motto: Play for those who came before you.
When the streak started in 1998, the women's soccer program had been around for just four years. Senior midfielder Christine Nairn was eight years old and sophomore defender Whitney Chruch was five. The players described keeping the tradition alive as a privilege, a concept that goes beyond the soccer field.
"The University itself is big on tradition and putting the team before one's own self," said junior forward Maya Hayes. "To keep doing that year after year, it shows that we're apart of something bigger than ourselves, we're apart of holding a legacy and a tradition."
"It's bigger than me as a player," said junior forward Taylor Schram. "To be apart of a tradition like this is just an honor and I'm so thankful that I can call myself a Penn State Nittany Lion and be apart of that tradition of 15."
The dynasty built by the program during this 15-year period is unmistakable. To put it in perspective, Penn State has a combined record of 277-64-20 since 1998 when the streak began. The Nittany Lions dominated their conference foes during the eleven-year-period, accumulating a 132-12-6 record in the Big Ten, and flourished on Jeffrey Field with a 146-17-5 record at home.
It's been business as usual this season for fourth-ranked Penn State after the team clinched the Big Ten title for the 15th straight year on Sunday with a tie against 24th-ranked Michigan and a 9-0-1-conference record. The players have enjoyed the opportunity to extend the streak another year.
"It's an honor to keep the tradition going for the players that played before us," said Schram. "That's what we're told when we're freshmen is we don't lose the Big Ten."
"Penn State prides itself on its tradition of success and excellence and I feel that every day we try to do that," Schram added.
Winning the Big Ten each year for 15 years is not easy. Penn State gathered an elite coaching staff that has been able to recruit talent from all over the country and around the world. The Nittany Lions have also been given a phenomenal senior class each year to guide them through the challenges.
"We have the best coaches in the country," said Schram. "They prepare us for every year. We have great leaders. They've done it before. They set the tone for us. We have great followers too that do what they need to do and we just keep the tradition alive."
Coaching and recruiting form the base of what it takes to win on a consistent basis, but the real key is for the players to believe in the tradition, the program and each other.
"The belief in Penn State women's soccer has been the key determining factor of success and failure," said head coach Erica Walsh. "We're apart of something bigger than ourselves. We have a responsibility to figure out a way to win."
As the streak grows, the pressure builds. Penn State enters each and every season with a target on its back and the players are forced to deal with wondering if this is the year the streak will be broken. Nevertheless, the players simply use the pressure as a way to fuel the fire.
"It's pressure, especially when it's been that long, but it's good pressure, it's a welcomed pressure," said Hayes. "It means the world just to know that I'm competing for the same thing that players were competing for when I was five years old."
They handle the pressure by uniting as a team and then overcoming the obstacles they face together.
"That's why this is the best program in the country, the best team in the country, because we get each other through the good and bad times," said Schram. "We don't concentrate on the pressure, we concentrate on getting better every day and playing for each other and having fun ultimately."
One premier aspect that has driven the 2012 Nittany Lions, as it did teams throughout the 15-year winning streak, has been their motto: We play for those who came before us. The players are motivated to put all the effort they have into their training and games because that's exactly what the alumni before them had to do to earn their accomplishments.
"It's just putting on that jersey every day and giving everything you've got because that's what you're supposed to do when you put on that jersey," said Schram on what the motto means to her. "That's the attitude and the mindset that the players that played before us have set for us and we need to continue to do that for them."
For coach Walsh, it's about the responsibility she has as a coach to help her team grow and develop as soccer players. Ultimately it's up to her to continue Penn State's tradition of winning. The conference will only get stronger in the years to come and coach Walsh takes her mission very seriously.
"For me, as a coach, its an enormous responsibility," said coach Walsh. "I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, but I don't take it lightly."
The Nittany Lions have emphasized that winning the Big Ten is just a stepping-stone heading into the NCAA tournament. Winning a 15th consecutive conference title is a reason to be proud, but it is only the first step.
"We need to celebrate it," said coach Walsh. "We need to take from it what we can and we need to use it to fuel the fire to have this be, not only our standard, but our stating point."
Penn State travels to Purdue for its final game of the regular season. The start time is slated for 7 p.m. Friday night.
Women's Soccer: 15 Years of Big Ten Dominance
By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
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