By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa- Watch Penn State defenders Brittany Basinger and Salina Williford battle opposing forwards on the soccer field, and you would think that the pair have been patrolling the Nittany Lions backline for years.
The intellect, the composure, and the technique that both display on a regular basis make it all the more surprising that the true freshman duo have only nine games of collegiate soccer under their belts.
"When they came in they stepped up right away and it didn't take them but a second to transition," said redshirt junior captain Emily Hurd. "They're so technical and they've both been huge impact players for us."
The only two freshmen to currently start for the seventh ranked Nittany Lions, Williford and Basinger have helped lead a defense that has recorded two shutouts and given up just eight goals in Penn State's seven wins.
Having played with each other on their Regional team as high school freshmen, it was not difficult for the duo to form chemistry when they stepped on the field with each other as Nittany Lions.
"It was really surreal the first time we saw each other in the (Penn State) locker room because it was like we were reunited," said Basinger. "We play right next to each other in the back and it's been great to get to compete with her again."
With Williford having trained with the Nittany Lions since she enrolled at Penn State last spring and Basinger having played with the U17 National Team, both players had the experience to make the transition from high school to college as smooth as possible.
Although both players believed they had the ability to contribute to Penn State's success in their first year on the team, neither one expected to be starting right off the bat.
"I just came into the season with the mentality to work as hard as possible and see what happens," said Williford. "Being on the field with the starters and playing as well as we have has been crazy."
Having scouted the two of them for years, head coach Erica Walsh was not surprised when the pair was able to crack the lineup and make an impact from the start.
What has made Basinger and Williford stand out from Walsh's standpoint is the poise they display and the assurance that they have in their ability.
"What makes them standout is their confidence," said Walsh. "Many freshmen have athleticism and skill but you also need to have the belief that you will be able to fight back when you're down and they have that."
The toughest adjustments that both girls had to make upon arriving in Happy Valley was adjusting to not only the speed of the college game but also the physicality of battling with more experienced players.
"Getting bigger and stronger was definitely something I had to work on," said Williford. "There's such a physical side to playing soccer at this level."
While playing against established stars such as Hurd and Maya Hayes can be potentially overwhelming, the presence of those veterans has made life easier for Basinger and Williford.
Not only have the upperclassmen helped their freshmen teammates with their soccer skills, they have also helped them adapt to life on campus.
"The seniors on this team have been fantastic and they have made everything about my freshmen year awesome," said Basinger. "They're always pushing everyone to play their hardest and to play up to their level."
For Williford, starting at Penn State meant switching to defense after spending most of her high school career in the midfield.
According the Basinger, the Wayne, Pa native has not only handled the transition flawlessly, she has also made her job as a defender much easier.
"Salina's an awesome all-around player," said Basinger. "I always know that she can get her job done but that if I need help she can help with my job, too."
Though the faith that Basinger and Williford have in each other is strong, the faith that goaltender Britt Eckerstrom has in both of them is even stronger.
In her first year as the full-time starter between the goalposts, the redshirt sophomore has never feared once that the freshmen tandem in front of her would leave her in a bad spot.
"They've been absolutely stellar and I'm super comfortable with them out there," said Eckerstrom. "Their composure on the ball is absolutely incredible and they both have very good experience already."
With the Nittany Lions gunning for a second straight Women's College Cup appearance, Basinger and Williford know that their hard work is just getting started.
The pair didn't come to Penn State just looking to be a part of a starting lineup; they came to be a part of a national championship team.
"Everyone on this team has a common goal of winning a championship and we all want to do it together," said Williford. "The environment here is great and we go through everything as a team."
However this season ends up playing out for the Nittany Lions, at least they know that they will have a core of defenders that they can rely on for years to come.
"I think they're both going to be big stars here," said Walsh. "They have the qualities to go as far as they want to."