By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach Erica Dambach and senior defenders Brittany Basinger and Elizabeth Ball spoke at Penn State Media Day Wednesday morning, following the team's 2-0 start to the 2017 season.
The Nittany Lions took down No. 8 BYU 3-1 last Friday and defeated Hofstra 3-0 on Sunday. Penn State vaulted from unranked in the United Soccer Coaches poll to ninth in the country after the strong start.
The team will be back on the pitch Friday to face Arkansas, but for now here are five takeaways from media day.
Tough Road Ahead
Dambach has made it a priority this year to gain experience playing the very best the country has to offer. Penn State will play three consecutive games against top 10 teams before beginning the conference slate.
Playing No. 2 West Virginia, No. 4 North Carolina and No. 10 Virginia in the span of nine days will be one of the most grueling stretches any team will endure this season, but Dambach views it as a positive.
"We've got one of the more challenging out of conference schedules that we've ever faced, and we felt like it was the right year to do it with great leadership from [captains Basinger and Ball] as well as a really strong senior class," Dambach said. "We also love to bring in big names to Jeffrey Field and get the community an opportunity to see the highest level of women's soccer and great opponents. But for these guys we want to test them in every environment. We want to challenge them in every way possible before we get in to Big Ten play."
How the Nittany Lions fare out of conference this year will prove how ready they are to compete for another National Championship.
Emily Ogle, Kaleigh Riehl, Ellie Jean, Maddie Elliston, Rose Chandler, and Laura Freigang all return to the team this year after playing in the U-20 Women's World Cup in 2016. All six will look to jump into the lineup for the Blue and White this season.
"It's awesome to have so much depth because there's more time to sub and we have more time off of our feet and so it's just awesome to have all the girls back," said Ball. "They came back seamlessly."
Reihl, Jean and Elliston bolster the back line that already featured Basinger and Ball. Being able to rotate defenders in and out without losing a step will be a huge advantage for Penn State this season.
"Going into a season knowing that you can rely on your defense and your unit in the back line feels good. Going into a season with depth in your back line feels even better," Dambach said.
Ogle fits right back into her role of creator and possession specialist in the center midfield position. Almost every attack runs through her when she's on the pitch, and she rarely turns the ball over.
In 2015, her freshman year, Ogle scored seven goals and tallied two assists. She already has a goal and an assist in two games this year. Freigang, who spent time with the Nittany Lions in 2016 before the World Cup, earned Big Ten All-Freshman honors last season from her midfield position.
Chandler, the goalkeeper of the group, played in five games for Penn State in her freshman 2015 year, and earned Academic All-Big Ten honors that season.
Freigang played in 15 contests during her freshman year in 2016. Last year she scored two goals before missing the NCAA Tournament to join Germany at the U-20 Women's World Cup.
Oh Captain My Captain
Basinger and Ball were named 2017 captains by the team before the season. They have the most experience on the roster, as Basinger is playing in her fifth year and Ball has been a starter for three years.
They have patrolled the back line for what seems like forever, and their chemistry on the field is unmatched.
"One of the things I like about these two is that they've got different skill sets, and they balance each other out really well," Dambach said. "I think they're both big voices within our team in terms of their respect that they've garnered over the years. When our team selected these two they wanted to be held accountable. So far I've been really impressed with what they've done."
Nittany Lions in Prime Time
The Big Ten Network will televise three Penn State regular season games this year--the matchups against North Carolina, Northwestern and Rutgers.
The network also provides fans a way to watch every PSU game via BTN Plus.
"The effect that it's had on our program alone in women's soccer has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of the feedback from the alums," Dambach said.
Dambach also said the television coverage has helped immensely with recruiting nationally and internationally.
Thanks to BTN, players' families can watch every minute of Penn State women's soccer. Even program alum Rocky Rodriguez's family was able to watch her games from Costa Rica when she is from.
Penn State Pride
Both Basinger and Ball spoke about what the Penn State experience means to them.
"To play for Penn State is a complete dream for every young girl," Basinger said. "Being able to put that jersey on every Friday and Sunday is something that I look forward to. This is my fifth year and it never gets old."
"Every night that we get to put on our jersey, I think we all have a sense of just how grateful we are and we all recognize that feeling and it's just incredible because there's no better place to play soccer in the country," Ball said.
Dambach, whose parents are Penn State alumni, also said that this is her dream job and she wouldn't want to be doing anything else.
"Being a part of the Penn State athletic department has been even more than I expected in my wildest dreams," Dambach said. "It's a family, and I think that's what keeps so many of us here. We look around and we look at the quality of the coaches and we look at the comradery within the group and we look at this town and the community and there's no better place to coach college soccer in the country."