By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As much credit as head coach Erica Dambach has garnered over her career at Penn State for the team's massive success in the last decade--and deservedly so--her assistant coaches fly under the radar.
Associate head coach Ann Cook and recruiting coordinator and goalkeeper coach Tim Wassell seldom see their names associated with Penn State's recent dominance in the national polls, but Dambach says they deserve just as much recognition as she does, and her players agree.
"[Cook's] one of the best coaches I've ever been around," redshirt junior Emily Ogle said. "Just her outlook on the game and the way she helps each and every one of us grow not only individually but collectively is something that I haven't seen through a lot of coaches."
Cook is largely responsible for the team's attacking strategies. She's an offensive guru who was a three time All-American in college and was in the running for the MAC Hermann Trophy in 1995 and 1997.
After her collegiate career, Cook played on the United States Women's National Team in 1998 and was drafted as the 25th overall pick in the WUSA draft to the Bay Area CyberRays in 2000.
Dambach and Cook played on the same team at William and Mary, where they became good friends. Their friendship continued past their playing days, and Dambach reached out to Cook about becoming her assistant coach at Harvard. Cook refused because she said she still had a lot to learn before taking on a job of that magnitude.
So that's what she did.
Cook took the head coaching job at Drury University in 1999 and took the team from NCAA Division II to Division I in just two years. She then coached as an assistant at Missouri State from 2004-2005 and Nebraska from 2005-2007. Shortly after the 2007 season, the phone rang again.
It was Dambach. She was taking the head coaching job at Penn State, so she reached out to Cook one last time to jump on board, and Cook didn't turn down the offer this time.
"She was the player I respected the most when I was a player," Dambach said. "Her soccer brain, her joy for the game, her excitement that she brings to training. When I called her up at Penn State and she said yes I was over the moon."
Dambach said bringing Cook with her to Penn State was the best decision she's ever made.
The tandem is now in their 11th season at Penn State. They have led the Nittany Lions to a 169-55-14 record prior to this season and their first ever national championship in 2015.
"When we came to Penn state our hope was to compete for a national championship and do it the right way," Cook said. "Can we really value every kid on our roster? Can we really care about their development and care about them as a human beings and win national championships?"
She said her and Dambach have checked all those boxes.
Cook has overseen attacking players such as Maya Hayes and Mallory Weber, who etched their names in the team's record book for years to come. Hayes ranks third-best in school history with 163 career points and Weber ranks 10th with 101.
From 2011-2016, Penn State scored the second-most goals in the country. Cook is a big reason why.
"I think the players really feel free in the attack under her," Dambach said. "They're willing to make mistakes. They don't have a fear of failure. She just makes the environment one that they can express themselves, and that's a real gift."
"My philosophy is I want to be mobile and creative," Cook said. "That is the principle that we try to solidify, and whatever that looks like after that is largely up to the players."
Away from Jeffrey Field, Cook is heavily involved with the organization Soccer Without Borders, which strives to use soccer to make positive changes in the lives of under-privileged children around the world.
"It's been one of the best parts of my career and one of the reasons why I'm still at Penn State," Cook said of her involvement in the organization.
Through SWB, the team will be making a trip to Nicaragua in January to host clinics for young girls in the country who have a passion for the sport.
As much as Cook has assisted Dambach with the attack, Wassell has done the same with goalkeeping and recruiting. He is in his eighth year with the team and travels all over the globe to recruit.
"He is far and away the biggest influencer on our recruiting," Dambach said. "He starts the process. He has the relationship with the club coaches, and I give him full credit for the success that has happened in our recruiting over the past few years. Everything about him tells these families that we're going to take care of their daughter and they trust him 100 percent."
According to TopDrawerSoccer.com, Penn State tallied back-to-back No. 2 overall recruiting classes in 2014 and 2015 and brought in the No. 4 class in 2017. That success wouldn't have been possible without Wassell.
Wassell said bringing in international players and watching them experience a whole new world of soccer is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.
"It's a global game, so let's leverage that in some way," Wassell said. "When you see these internationals see how the women's game is supported here, it's incredible. I remember [Alina Ortega Jurado] and [Laura Freigang] and these guys, the first time they see our fields literally they started to cry."
Ortega Jurado and Freigang are both originally from Germany.
Besides coaching and recruiting, Wassell genuinely cares about each and every player and possesses an unparalleled passion for Penn State and the soccer program. Dambach said his attitude revolves around the players before himself.
"The first time I watched him coach and spent some time with him I knew he was most importantly a first class individual and a total pro," Dambach said. "He's all about the team, all about Penn State and Penn State soccer and would literally do anything for this program and these girls."
Both Cook and Wassell bring different strengths to the Nittany Lion program, and it wouldn't be where it is today without them.