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By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As families gather around the country to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, one large family of 28 travels across the map to sunny Stanford, California, to celebrate the holiday a little differently than everyone else.


No. 10 Penn State will face off against powerhouse and No. 1 ranked Stanford in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament Friday at 5 p.m. (EST) instead of celebrating turkey day with their families.


For most players on the team, there's no where they'd rather spend Thanksgiving.


"I love being with my family, but this has been my whole life," senior Frannie Crouse said. "This is what we've worked toward and they understand that. I wish I could be with them, but my family is here. We are such a family and we enjoy each other's company."


The Nittany Lions, who have become incredibly close since beginning their postseason run, had Thanksgiving dinner at head coach Erica Dambach's house Tuesday night. It wasn't exactly what they're used to, but that just means the team is still alive for another national championship.


Senior Elizabeth Ball went through the same process in 2015 when she was a part of Penn State's first-ever national title. The team played into December and missed valuable family time, but she said the family that has constituted in Happy Valley makes it all worth it.


For Penn State, the strong bond that has formed in recent weeks has propelled the team into the quarterfinal round. The Nittany Lions are playing their best soccer of the year, and there's a renewed confidence glowing from each player.


"From the Big Ten tournament straight through the NCAA tournament now we're playing good soccer," Dambach said. "We've put together six, seven game here where we feel like we're playing some of our best. We're peaking at the right time."


Peaking at the right time. Sound familiar?


The 2015 team peaked at the end of the season and shut out every team in the NCAA Tournament on their way to the national title. This year's Nittany Lions are now looking almost as dominant and as complete as that squad was.


Penn State has scored 12 goals in three tournament games--the team's best stretch all season. Six different players have scored and 10 different players have tallied assists in the NCAA Tournament.


Penn State just beat a national championship contender in West Virginia in the Sweet 16. West Virginia was the runner-up last year and was ranked No. 7 before falling to Penn State.


The Mountaineers scored first in the match, which usually guarantees a victory. Just not against this team.


Penn State answered five minutes later with a goal from Alina Ortega Jurado before Ball and Crouse added to the lead.


"The belief in this group right now is stronger than I've ever felt," Dambach said. "We went down a goal against West Virginia at their place in the Sweet 16 game, and I don't think that there was a single player of the 28 that felt like we were going to lose that game."


One of the biggest reasons the Nittany Lions believe they can run the table and beat anyone in the tournament is their strong nonconference schedule played early in the year. Penn State played West Virginia, BYU, North Carolina, and Virginia earlier this year.


"Our coaching staff set us up in the beginning of preseason to play teams that would put us under pressure, so I think that we're all extremely ready," Ball said. "I think that everybody, whether they've been on the team one year or four years, they're ready for what's to come."


Stanford will undoubtedly be Penn State's toughest test so far this year. The Cardinal is 21-1-0 and has won 19 straight matches since losing to Florida in August. They've been ranked the No. 1 team in the country for four straight weeks.


Stanford has outscored opponents 82-7 this year. They average a gaudy 25.5 shots per game and 3.73 goals per game.


"They like to keep possession. They like to keep the ball. They're really comfortable on the ball, so we expect a really good team on both sides of the ball. They're in the Elite Eight for a reason, but I like the way we're playing right now and I like the opportunity to go out there and play one of the best teams in the country."


The challenge may be daunting, but Penn State isn't shying away from the challenge one bit.


"We look at it as another game," Crouse said. "We've learned rankings mean absolutely nothing. They're an outstanding team and we look forward to playing them, but at this point rankings mean nothing to us."


By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State took down Stony Brook 7-0 in the first round of the NCAA tournament last Friday, but the competition heats up this weekend as the Nittany Lions travel to Morgantown, West Virginia.


The Blue and White, ranked No. 10 and a No. 3 seed in the tournament, will square off against No. 24 Wake Forest Friday at 4 p.m. in the second round of the tournament. With a win, the road to a second championship in three years doesn't get any easier.


Penn State's potential third round game on Sunday would be against the winner of No. 22 Rutgers and No. 7 West Virginia. The Morgantown pod of four teams may be the toughest in the field to overcome, as it's the only pod out of eight to feature four ranked teams.


Luckily for the Nittany Lions, they're playing their best soccer of the year right now. They've outscored opponents 10-1 since postseason play began with the Big Ten tournament.


"I think the whole team in general has grown a lot just from the beginning of the year," redshirt junior Emily Ogle said. "Knowing each other's tendencies and starting to get in a real flow and rhythm with the people around us. We've come a long way and it's finally starting to show."


One of the biggest reasons for Penn State's recent dominance is the offensive emergence of Laura Freigang. She has scored at least one goal in three straight matches and is coming off a three-goal game in the first round. It was the 21st hat trick in program history.


Freigang's recent surge garnered national praise, as she was named to the TopDrawerSoccer Team of the Week two weeks in a row.


The sophomore from Oppenheim, Germany now leads the team in goals (eight), points (17), and game-winning goals (four) this season.


"It was a long time coming," head coach Erica Dambach said. "She's been in and out of the group with national team duty. It's taken her a while to get fully integrated, and we thought that once she did this was going to be the result. We finally were able to slide her into the starting lineup on a consistent basis and the result has been magical."


Freigang has competed with the German Women's National Team since she was only 15. Recently, she played four matches in the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup last November.


Freigang said the pressure that comes with national team matches has helped her this year to produce in the clutch. Teammates have noticed, too.


"She has experience in these big stage games and it showed," Ogle said. "She's been our go-to player and has really come up big for us when we need her. She's a great player and she has that experience she can lead on when we need it the most."


Penn State will rely heavily on Freigang for some offensive firepower this weekend against stiff competition.


Here's what each team in the challenging pod presents for Penn State.


Wake Forest

 Wake Forest is a cohesive group that works well together up top. Of the team's 31 total goals scored this season, 29 were assisted on.


Bayley Fiest leads the team with eight goals and 18 points on the year, but the Demon Deacons feature a balanced offensive attack in which 13 players have scored at least one goal.


Wake Forest's best win this season came against South Carolina back in August. The Gamecocks are a No. 1 seed in the tournament, and Wake Forest defeated them, 3-2.


Dambach said the key to beating Wake Forest will be dominating the flanks on both ends of the field.


"They are good in the attack in the flanks, and I think in our attack we can get at them in those areas," Dambach said.


She also said Penn State needs to have success with set pieces like it did against Stony Brook. The Nittany Lions scored two goals off set pieces in that match, and Dambach said that could make or break the team in this upcoming game.


The Demon Deacons upset No. 15 Georgetown in penalty kicks in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and they'll be hungry for another one Friday.



West Virginia

 If Penn State can scrape by Wake Forest, a potential matchup with the Mountaineers would be especially intriguing.


Penn State already faced West Virginia in Morgantown earlier this season and came up one goal short in a thriller. A rematch would have every college soccer fan's eye on Sunday.


The Mountaineers are the No. 2 seed in the region and sport a 16-3-2 record. They've won eight of their last 10 and haven't lost since September 24.


The two powerhouses have played each other at least once in each of the past eight years and seem to always run into each other in the NCAA tournament. Penn State had to go through West Virginia during its 2015 national championship run.


The rivalry has an enthralling history. The series record sits at a deadlock at 7-7-2, and 11 of those 16 matches were either one-goal games or draws.


Michaela Abam leads the Mountaineers with 10 goals on the season. She's extremely aggressive offensively, as she averages almost six shots per game.


Goalkeeper Rylee Foster has been sturdy all season long. She owns a 0.56 goals against average and a .774 save percentage.



 Defense, defense, defense.


That's been Rutgers' identity since All-American goalkeeper Casey Murphy arrived in Piscataway three years ago.


The redshirt junior has allowed just six goals in 20 games this season. Her 0.28 goals against average is the top mark in the country.


The Scarlet Knights frustrate their opponents with stifling defense and physicality. The chippy, low-scoring game with plenty of fouls is Rutgers' comfort zone.


Penn State has played Rutgers twice this season and neither team has scored in 220 minutes of game time. The Nittany Lions grinded out a victory in penalty kicks in the Big Ten tournament. If this rematch occurs, expect the first team to score to pull out the win.


Going away to a hostile environment and making it through Morgantown will undoubtedly be Penn State's biggest challenge of the season, but confidence is oozing from this squad right now. The friendly confines of Jeffrey Field won't be revisited this season, but the Nittany Lions are ready for a fight on the road.


"There's no place like Jeffrey Field," Ogle said. "It's the best place in the country to play college soccer, but we're hunters. We go on the road and we try to eat, we try to get the job done. It doesn't matter where we play--we'll play anyone anywhere."


By Will Desautelle, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Nittany Lions continued their recent hot stretch with a convincing 7-0 victory over Stony Brook in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was their third straight win, and head coach Erica Dambach has her team playing with more confidence than ever.

"I could not have been prouder of this group tonight," Dambach said. "The momentum is going in the right direction right now. I think everything has been building up to this point. We keep talking about being 28 strong and we can feel that in everything we are doing right now."

Laura Freigang and Frannie Crouse led an offensive onslaught of four first half goals for the Nittany Lions. Freigang, who was tied with a team-high five goals coming into Friday's game, added three more to her season total by the end of the first half. It was the first Penn State women's soccer hat trick since Sept. 4, 2011.

"[Laura] has been having an incredible season for us," Crouse said. "It's great to play with her...her goals have been great."

Two second-half goals from Frankie Tagliaferri off the bench and one from Charlotte Williams sealed an already lopsided game for the Nittany Lions, who will face the winner of Georgetown and Wake Forest in the second round. 

"We got to get most of our players into the game, which is really huge for us," Crouse said. "They deserve to play, and for us to be able to get the score up and get everyone in boosts everyone's confidence."

More impressive than the Nittany Lions' best offensive output of the season was the fact that they were so prolific offensively in such frigid weather. Temperatures dropped as low as 16 degrees on Friday night, but Penn State had no intentions of letting the cold slow them down.

"You learn very quickly that weather is always going to be there and that it's nothing you can control," Crouse said. "What you can control is how you feel about it. Right now, we're on a beach. That's what we tell ourselves. It's obviously very cold but in our mindset, we're prepared to play through anything."

"It honestly wasn't a big deal. We didn't even really talk about it that much. You can't change [the weather]," Freigang added.

It was not a typical regular season for the Nittany Lions, as they finished tied for fourth in the Big Ten regular season standings. However, Dambach believes her team is starting to peak at the right time after winning their seventh Big Ten Tournament.

During the final four game span of the regular season, while the Nittany Lions won just once, they allowed just three goals and outshot opponents 65-23 during that span. The creativity in the box was there, but it was just a matter of finishing those opportunities.

"We've been wanting to score [more], so it was cool to be able to get a couple goals early on. It does a lot for our confidence," Freigang said.

Penn State won the national championship in 2015, and Dambach's team this season seems to be mirroring the way the 2015 team begun to play at its highest-level right when the postseason began.

The stifling defense has been the calling card through four postseason games, as the Nittany Lions have allowed just one goal during that four game stretch. Although they had struggled offensively at times before coming into tonight, Dambach believes that this level of defense will aid them moving forward.

"The best attack is a great defense and how can we win the ball higher up on the field to try to break them down before they get organized," Dambach said.

Dambach recently has mentioned several times that her team playing with a new mentality since the beginning of the Big Ten tournament. Whatever the new mindset is, Penn State is obviously feeding off of it right now. Only time will tell to see how deep into the NCAA Tournament it can take them. 


By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions didn't finish the regular season the way they wanted to, winning just one of their final four matches to drop to fifth place in the Big Ten before postseason play.


This was unheard of, as no Penn State team had ever finished worse than third in the conference since the program was born in 1994.


It wasn't as if the team was playing poorly, though.


The Blue and White allowed just three goals in those final four games and outshot its opponents 65-23 during that stretch. What was occurring on the field was as close to dominance as Penn State had shown all season.


There was just something missing.


The 2015 National Championship team had that something. Of course, that team had a stellar season from start to finish, but it seemed to flick a switch once the postseason arrived.


In the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments combined, the 2015 Nittany Lions scored 26 goals and surrendered just one in nine games. During that unconscious run, Penn State simply knew it was better than anyone who stepped on the field and proved it in dominating fashion.


That team found the late-season swagger necessary to pull off a magical NCAA tournament run.


Of the 27 women on that roster, 17 are still here, and just like the 2015 squad, this year's team has found its swagger just in time.


"What's most important is where you are at the end," head coach Erica Dambach said. "Right now I feel like we're peaking at the right time. I look back three weeks ago and I think that we were working towards this point but hadn't gotten over that threshold, and now I feel like this is a team with a winning mentality."


Dambach said she sees a lot of similarities with this year's team and the 2015 team, which projects well for the NCAA tournament beginning Friday.


"I think this team has come out with more grit honestly than that 2015 team," she said. "This team has more depth. I think that they've taken the virtual backpacks off with all the expectations and they're ready to go."


The first round game against Rutgers in the Big Ten tournament was the turning point for Penn State this year. After a rough finish to the regular season, the Nittany Lions played inspired soccer again and downed the Scarlet Knights in penalty kicks.


Redshirt junior Maddie Elliston said she felt a momentum shift within the team that game. She said it just felt different.


"We just came out 28 strong," Elliston said. "Our bench was crazy. The team was crazy on the field. We've changed some things up, changed our blueprint."


Penn State fed off that momentum to knock off top-seeded Ohio State then rally from one goal down to beat Northwestern 2-1 in the conference championship game.


The Nittany Lions went through two rain delays and a field change from outdoors to indoor turf to grind out the comeback win. That was a win the Penn State of three weeks ago might not have been able to pull off.


"Being down a goal and being in a weather delay--all of that just kind of shows how much grit our team has and how up for [the challenge] we are. I definitely think this weekend is going to help us going forward," senior Elizabeth Ball said.


Ball was one of the starters on the 2015 championship team. She's been through everything imaginable in her four years, and she said the mindset of the team right now is exactly where it needs to be.


"It's just an all-in mentality right now," Ball said. "The ups and downs are hard for any team but for us I think they've really just propelled us forward. You can just see it--the energy that we have on the bench and on the field. It's a whole different team honestly."


The team's mental confidence and cohesiveness on the field may be at its highest point of the entire season, but that's not the only reason for Penn State's newfound swagger.


The team is simply closer and more focused than ever. Elliston said the girls always strive to build a family environment off the field.


"I think the closest teams--those who really stay connected and believe in each other and care for each other--fight for each other on the field," she said. "We fight for our families. We fight for our coaches. We fight for Penn State, and it absolutely translates to the field."


Penn State gets to test its newfound swagger again Friday against Stony Brook for the first round of the NCAA tournament. The game will be played on Jeffrey Field at 7:30 p.m.


Dambach said the team is excited to get back on its home field and feed off the Happy Valley faithful.


She said the team has switched its mindset from the hunted to the hunter over the course of the season. Coming in to the season ranked No. 1 by TopDrawerSoccer, Penn State sputtered in the limelight. Now, with teams viewing them as an underdog, the Nittany Lions are on the prowl.


"We're anxious to start hunting together," Dambach said.

By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In college soccer, teams don't play any opponent more than once in the regular season. The only way Penn State would play a rematch against any regular season foe is if it occurred in the conference or NCAA tournament.


Luckily for the Nittany Lions, they've had plenty of postseason experience. Penn State has made both the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament 22 times each in its history.


That means that the Blue and White have had plenty of experience gearing up to play a team twice in one season, and they've had great success in those games.


Since 2012, Penn State is 9-4-2 in postseason rematches against teams previously played the same year. Head coach Erica Dambach said her players always come into rematches with a chip on their shoulder.


"They seem to come in to those matches with a different level of determination," Dambach said.


"We respect every opponent. We take every game one game at a time, so just because they did something the first time we played them doesn't mean they're going to do the same thing the next time," midfielder Salina Williford said about playing teams twice. "Every team changes when they play us, so we got to prepare differently for every game depending on what we think they're going to do."


The Nittany Lions defeated Rutgers in penalty kicks last Sunday in the first round of the Big Ten tournament to add another impressive rematch win to its resume. Penn State played Rutgers to a draw in the regular season.


The next task will be avenging a loss to Big Ten regular season champions, Ohio State from earlier this year. Penn State faces Ohio State Friday at 1 p.m. in a Big Ten semifinal match.


"[Ohio State has] definitely evolved over the past couple of weeks since we played them," Williford said. "We're going to try and tweak some things and see what we can learn from what we did last time."


The Buckeyes won the first match in Columbus, Ohio back on September 30 by a score of 1-0, even though Penn State outshot them 12-5. Dambach said it wasn't one of the team's best games, but that the squad is much more confident and prepared this time around.


"What I've seen from this group the past 10 days or so is a recommitment, a reinvestment, and just a completely different mentality against Rutgers," she said. "Certainly there are tactical things we can take from Ohio State but I think the mentality is what we're most excited about right now."


Dambach and the rest of the team believe this isn't the same group that lost to Ohio State over a month ago. Coming off an impressive win against arguably the best defensive teams in the country, Penn State is confident it can go in and knock off the No. 1 seeded Buckeyes.


"I think we're a new team going into the postseason, redshirt senior Brittany Basinger said. "We've really put a lot of different things together and worked on different things that we were struggling with before, and I think we're ready."


A big part of their success Friday will be dependent on the Nittany Lions' ability to surprise Ohio State in some fashion. Williford said the team's game plan in the first match was too simple and easy to counter. She said it won't be the same this time around.


"I think especially in the beginning of the year we were pretty predictable in our attack, so we're going to try and be more unpredictable and more mobile," she said.


Dambach prepares for postseason rematches a little differently than she does regular season games.


"Conference teams know you so well, so you've got to throw some wrinkles in," she said. "You got to make sure that there's some surprises, especially in the attack. This was a match that we didn't perform to our best and I think the team's in a different place right now."


Along with the motivation of revenge and the ability to change the attacking game plan on the fly, a huge factor that has driven Penn State to such a stout record in rematch games is the fire inside knowing the end of the season is upon them.


If Penn State loses Friday to Ohio State, it surely wouldn't be the end of the Nittany Lions' season, but every postseason game feels like a do-or-die. Playing Big Ten tournament games as if they were elimination games helps Penn State prepare for the NCAA tournament of true win-or-go-home matches.


"We really need to go in to each game like it's our last game because we're at the time where it could be, so just kind of giving it everything we have once we step on the field," Williford said.


By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State has gotten used to playing as a favorite in the Big Ten conference, but that changes for the first time in the team's history as we approach postseason play.


Sure, no one would be surprised if the Nittany Lions won three straight matches and locked up the Big Ten conference tournament title, but this season they'll have to do so as the No. 5 seed. Since the team was formed in 1994, it has never been worse than the No. 3 seed.


In 21 tournaments prior to 2017, Penn State went in to the tournament as the No. 1 seed 15 times. The Nittany Lions simply aren't used to playing as the underdog.


This year will also be the first time Penn State will play its first round game away from Jeffrey Field, as the squad will travel to Rutgers for its first round matchup with the No. 4 seeded Scarlet Knights on Sunday.


"Obviously it's great playing on Jeffrey Field. We love playing on Jeffrey Field, but this group needs to put all that stuff aside and just play right now," head coach Erica Dambach said.


Dambach has preached a James Franklin-esque, one-game-at-a-time approach heading into postseason play. It's easy to look ahead at the College Cup because that's where this team believes it can be this year, but Penn State is solely focused on Rutgers for the time being.


"It's really going to have to be one game at a time right now," Dambach said. "We're just focusing on getting better."


The Nittany Lions have sputtered a bit down the stretch after a strong start to the Big Ten slate. Penn State won just one of its final four games to drop from second to fifth in the conference. The team still had a chance to finish with a share of the Big Ten regular season title up to the final game against Wisconsin, but a loss dropped them back three spots.


One of the biggest areas of improvement heading into the tournament will be finishing opportunities up top. Penn State has created plenty of chances down the stretch but only notched three goals in the final four games combined.


The Blue and White were averaging two goals per game before that stretch.


Dambach said she's been encouraged with the recent attacking play and that it's only a matter of time before the offense gets its scoring groove back.


"I think that our ability to create attack has been really unlike any team that I've been a part of," Dambach said. "The quality chances we're creating right now--just the law of averages is in our favor, and now it's just a matter of that little bit extra to finish these."


The attack will be tested greatly in Penn State's first round match against the Scarlet Knights.


Rutgers' goalkeeper Casey Murphy is one of the best in the business. She's allowed just five goals all season and has 14 shutouts to her name. Her goals against average of 0.263 per game is the second best mark in the country.


Penn State was unable to squeak one by her in the regular season matchup against Murphy a few weeks ago. The game ended in a 0-0 draw.


Dambach said the key to sparking the attack will start with the team's defense.


"Right now we have to tighten up some things defensively in order to create more attack," Dambach said. "The best attack is a great defense and how can we win the ball higher up on the field to try to break them down before they get organized."


Rutgers isn't too scary offensively, which is why one goal may be enough for the Nittany Lions on Sunday. The Scarlet Knights averaged less than one goal per game in conference play this season, but for the most part, they needed only one to win most of their contests.


It'll be a physical, defensive battle between two teams who don't much like each other, which is what the Big Ten is all about. It should be one of the more competitive first round matchups in the tournament.


Freshman Frankie Tagliaferri is entering her first postseason as a Nittany Lion, and she's been thrusted into a more prominent role offensively with Frannie Crouse's recent injury.


Tagliaferri said she's excited for playoff soccer but that it will be business as usual.


"I think it's going to be just as tough as regular season games," Tagliaferri said. "The Big Ten is really competitive, and I think that helps us and prepares us for all these other games that we're going to have."


The Nittany Lions will look to take that approach this postseason, no matter the role they play.  


By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Laura Freigang had only scored two goals all season coming into Friday's Big Ten clash against Purdue. Both goals just happened to be overtime game-winners.


When the game is on the line and Penn State is in dire need of a savior, Freigang has been able to provide. The biggest moments at the end of games bring out the best in her play.


"She's proven that she can score goals late in games, and she's become kind of our go-to player in those moments and she wants the ball," head coach Erica Dambach said. "She's a pressure player. She wants to be on the ball late in the game."


With Penn State down 2-1 with just three minutes remaining on the clock, the Nittany Lions were in desperation mode as the regular season Big Ten title seemed to be slipping from the team's fingers. A loss would've sealed its fate, as Ohio State had beaten Minnesota to jump four points ahead of Penn State with one game to play.


With hopes fleeting, Penn State made one last push forward, and guess who was there to tie the game.


You got it. Laura Freigang.


There was a scrum in the box as the ball bounced off multiple players before finding Freigang's foot close to net. She said she saw Frankie Tagliaferri get a foot on it to nudge the ball to Freigang who finished calmly.


Penn State, however, was unable to push a winning goal across in the overtime period and ended with a 2-2 draw. Freigang's goal in the 87th minute was her earliest goal scored in a game all season long.


The sophomore from Oppenheim, Germany put on a footwork clinic all day, weaving in and out of trouble with clever touches and spins throughout the match. She was the ignition for an offense that put up 23 shots in the game.


Freigang made plenty of chances for herself aside from the goal. She recorded a team-high six shots in the match and hit the post on a close-range shot in overtime that seemed destined for the back of the net


She stepped up in Frannie Crouse's absence and played 102 solid minutes.


"Frannie is a major part of our team and losing her is not good, so I just try to do my best out there working with [Megan] Schafer and the attack," Freigang said. "Everyone else makes it easy for me to be honest. We have so many great players."


Penn state outshot Purdue 23-4 in the game and controlled the ball for most of the match, but star Boilermaker forward Maddy Williams found the net twice to spoil the Nittany Lions' home finale.


Williams is the all-time leader at Purdue in both goals (36) and assists (26). She is a contender to become an All-Big Ten First Team selection this season, and she showed why Friday night.


"That's a kid who doesn't want their season to end," Dambach said. "Maddy Williams decided before the game that she didn't want her season to end, and she decided that she wasn't going to need many chances to do it, so a ton of credit to them."


Elizabeth Ball scored the first goal for Penn State for her second of the season. She said the defensive group played well but that there are room for improvements in communication and leadership.


"I thought our team showed a bunch of grit. We need to come out stronger and faster and try to put these teams away early, and that's not happening right now," Dambach added.


The Nittany Lions finish the regular season with a trip to Madison, Wisconsin. To take on the Badgers of Wisconsin next Wednesday. They currently sit three points behind the Big Ten leaders, Ohio State. Penn State would need a win against Wisconsin and an Ohio State loss to Illinois next week to share the Big Ten regular season title with the Buckeyes.

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By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Three Big Ten regular season titles. Sixty-four total wins. A winning percentage of .735. One National Championship, the first in program history. And they aren't done yet.


Those are just a few of the accomplishments the 2017 senior class members have achieved so far in their careers. It's quite simply one of the most accomplished classes Penn State has ever had.


The group will play its final regular season game on Jeffrey Field this Friday, October 20.


"It's never a good feeling when you know you're about to say goodbye to a really special group, but they've certainly left their legacy and hopefully we got a lot of soccer still ahead of us," head coach Erica Dambach said.


With all of their postseason experience, the seniors will be crucial to Penn State's success this season in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. The team will go as far as they take it.


"These are guys that have impacted the program since day one on and off the field," Dambach said. "That's a group that can take from all of its experience and drive this team right now."


Sophomore Laura Freigang said this year's senior class was paramount in helping her adjust to the college game and fit in with the team. Freigang came to Penn State from Germany and she said the upperclassmen help make her transition a smooth one.


She also said the seniors are the biggest reason for No. 9 Penn State's success this season.


"I personally always count on them. They're incredible. We have so many great seniors on this team," Freigang said. "I feel like you can see it on the field. Just the energy they bring and they talk to everyone. They drive the team. This year they have a huge impact."


Each senior has impacted the team on and off the field in various ways over the course of their careers. Here's what each one has accomplished in Blue and White.


Brittany Basinger

Basinger has been a team captain her junior and senior years as a Nittany Lion. She's a natural leader on and off the field.


As a defender, Basinger doesn't get many chances to score, but she's been a sturdy back line piece her entire career. She can also push the tempo offensively down the flanks when she feels it necessary.


She started all 23 matches as a freshman and logged at least 1,762 minutes on the pitch in each of her first three seasons. That role changed this season, as she has come off the bench for a few games because of Penn State's defensive depth, but that hasn't fazed her one bit.


Basinger is also incredibly proficient in the classroom. She has earned Academic All-Big Ten status from 2014-2016.


Megan Schafer

Schafer is a fierce, physical attacker no defender wants to see barreling toward them. She's always had a knack for finding the back of the net.


She has totaled 30 goals and 17 assists over the course of her career. Within the senior class, Schafer ranks second in goals scored and first in assists.


In 2015, the National Championship season, Schafer netted 13 goals to lead the team and the Big Ten. She also added four assists.


Schafer has been a clutch performer since day one, with tallied 11 game-winning goals in her career.


Elizabeth Ball

In her four years as a Nittany Lion, Ball has earned the label of dependable team workhorse, and deservedly so. She has totaled 7,065 minutes in her career, by far the highest mark on the team.


She has started 83 of her 86 total matches played.


Ball has been a rock in the center defense since 2014, but she didn't even come to Penn State as a defender. She was actually a highly touted striker prospect coming out of high school.


Ball scored 57 goals from 2011-2014 with her club team, the Richmond Strikers ECNL. Dambach needed help in the back line when Ball arrived on campus, and she was more than happy to fill the void.


It's safe to say the move worked for both Ball and Dambach. Ball recently had her best year as a Nittany Lion, as she was named to the First Team All-Big Ten squad.


Frannie Crouse

Wait, what was that bolt of lightning that almost hit the field? Oh, it was just Frannie Crouse.


Crouse is the speediest player on the team and uses her pace to simply outrun bigger defenders for clear angles at goal. She's pretty darn good at finishing too.


Crouse has netted 35 goals and added 16 assists in her illustrious career. She's scored double-digit goals in each of her first three seasons.


She, with Ball, was also named to the All-Big Ten First Team last season. She was also one of the biggest reasons Penn State won its first national title, scoring three goals in the NCAA tournament and receiving College Cup All-Tournament Team honors in 2015.


Haleigh Echard

Echard has been a valuable substitute during her career. She's played in as many games as Crouse, but her career-high for starts in a season is just 10.


While Crouse and Schafer handle most of the scoring for this group, Echard plays more of a setup role. She's tallied 10 assists in her career and scored five goals.


When Echard does attack, however, she's incredibly accurate with her shot. She leads the senior class in career shots on goal percentage (.509).


Echard also shines in the classroom. She made the Academic All-Big Ten team in 2015 and 2016. She also earned the Big Ten Distinguished Scholar honor last year.


Salina Williford

Williford is mostly a possession player in the midfield. She rarely turns the ball over, and she's a natural with beginning an attack.


She's scored seven goals and tallied seven assists in her career. Her best season came in 2014 when she scored five goals and added five assists.


Williford also earned Academic All-Big Ten team honors last season.


Isabelle Clauss

Clauss has played in three games in each of her four years at Penn State. She's been described as the perfect teammate and one of the hardest workers on the team.


Maddie Elliston, who was originally part of this senior class before she redshirted last season, said Clauss has made the biggest improvement of anyone on the team since freshman year.


Clauss made the Academic All-Big Ten team in 2015 and 2016. She also was named a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar last year.


Elliston said she's going to enjoy every minute she has left with the senior class. She said her goal is to play with or against some of them in the pros.


"I'm going to miss all of them as people," Elliston said. "They're awesome people and they're grinders and they really set a standard. They've left a big mark on the program. I'm going to miss so much, but mostly their friendship."


By Jack Dougherty, 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, 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.  


By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 2017 senior class is one of the most decorated groups in Penn State history.


Over the last four years, the senior class has led the Nittany Lions to a record of 63-15-7. The group was instrumental in Penn State's first ever National Championship run in 2015.


"This is a really special group of seniors," said head coach Erica Dambach. "To be able to get all of them out there and all of them contribute--just really proud of this group of seniors overall."


Seven seniors--Elizabeth Ball, Brittany Basinger, Megan Schafer, Frannie Crouse, Haleigh Echard, Salina Williford, and Isabelle Clauss--were honored before Sunday's game against Michigan State on Senior Day.


Each player and their families received a bouquet of blue and white flowers, a standing ovation from the crowd of 1,649, and a hug from Dambach. Even a few of the players' dogs made the trip to Happy Valley to join in on the day's festivities.


"Throughout the four years we've felt like family," Schafer said. "For everyone to come together to honor the seven of us, I think it's a really cool environment that we created and I couldn't have asked for a better senior day."


It was an emotional afternoon for all, but there was still a game to be played. A game that had major implications in fact, as Penn State came in to the game tied with Purdue and Minnesota for second place in the Big Ten. With only four regular season games remaining, every point is crucial.


As they've done their entire careers, the seniors rose past the distractions and emotions of senior day and played lights out in route to a 4-0 victory. Every goal was scored by a senior.


Schafer scored the first in the 14th minute and added another in the 60th. She has now scored three goals in the past two games after scoring three in the first 11 games.


"[Megan's] been working. I haven't been disappointed at all with her work rate," Dambach said. "There's been some chances she's missed but you can see her feeling it. You can see her just driving this team right now."


Ball then joined in on the senior magic in the 77th minute to put the game out of reach for the Spartans. She hadn't scored a goal all season until Sunday's game.


If that wasn't enough, Echard found the net in the 87th minute for her second goal of the season. Crouse left the match in the first half with an injury, but the way the game was going she probably would've scored too.


"We were going crazy," Schafer said of Echard's goal. "It was just a lot of fun. She scored with three minutes left to go and we didn't take the foot off the gas. It's great to be part of this team."


The senior class has one more regular season game on Jeffrey Field, and both Ball and Schafer said they're cherishing the few games they have left in Blue and White.


"It's never a good feeling when you know you're about to say goodbye to a really special group, but they've certainly left their legacy and hopefully we got a lot of soccer still ahead of us," Dambach said.


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