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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Having just one goalkeeper on the roster who can be trusted to make all the saves and police the defense to where it needs to be is rare, but having two is an absolute luxury very few teams enjoy.

 

Penn State happens to be one of those teams.

 

Starting goalie Rose Chandler and backup Amanda Dennis combine for what could be considered the best one-two punch in all of college soccer.

 

"I would argue we've got the two best goalkeepers in the country," said head coach Erica Dambach. "They are the classic definition of iron sharpens iron. They make each other better every day. They can both go as far as they dream about in this game because I cannot imagine a better collegiate training environment than the one they're in."

 

Chandler, a redshirt junior, jumped into the starting role this season after taking last year off to play with the United States U-20 Women's National Team at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. It's her first year carrying the duties of an every day starter, and she's performed at a high level so far.

 

She owns a 6-2 record this year and a 1.02 goals against average. She has also notched two shutouts so far.

 

Originally from Atlanta, Ga., Chandler said she never seriously thought about Penn State until she was recruited and made her first visit to State College, but she was instantly hooked afterward.

 

"I thought that I wanted to play ACC soccer, but it took one visit and I fell in love and I knew that I definitely wanted to be a Nittany Lion," Chandler said.

 

Chandler has improved steadily each year since stepping foot on campus due to U.S. National Team experience, the mentorship of Britt Eckerstrom in 2015, and the help of goalkeeper coach Tim Wassell.

 

"It's been incredible to watch Rose's growth, and I think it's such a testament to the environment that [the goalies] intentionally shape on a daily basis," Wassell said. "I'm the luckiest guy in the world to get to share my days with those guys and to see them go chase excellence is fantastic."

 

Wassell also said the tandem is the best one-two punch he's coached in his eight seasons as a Penn State assistant coach.

 

Chandler may be the starter, but Dennis is not your normal backup.

 

She came to Penn State last year as the No. 2 ranked goalkeeper in the country and started all 21 matches as a freshman. Dennis also boasts U.S. National Team experience. She has been a member of the U-14, U-15, U-17, U-18 and U-20 teams in the past.

 

Dennis recorded seven solo shutouts and ended the 2016 season with a 0.92 goals against average. She was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team last year, but she had to take a backseat to Chandler in 2017. Instead of getting down about the demotion, Dennis has embraced the opportunity to improve her skills and push Chandler to get better as well.

 

"We both want to just make each other better, so at the end of the day if she's in the goal and she's making great saves and we're winning--whenever she makes a save it almost feels like I'm making a save," Dennis said. "It's a fantastic thing to see Rose doing so great."

 

Dennis has subbed in for only one match so far this season, but coach Dambach said there's no drop in talent when she goes to the bench for her backup keeper.

 

"I've got 100 percent confidence in Amanda," Dambach said. "She proved herself last year. She proves herself in training every day, and most importantly she continues to invest in her teammates."

 

What makes the dynamic duo of Chandler and Dennis so special is their competitiveness on the training field in practice. Since they're so close in skill level, they're always pushing each other and trying to one-up each other in drills.

 

"The growth that they're bringing out of each other in the last six weeks has been unreal, some of the stuff they pull off in training," said Wassell. "This iron sharpens iron is so cool to watch, and I think it's translated into games. It's been awesome to see."

12850624.jpegBy Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Through 109 minutes, the scoreboard still read 0-0 and reality set in that Sunday just might not be Penn State's day.

 

It wasn't as if the Nittany Lions didn't deserve the victory. They outshot Illinois 27-2 and held possession for the majority of the game. A draw just wouldn't have seemed right with the way Penn State dominated the match.

 

As the clock ran down in the second overtime, Laura Freigang refused to let three points in the standings slip through the cracks.

 

After a flurry of Penn State chances, Maddie Elliston sent a high ball to the top of the box for Freigang. She controlled it off her chest, dribbled once to her right to face the goal and ripped a right-footed bullet into the net with just 42 seconds remaining to give Penn State the walk-off win.

 

"I just tried to hit it on goal," Freigang said. "I knew that we didn't have much time left, and it was honestly kind of lucky. [The goalkeeper] had her hand on it and it rolled in, but it's all we needed."

 

Head coach Erica Dambach said she never doubted her team would eventually find the back of the net.

 

"We do a five-minute drill all the time," Dambach said. "We know we can score with five minutes left in a game. I believe in this group. I always think that they're dangerous and can put a ball away."

 

The goal was Freigang's first of the season and third of her career. She and Charlotte Williams led the team with six shots apiece in the game.

 

Penn State tested Illini goalkeeper Jaelyn Cunningham with 12 shots on goal in the contest. Cunningham made a season-high 10 saves and miraculously kept the Nittany Lions off the board as long as she could. Dambach said Cunningham was the MVP of the match.

 

If Penn State had an MVP, it would most certainly be Freigang.

 

The sophomore from Oppenheim, Germany fought fatigue and a physical back line all day without giving an inch. She came off the bench and played 70 minutes in the game, more than any other substitute.

 

Freigang can be forgotten at times playing with high-powered scorers like Frannie Crouse and Megan Schafer up top, but she's just as dangerous when she receives the ball in the right position. She's clever with her passes and uses her 5-foot-8 frame to pin defenders before making her move, like she did Sunday.

 

Defender Ellie Jean was a key contributor to Penn State's fourth shutout in eight matches this season. She said a game like Sunday's shows that the team can fight through different forms of adversity.

 

"We have a really tough season, and I think it's really good for us just to prepare for whatever postseason," Jean said. "We're looking to just be a team, create as a team, be a unit, and create every game."

 

If Sunday's hard-fought win proved anything, it's that no matches in the Big Ten are ever guaranteed victories.

 

"We say it day in and day out--any team in this conference can play with any other team regardless of who it is and when it is, but you got to show up with your A-game," Dambach said.


Penn State will hit the road for three straight games away from home. The Nittany Lions travel to Iowa City, Iowa next to face the Hawkeyes on Friday, September 22 at 8 p.m.

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Brittany Basinger is listed on the depth chart as a defender, but she is much more than just that, and she showed it Thursday night.

 

Basinger's primary duty is to police the left quarter of the defense as the left back, but she's never static. The redshirt senior from Purcellville, Va. must run at least a mile up and down the left flank game in and game out. She might cover more ground than any other Nittany Lion over the course of a match.

 

Basinger was at it again Thursday night, sprinting up constantly to get involved on offense and retreating back to help the defense when necessary. She was one of the focal points of the offensive attack, which went through the left half for the majority of time that she was on the pitch.

 

Midfielder Emily Ogle and forwards Frannie Crouse and Megan Schafer continuously fed Basinger with through balls down the left flank, and the redshirt senior would instinctively find a seam and send a cross into the box.

 

Basinger's aggressiveness offensively led to 15 shots and eight on target in the first half against one of the stingiest defenses in the country. The first Penn State goal in Penn State's 3-0 win was primarily Basinger's doing.

 

In the fourth minute Crouse dished a pass backward to Basinger who took one touch and flew a curling cross into the box that landed right on Schafer's head and she was able to finish to give the Nittany Lions an early lead.

 

"Today we were really focusing on big five moments and giving each other boosts throughout the entire game, and it just happened to come and [Schafer] did a fantastic job to finish it," Basinger said.

 

The assist was Basinger's first of the season.

 

Basinger also made her impact felt on the defensive end early in the first half. She nabbed three solo steals in the first five minutes of the game and finished with five in the half.

 

She played a key role in a dominating first half performance for the Nittany Lions defensively. Penn State didn't allow a Northwestern shot until the 40th minute.

 

Most players don't have the skills to be an offensive firecracker and a defensive stone wall in the same game, but Basinger isn't most players.

 

"[Basinger] was a warrior for us today," said head coach Erica Dambach. "That's your fifth-year senior captain. That's what you would expect in Big Ten play. She knows the mentality that she needs to bring, and she shares it with the group."

 

Penn State tallied another goal in the 42nd minute off an Ogle free kick from 24 yards out. The redshirt junior ripped a bullet around the wall and into the bottom right corner to give the Nittany Lions a two-goal cushion at halftime.

 

"It's something that the whole team works on every day in training, and we want to be strong in all aspects of our set pieces," Ogle said. "We've been training it, working it, trying to get the details, so it's good that we finally got one today."

 

Basinger showed off even more of her versatility in the second half. She entered in the 54th minute after a much-needed rest, but this time she lined up as a center back.

 

Center back and left back may be a slot next to each other on the pitch, but the two have completely different duties. Basinger had to dial back on her attacking role and focus solely on being the last line of defense.

 

"I'm working on center back," Basinger said. "It's different. Just being in a different part of the field is a change but we're working on it."

 

Penn State added an insurance goal in the 48th minute courtesy of Charlotte Williams and the game was all but sealed.

 

The three-goal shutout is all the more impressive taking into account Northwestern's defensive dominance of late. Wildcat goalkeeper Lauren Clem was a third-team All-American last year and is tied for 15th all-time with 39 shutouts in her career.

 

The last time Northwestern gave up three goals was in 2015 to West Virginia. Penn State also beat the Wildcats 3-0 that season.

 

"They had a good game plan and I thought our movement was quite good and we were able to unlock them a little bit," Dambach said. "That's a very good team that we just put three goals away on."

 

Penn State moved to 24-3-0 all-time against Northwestern. The Blue and White have outscored the Wildcats 17-5 in their last six matchups.

 

The Nittany Lions dive back into the conference slate Sunday at home against Illinois at 1 p.m.

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State, the Big Ten slate isn't just a portion of the schedule--it's a whole new season.

 

The non-conference section of the schedule is used to find out the team's strengths and weaknesses so that head coach Erica Dambach can fine-tune the issues and have the team playing its best soccer when it matters most.

 

That's why Dambach loves to schedule top-ranked opponents in the beginning of the year, each with different playing styles. Doing this exposes Penn State to all forms of play the team may see from conference foes during the year.

 

"We've had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at us, so I don't think there's any team in the Big Ten that's going to give us something new," senior midfielder Haleigh Echard said. "I think we're going to take all the challenges that we had in the past six games and just bring them in to Big Ten play and come out firing."

 

Since 1998, Penn State has dominated the Big Ten. There's no other way to put it. The Nittany Lions have won or shared 18 of the last 19 conference regular season titles.

 

"[Conference opponents] circle this date on their schedules," Dambach said. "They come out and they play hard, and I think at this point we get everybody's best game."

 

Penn State is Goliath, but there's always a David lurking. This year, there may be a few Davids with a chance to slay the giant.

 

Rutgers is always one of Penn State's biggest threats on the schedule, and this year looks no different. The Scarlet Knights have started the season 6-0-1 and haven't conceded a single goal. They also lead the conference in goals scored with 20.

 

Rutgers has been a defensive juggernaut in recent years thanks to goalkeeper Casey Murphy.

 

Murphy was named a National Soccer Coaches Association of America Second Team All-American in 2015. She took a redshirt last season to play for the U.S. U-20 Women's National Team, where she was teammates with multiple Nittany Lions, but she's back in net for the Scarlet Knights this year.

 

Penn State will meet Rutgers Oct. 12 in Piscataway, NJ.

 

Wisconsin is another dangerous team that has the tools to challenge Penn State for a conference title.

 

The Badgers (6-1-0) are ranked No. 9 in the United Coaches Soccer poll, right behind No. 8 Penn State. In 2015 the two teams shared the Big Ten title with 8-2-1 records, and Wisconsin might be even more talented this season.

 

Offensively, youth is powering the Badgers early on. Three of their top four goal scorers are underclassmen. Wisconsin's leading goal scorer is sophomore Dani Rhodes, who has notched four goals so far coming off a freshman season in which she was named to the 2016 All-Big Ten Freshman Team.

 

The Badgers may be young up top, but they're experienced where it matters most--in the net. Goalkeeper Caitlyn Clem is a redshirt senior who ranks ninth all-time at Wisconsin with 18 shutouts. She has tallied 17 saves on the young season and is allowing 0.91 goals per game.

 

Penn State finishes up its regular season in Madison, Wis. against the Badgers in what could be a winner-take-all game.

 

Rutgers and Wisconsin may be the top dogs with the best chance to dethrone Penn State this year, but the Big Ten as a whole looks much more competitive and well-rounded than in year's past.

 

Twelve of the 14 conference teams come into Big Ten play with a winning record, and seven teams have five wins or more. Three Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 25, while Ohio State and Nebraska both received votes as well.

 

"I was really impressed with our conference during non-conference play," Dambach said. "It looks like there's going to be a lot of competition for the Big Ten championship this year, which is exactly what we want. We want to be challenged. We want to obviously play against the best and hopefully prepare ourselves as much as possible for an opportunity in November."

 

As for the Nittany Lions, they enter the conference slate coming off a 3-2 loss to Virginia. They sit at 4-2-0 on the year, but both losses came to teams ranked inside the top six.

 

Penn State will open up Big Ten play at home Thursday night at 7 p.m. against Northwestern. The Wildcats had their best Big Ten season to date last year, going 7-1-3 in the conference and sharing the regular season title with Penn State and Minnesota.

 

Whether the challenger is a team listed above, or another Big Ten opponent, the Nittany Lions know that it will be tough competition in conference play all season long.  

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Frannie Crouse loves to score. She's pretty darn good at it, too.

 

Crouse has netted 35 career goals in her illustrious career as a Nittany Lion. She ranks 11th all-time in goals at Penn State and tied for 12th all-time in points with 82, and she isn't done climbing the record books quite yet.

 

She scored a career-high 12 goals last season as a junior, which led the Big Ten, and she just keeps getting better. Every season she has increased her goal total from the year before.

 

She has scored double-digit goals every year since coming to Penn State in 2014 and is poised to do the same in her senior year as one of the leaders up top.

 

Crouse is also one of the most clutch players on the team.

 

She has scored 13 game-winning goals in her career, including a goal in an upset over No. 2 Stanford and the first goal in a 2-0 College Cup semifinal win over Rutgers in 2015. She scored three times in the NCAA tournament during Penn State's national title run that same year.

 

Crouse always seems to come up with the magical goal in the biggest moments, and that trend continued Thursday night in Penn State's 1-0 win against No.6 North Carolina.

 

"Your big players got to show up on big nights," head coach Erica Dambach said. "Everybody's got to show up, but you knew that Frannie Crouse was going to be there tonight. You knew she was going to put one in the back of the net."

 

To put the moment in perspective, North Carolina is far and away the most accomplished team in the history of women's college soccer. The Tar Heels have won 22 national championships, the most ever by a whopping margin of 19.

 

North Carolina has had its way with most of its opponents over the years, and that list includes Penn State. The Tar Heels owned a 6-1 all-time record against the Nittany Lions before Thursday night, but this was their first trip to Happy Valley, and Crouse made sure their ride back to Chapel Hill, NC wouldn't be a happy one.

 

In the seventh minute she made a darting run to the middle of the box and Charlotte Williams threaded a through ball right to her feet that Crouse finished easily with her right foot for what ended up being the only goal in the contest.

 

"I love playing games like this because usually you're the underdog," Crouse said. "Our team may be ranked higher but they have the tradition that's well known. We just wanted to come out and beat them."

 

This win could end up being the most impressive for Penn State in the entire regular season. Coming off a tough loss to West Virginia, the Nittany Lions were able to rebound and defeat one of the best teams in the country to improve their record to 4-1.

 

The Nittany Lions held North Carolina off the scoreboard for the rest of the game in the stingiest defensive showing the Tar Heels have faced all season.

 

North Carolina came into the game averaging 19.2 shots per game and 2.8 goals per game. Penn State held them to just six shots and two on target.

 

"Defensive performance straight through the roster," said Dambach. "Not just the back line, not just the goalkeeper. [I'm} really proud of this back line, though. They've been under so much pressure against some of the top teams in the country and to hold strong against a great Carolina team is a testament to them."

 

Junior defender Kaleigh Riehl said the defensive performance is going to boost the back line's confidence moving forward.

 

"I think just the details were super important in this game," she said. "Always checking our shoulder, always bringing people together, organizing, and we knew that we had to bring a blue collar mentality."

 

The Nittany Lions will look to continue to use clutch goals and big-time defensive efforts to keep this momentum going all season long. 

 

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach Erica Dambach loaded up the 2017 non-conference schedule a bit heavier than most coaches around the country would feel comfortable with.

 

The first true test of the year was against West Virginia, which was pegged as the No. 1 team in the country before the season began. The Mountaineers made it to the national championship game last year but fell short to Southern California.

 

So, of course, Dambach jumped on the opportunity to give her team an early challenge and scheduled West Virginia as the fourth game of the year.

 

Junior midfielder and forward Alina Ortega Jurado said she loves the way Dambach approaches scheduling.

 

"We think we're one of the best teams in the country right now, and [Dambach] wants us to play against the best teams to see where we're at," Ortega Jurado said.

 

The Nittany Lions battled tough in one of the most intimidating environments in the country but fell 2-1 to the Mountaineers in Morgantown, WV.

 

Next up--North Carolina.

 

Yes, that North Carolina. The same North Carolina that has claimed a whopping 21 national championships since 1982. The Tar Heels have won more titles than all other teams combined.

 

Penn State will play host to North Carolina Thursday at 7 p.m. on the Big Ten Network. The Tar Heels come in to Happy Valley ranked sixth in the country, right behind the Nittany Lions, who sit at No. 5.

 

"They just put a lot of pressure on teams," Dambach said of the Tar Heels. "They press hard, they press with a lot of numbers, they attack with a lot of numbers, and so we expect them to be a big risk, big reward team."

 

Dambach also said the key to the game will be winning balls sent into the box on both ends.

 

If playing West Virginia and North Carolina back-to-back wasn't hard enough, the Nittany Lions have to travel to Charlottesville, Va. to play No. 8 Virginia on Sunday. It will be the third straight game Penn State plays against a top-eight opponent in the polls.

 

It's one of the most daunting non-conference schedules any team will face this season, but that's just the way Dambach and the Nittany Lions like it.

 

Redshirt junior defender Maddie Elliston said she loves the challenge and would want to play top-10 teams every game if she had the choice.

 

"It shows you where you're at," Elliston said. "It just adds so much to really see all the talent and get to play teams that you might not face until tournament time. It just challenges you in different ways. Every team brings something so unique."

 

Dambach has preached being "bulletproof" early and often this season. She said she wants the team to experience every style of play they might face in the Big Ten and in the postseason looking forward.

 

In her mind, she says scheduling the best teams in the country is the best way to make the team bulletproof.

 

"The schedule has been awesome from that standpoint," Dambach said. "We have seen so many different approaches to matches, and in these next two games we're going to see two even more completely different approaches to games, so we are getting exposed in a lot of different areas. We're figuring out what we're able to do against some of these systems. We're making some tweaks. We're making some changes and we can figure out if these adjustments work."

 

Elliston echoed Dambach's thoughts and said each non-conference opponent on the schedule brings a new challenge with them.

 

From Arkansas' physicality, to West Virginia's size up top, to North Carolina's individual playmakers and creativity--each test provides an additional piece to Penn State's suit of armor that will make the team bulletproof by the end of the season.

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Duke-North Carolina. Ohio State-Michigan. Auburn-Alabama.

 

Some matchups immediately come to mind when thinking of rivalries in college sports, but there's a new one emerging in women's soccer: Penn State-West Virginia.

 

But wait, these teams aren't even in the same conference. How can they even be rivals?

 

Fair point, but this nonconference matchup features everything a good old fashioned rivalry has and more.

 

But they don't even play every year, right?

 

Wrong. Penn State and West Virginia have faced off every season for the past eight years. They've battled each other 15 times since 2003. That's even more games than Penn State has played against some conference foes in that span.

 

Okay fine, but rivalries have to be competitive. It's not a rivalry if one team dominates the head-to-head.

 

No issues here. In the short history of the rivalry, Penn State has gone 7-6-2 against West Virginia. Ten of the 15 games have been decided by either one goal or a draw.

 

Only twice did Penn State play West Virginia when the Mountaineers weren't ranked in the top 25. The highest West Virginia was ranked when the two faced off was in 2015 when the Mountaineers were fourth in the nation, and Penn State beat them 2-0.

 

But what about the fans? Big Ten fans don't care as much when a nonconference opponent comes to town, right?

 

Wrong again. Both the Nittany Lion and Mountaineer faithful always come out in full strength to watch the two duke it out on one of the biggest stages in college soccer.

 

The average attendance at Penn State-West Virginia games is just shy of 2,860 the past six years, and more than half of the all-time matchups have yielded over 1,000 fans. Last year's bout at Jeffrey Field was played in front of 5,791 fans, which is a Penn State women's soccer record.

 

Okay, fine. So Penn State and West Virginia are just two really good teams who play close games and people like to watch. That doesn't make it a rivalry. Where's the magic?

 

We've got some magic for you, don't worry.

 

Look no further then Laura Freigang. She was born in Kiel, Germany and made the long trip to the United States to play college soccer in Happy Valley.

 

Freigang first stepped on the field for the Blue and White last year as a freshman--against none other than the Mountaineers of West Virginia. In a battle between top 10 teams, each boasting seasoned veterans who were used to stepping up on the big stage, it was the freshman from Germany who made the difference.

 

Freigang scored her first career goal in the 51st minute of that game and aided the Nittany Lions to a 1-1 draw. Without her goal, Penn State would be on the losing end of the all-time series.

 

It's those little moments that make rivalries so special. The unpredictable outcomes. The unexpected heroes. The matchups are never the same over and over again, and there isn't one dominant team.

A true rivalry doesn't care where the teams are from. It just cares that both teams are circling each other on the calendar before the season even begins. It cares that a meeting between the two brings out the largest crowd in program history. It cares, most importantly, that both teams can bring out the best in each other and shake hands in respect afterward.

 

Over the course of the rivalry, Frannie Crouse and Emily Ogle are two of three Nittany Lions that both have been able to shine for Penn State offensively, each scoring two goals against West Virginia in their careers. Those two and Freigang are the only current Nittany Lions who have netted a goal against the stingy Mountaineers defense.

 

A few Penn State players will be making their first appearances against West Virginia, including goalkeeper Rose Chandler. Chandler has started all three games for the Nittany Lions this season and has recorded seven saves so far, but this may be her toughest test yet.

 

Marissa Sheva has played three games in her career against West Virginia, but she hasn't tallied a shot. Look for that to change when Penn State meets the Mountaineers again Saturday at 7 p.m.  Sheva has been much more aggressive offensively this season and leads the team in goals so far with four.

 

With all her success on the stat sheets, Sheva gives the most credit to her teammates for setting her up.

 

"Honestly, I think I'm lucky to be in the right place at the right time," Sheva said. "I think that we've been very dangerous in the final third and I give a lot of credit to the assists for my goals because they're great services into the box."

 

Sheva said she's prepared for a rowdy atmosphere in Morgantown but that the team will be able to handle it like it did against Arkansas.

 

Penn State and West Virginia's matchup Saturday is a dream scenario for rivalry lovers. Penn State is ranked No. 4 and West Virginia sits at No. 6. The Nittany Lions look to stay undefeated while the Mountaineers are hungry to jump them in the rankings with a win and tie the all-time series at seven wins apiece.

 

"That's one of the toughest places in the country to go and play," said head coach Erica Dambach. "I think the biggest thing as we evaluate and work on the process is making sure that we play the way we want to play, that we go at these teams and we're combative and we certainly try to get them on the back foot but at the same time we try to play Penn State soccer as much as we can."

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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.

 

Welcome Back!

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."

Sheva Key in Opening Victory

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Nearly three months ago junior midfielder Marissa Sheva was competing on the Nittany Lion Outdoor Track, helping to guide the 2017 Big Ten Champion indoor Penn State women's team to a third-place finish at the outdoor track and field championships. 

A rare two-sport athlete in the collegiate setting, even Penn State head coach Erica Dambach noted that without Sheva's presence in the spring season, the staff wasn't quite sure what to expect. 

When the big lights came on and the fervent crowd at Jeffrey Field showed up, so did Sheva.

"Marissa has proven to be someone who can handle those big moments, obviously she is a two-sport athlete so she has been in those big moments so many times and just thinking about putting on frame and giving it the chance and she did a great job with it," Dambach said.

Less than 10 minutes into the official start of the 2017-18 Penn State Athletics slate, junior midfielder Charlotte Williams found Sheva wide open on a breakaway, where she finished from fewer than 10 yards out to give the Nittany Lions an early 1-0 edge against eighth-ranked BYU.

"I just really wanted to get it off my foot as soon as possible because I knew I had a defender coming on me and I knew that an early lead would really give us some energy that we needed," Sheva said.

Penn State's stifling defense limited BYU to just three shots in the opening half, as the crowd of 3,570 at Jeffrey field heightened the intensity giving the Nittany Lions a needed boost in the second half.

The Cougars though, would not remain silenced as Cameron Tucker slipped the equalizer in the second half past an outstretched redshirt junior goalkeeper Rose Chandler 

"I wasn't even nervous," Chandler said. "They came back with that goal and I was like, we're going to go get another one, you could feel it in the energy, no heads went down. I grabbed the ball out of the back of the net and I said okay we have to go score and we scored once and we said, okay, we have to go score again, and I love that energy from our team because we trust each other and we're really excited."

It was junior Alina Ortega-Jurado, who came off the bench in the first half, netting the go-ahead for the Nittany Lions in the second half, sparking just enough momentum for Sheva to strike again in a short stretch of time.

Finishing in a key moment once again, Sheva placed her second goal of the night in net off of a pair of rebounds from freshman Frankie Tagliaferri and Williams to send Penn State ahead 3-1.

Tagliaferri was one of three Nittany Lion newcomers to see the field, all from a freshman class ranked as high as fourth nationally by TopDrawerSoccer.com. She finished tied for first on the team with Williams with three shots.

"It was great to see the freshmen implementing a lot of the things that we've been working on and catching on so quickly" Sheva said. "They really play a huge part in the team, we have a lot of depth, so they're definitely going to help us this year." 

That wouldn't be all from BYU, as the Cougars continued to pepper Chandler. Making her first career start for the Nittany Lions, Chandler all but locked up the victory with a spectacular save in the final five minutes of play.

"Rose is a very good goalkeeper and I think everybody had to get the jitters out a little bit and then once you did, a huge save from her toward the end there and that's a game-changing save there," Dambach said.   

Penn State has a quick turnaround as it turns the focus toward Hofstra. The Nittany Lions close out opening weekend Sunday, Aug. 20 with an afternoon matchup set for 1 p.m. at Jeffrey Field.

Nittany Lions Set for 2017

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As is seemingly tradition, Penn State women's soccer will officially open the 2017-18 Intercollegiate Athletics slate Friday, August 18th with a 7 p.m. matchup under the lights against BYU.

With a pair of early preseason exhibitions complete, Penn State is poised to continue Chasing Greatness, with a challenging schedule awaiting and a roster stacked with both experience and depth heading into 2017.

Chasing Greatness
For head coach Erica Dambach, Chasing Greatness for 2017 means honing in on the details, showing up each day motivated to get better with an eye on all the little things. For senior caption Elizabeth Ball, details have been a daily focus, with the season opener now just days from arrival. 

"If you're not getting the little things done then how are you supposed to make it big picture," Ball said. "Every day we come out here and make sure our feet are behind the line before we start our warm up, we make sure everybody is talking, getting in tackles. Every little detail is so important to us and I think that's what really boosts us in the season."

Veteran Advantage
With nearly everyone returning in 2017, the Nittany Lions also have an added boost with the return of five members of the team who have returned to the squad after representing the United States at the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. 

"The most exciting thing, especially in our sport, are the different combinations that we can see throughout the course of the game," Dambach said. "Depending on the opponent, depending on the conditions, there are so many possibilities with this group and it's exciting to see that kind of come to life."

For Ball, a mix of both new faces and returners only elevates the training, meaning that everyone will be challenged to work to secure their spot.

Newcomers Too
As Dambach also noted, entering such a veteran squad could present a bit of an intimidating atmosphere for a freshman, but the five newcomers are adjusting just fine. Tabbed by TopDrawerSoccer.com as the fourth-best recruiting class in the nation, Penn State's freshmen class might be small in numbers, but certainly not short on talent.

"We've been throwing a lot at them and we've been asking the upperclassmen to help coach them as well and trying to bring them along as quickly as we can and they've been really receptive and trying to take in as much as they can and apply it," Dambach said.

Add in the experience and leadership of deeply experienced upperclassmen and it's a perfect combination for a smooth transition. 

"We've been able to advance in some of the concepts pretty quickly and we've been able to climb on to some of the things that we're usually doing in week two and three," Dambach said. "We've been able to work through those quickly." 

Home Sweet Jeffrey
Penn State's home-opener is often a record-setting event for the Nittany Lions with last year's attendance numbers hardly reflecting the energy generated from a record 5,791 fans who packed the stands at Jeffrey Field. With the help of an always enthusiastic student section affectionately known as the Park Avenue Army, Friday's opener offers free posters as well as a pregame student tailgate with free food and a DJ. Check out the full promotional schedule here.

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