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Champions Visit State Capitol

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - Penn State hit the state capitol today for an afternoon of recognition, celebrating Nittany Lion conference champion student-athletes and head coaches following a record-setting 2016-17 season both in competition and in the classroom.

Joined by select head coaches and staff members as well as student-athletes, the group toured through the Pennsylvania House and Senate, stopping in for lunch with Sen. Jake Corman in his office. Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate before remarks from Corman, welcoming the group to the state's capitol following a few early proceedings.

Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania House, which holds all 203 members, including Pennsylvania's Rep. Mike Hanna, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, Rep. Rich Irvin and Rep. Scott Conklin, who read a resolution to again welcome and congratulate the Nittany Lions on an all-around successful season, one that drew a standing ovation from the members on the floor. 

"I want to congratulate the teams for not only what they do on the field but what they do in the community, the outreach they give, the coaches who oversee them," Conklin said. 

Nittany Lion director of athletics Sandy Barbour only echoed the all-around success in her remarks in the main rotunda later in the afternoon, noting that the individuals surrounding her representing a combined 2016-17 total of nine conference titles, among a few other crowns, are only one part of the story.

Penn State was recently slated fourth in the first spring update of the Learfield Directors' Cup standings following a year that saw seven Nittany Lion squads earn Big Ten Championships or tournament titles in seven sports, the most of any league institution and the third-highest total in school history.

As head coach Cael Sanderson brought instantaneous cheers from the floor of the Pennsylvania house upon his introduction, the room was reminded of Nittany Lion wrestling team's stunning second consecutive NCAA Wrestling Championship, marking its sixth in the last seven years, with five individuals earning NCAA titles along the way.

As Barbour pointed out though, the impact of the Blue and White extends much further than excellence in competition.

Nearly a month ago, a school record 114 Penn State student-athletes graduated, bringing the 2016-17 total to 142, with more students on track to cross the stage in August. Penn State also revealed its 89 percent NCAA Graduation Success Rate this year, which stands just one point below its all-time program mark. 

"Penn State student-athletes, not unlike their student colleagues and their servant hearts, have dedicated themselves to service," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes served over 6,200 hours of community engagement this last year. This comprehensive excellence is embraced by our Penn State and Pennsylvania community. It's truly Penn State's point of difference. It has historically motivated a state and a community, connected passionately to each and every one of our programs and each and every one of our student-athletes who wear the Blue and White."

Representative of just a small piece of a variety of community engagement close to Penn State student-athletes is THON, a beloved annual event that encompasses the entire university and Happy Valley community.

Led by the efforts of the Penn State Student Athlete Advisory Board, SAAB raised $59,679.49 for THON in 2017, which ranked third among the 400-plus general organizations represented. Surging past a fundraising goal of $50,000, the 2017 figure is SAAB's second-largest total in the history of the organization, adding to a career total of $680,000, all for THON and the Four Diamonds Fund, with four Penn State student-athletes joining the 703 dancers on the floor this year.

Among those dancers this year was women's soccer's Megan Schafer, a Big Ten Champion from Langhorne, who joined the group today for her second trip to state capitol, but first as a Nittany Lion. 

"A couple of years ago I got recognized for winning a state championship, so I think it's pretty cool coming back at the collegiate level to get recognized for our hard work all season," Schafer said. "I think it's really cool everything that people put together just to recognize us today."

Prior to Penn State, Schafer scored the overtime game-winner to lead Neshaminy high school (also the alma mater of Penn State head football coach James Franklin) to a Pennsylvania state title.

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The entire group of Nittany Lion coaches and student-athletes were treated to a personal meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf, who stopped by the steps of the main rotunda to greet the champions before heading back to Happy Valley.

VIDEO: Lee & Williford Talk Black History Month

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the final release of a three-part video series, Penn State women's volleyball student-athlete Simone Lee sits down with women's soccer's Salina Williford to talk Black History Month and diversity throughout the entire Penn State Athletics community. 

Throughout the month of February, Penn State Athletics is proudly sharing the stories of its African American student-athletes and coaches who have helped shape Nittany Lion history. View more here.

VIDEO: Women's Soccer's THON 2017 Pep Rally Dance

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Another highly anticipated THON event, check out women's soccer's full pep rally dance! 

THON Features: Schafer Set to Dance for a Cure

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Megan Schafer knows all too well the horrible effects cancer brings to families across the globe.

 

When she was in high school Schafer was informed that her younger cousin, Mary, was diagnosed with the petrifying disease. Since that day, Schafer vowed to do all she could to help Mary and all other individuals and families who have had to hear that chilling news about a loved one.

 

Ever since stepping on the Penn State campus three years ago, Schafer has made it her personal goal to dance for the cure, and for Mary, at THON by the time she graduated.

 

In just a few days that goal will come to fruition.

 

Schafer will be one of four student-athletes representing the Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) in this year's dance marathon beginning February 17. She will be on her feet dancing for 46 hours straight, joining in the fight to one day defeat pediatric cancer.

 

"To be able to come to Penn State and do this and know how a school can come together like this, it's just such a cool thing to experience," Schafer said.

 

Her cousin Mary battled her way past the disease and is now in remission. There are many families, however, that aren't as lucky.

 

According to CureSearch.org, almost 16,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. Twelve percent of all children diagnosed do not survive.

 

That's what will keep Schafer on her feet all weekend.

 

Schafer's teammates, Angela Widlacki and Liisi Vink-Lainas, participated as dancers last year and they've been a few of Schafer's biggest supporters. Schafer said being on the floor with them and experiencing THON from that perspective was the defining moment when she knew she wanted to dance herself.

 

She was on the floor more than half of the time last year, so taking on the full 46 hours seems more than doable in her mind.

 

Schafer believes she has an advantage over many of the dancers because of the physical shape she's in. Most dancers spend the week leading up to THON preparing their bodies for the toughest physical test they'll face.

 

As for Schafer, she doesn't think any pre-THON training is necessary. She said Penn State head coach Erica Dambach has aptly prepared her for this challenge with her conditioning programs. For Schafer, running sprints after practice will actually prove to be beneficial when it matters most.

 

Schafer said she knows fatigue is inevitable, but quitting isn't an option. She has to keep those children, like Mary, who have battled and defeated cancer without complaining about being tired throughout the entire process.

 

If they can fight the pain, she will be able to as well. She hopes her participation as a dancer will be the start of making sure every child diagnosed with cancer isn't beaten. She has seen up close a family member beat an unbelievable challenge, and Schafer believes it's possible for everyone with help from events like THON.

 

"If I'm ever feeling down or tired, I just have to think of why I'm doing this," Schafer said. "It doesn't matter how many hours, I'm going to be able to do it because it's for such a good cause.

SAAB Hosts Lip Sync Battle to Benefit THON

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Filling the HUB-Robeson Center Freeman Auditorium with Penn State students and Nittany Lion student-athletes, the Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) hosted its second annual lip sync battle Wednesday evening.

In a full for the kids effort, the annual event benefits THON, Penn State's Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon to support pediatric cancer.

Featuring musical lip syncing acts from 11 different Penn State Athletics programs, months worth of planning and preparation finally came together in an energetic evening for a tremendous cause.

"I think it just bring out more of the sense of community that we really already have in athletics," track and field sophomore and lead event coordinator Tess Kearns said. "We're so strong all together but to be able to something for THON and see the impact that it's making every year - if we could just raise that number even a little bit on final reveal, that would be all the difference."

From lip sync covers ranging from Justin Beiber mixes to Beyoncé, Sia and School of Rock, the event, which was open to all to attend, brought laughs throughout the night with guest judges featuring director of student-athlete welfare and development Liz Johnson, director of Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, John Affleck and Penn State Blue Band drum major Jimmy Frisbie. 

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Penn State women's volleyball highlighted early with their Justin Beiber mix, followed up with women's soccer's rendition of Sia's "Chandelier" midway through the program. 

"SAAB THON is my favorite thing in the world," said SAAB THON chair Angela Widlacki, a member of the Nittany Lion women's soccer team. "Being able to come out here and see this huge crowd, it means so much to us and I know it meant a lot to our family the Messina's." 

Men's hockey and defending SAAB lip sync battle champion wrestling closed out the evening lip syncing to a pair of movie tunes featuring "Zach's song" from School of Rock and "Breaking Free" from High School Musical. 


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With the final scores tallied, the panel of judges voted Penn State women's soccer duo of Widlacki and Liisi Vink-Lainas in the top spot this year to earn the golden microphone. Men's hockey finished second, while wrestling claimed the third-place finish.

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State cruised into the 2016 NCAA tournament's second round by defeating Bucknell handedly, 6-0, in the round of 64.

 

It was the second-largest margin of victory of any first round match. South Carolina's 7-0 romp of Alabama State was the only match that was more lopsided.

 

Things get a tad hairy moving forward for the Nittany Lions, however.

 

Penn State travels to the nation's capital for a date Friday with No. 15 Virginia in what should be one of the most competitive matches of the second round.

 

Immediately after the match, the hosts, No. 5 Georgetown, will face off against one of Penn State's most familiar foes, No. 22 Rutgers.


The pod of four is arguably one of the toughest to survive in the entire tournament, with all four teams being realistic contenders to reach the College Cup.

 

Head coach Erica Dambach finds herself in the rare position of underdog in the early stages in the NCAA tournament. The Lions are the only unranked team in the Georgetown pod.

 

"This is a fun role for our group," Dambach said. "We've talked about it and they're excited to be in that role without the target on their back and go after a team that's got more pressure on them, so I think it allows us to play with more freedom."

 

"It's definitely less pressure on us, which is awesome," forward Megan Schafer said. "I think that a lot of us aren't used to being in this role, so it's definitely a new experience for us but it's a great role to have, and I'm excited to get on the road."

 

No. 15 Virginia (14-4-2)- The Cavaliers are coming off a 4-1 first-round victory against Monmouth.

 

Virginia's best results in the regular season were a win against No. 11 Notre Dame and draws against No. 6 North Carolina and No. 10 Florida State. The Cavaliers also tied No. 1 West Virginia in a preseason bout.

 

Virginia is led up top by ACC leading scorer Alexis Shaffer. Shaffer has netted 13 goals and tallied six assists in 2016, both tops on the team.

 

The senior also leads the team in minutes played (1471) this year.

 

"Just being aware of her, making sure that we're defending players with numbers, that we're not getting isolated," Dambach said.

 

Virginia is ninth in the country in scoring average at 2.45 goals per game, thanks in large part to Shaffer. Veronica Latsko and Taylor Ziemer are prime contributors as well, with eight and seven goals on the year, respectively.

 

"We know that they have a really good attack," defender Alina Ortega-Jurado said. "We're trying to stop them early on in the field so they can't really hurt us back in our half of the field."

 

No. 5 Georgetown (17-2-3)- The Hoyas are one of the hottest teams in the tournament. They've lost only one game in their last 20 matches, and they kept it rolling with a 2-0 win against St. Francis (Pa.) in round one.

 

Although Virginia is an elite offensive team, the Hoyas are even better.

 

Georgetown possesses the fourth-highest scoring offense in the country at 2.55 goals per game, led by three players with double-digit goals.

 

Grace Damaska (14 goals), Rachel Corboz (10 goals), and Crystal Thomas (10 goals) highlight one of the most prolific scoring attacks in the country. Corboz also leads the country with 14 assists.

 

As good as Georgetown's attack is, its defense is almost as impressive. The Hoyas rank 17th in the nation in goals allowed average (0.64).

 

The Hoyas played both Rutgers and Virginia earlier this season. They defeated Rutgers 2-1 and Virginia 3-2. Their most impressive win was a 1-0 overtime win against No. 1 West Virginia.

 

No. 22 Rutgers (12-4-6)- Rutgers and Penn State, as conference rivals, have battled to close finishes over and over for the past year.

 

The Lions got the best of the Scarlet Knights last season with a 2-0 victory in the NCAA tournament, but Rutgers has had their number this season.

 

The two foes fought to a 2-2 draw in the regular season, but Rutgers knocked Penn State out of the Big Ten tournament with a 2-0 victory. The Scarlet Knights eventually lost to Minnesota in the championship.

 

Rutgers defeated Harvard, 3-0, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

 

Madison Tiernan leads the Scarlet Knights in goals with 10, and Nicole Whitley has dished out 10 assists to pace the team.

 

The staple to Rutgers' game is physicality. With 205 fouls on the year, the Scarlet Knights are one of a handful of teams to eclipse the 200-foul mark.

 

Each possible opponent presents vastly different challenges to the Nittany Lions, but the team proved last year it isn't scared of anyone.

 

This weekend will feature some close, gritty matchups. Whoever escapes the pod will have a good chance to reach the College Cup.


Nittany Lion Bios and U-20 WWC Schedule | U.S. Soccer Feature on E. Jean | FIFA Feature on E. Ogle | Nittany Lion U-20 History

Match Day 10

The U.S. closed out the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup with a 1-0 loss against Japan in the third-place match Saturday, Dec. 3.

For the sixth-straight match, four Nittany Lions started for the Red, White and Blue as Emily Ogle (Strongsville, Ohio) started in the midfield, while Maddie Elliston (Omaha, Neb.), Ellie Jean (Coventry, Conn.) and Kaleigh Riehl (Fairfax Station, Va.) recorded starts on the backline. All four Nittany Lions played the full 90 minutes.

Match Day 9

The U.S. fell to Korea DPR, 2-1, in extra time in the semifinal round Tuesday, Nov. 29. With the loss, the U.S. will play in the third-place match against Japan on Saturday, Dec. 3, at 1 a.m. EST live on Fox Sports 1.

For the fifth-straight match, four Nittany Lions started for the Red, White and Blue as Emily Ogle (Strongsville, Ohio) started in the midfield, while Maddie Elliston (Omaha, Neb.), Ellie Jean (Coventry, Conn.) and Kaleigh Riehl (Fairfax Station, Va.) recorded starts on the backline. Jean played 71 minutes of the match, while Elliston, Ogle and Riehl each played the full 120 minutes.

Match Day 8

The United States scored twice in the final 10 minutes, which included the game-winner during injury time, en route to a 2-1 victory over Mexico in the quarterfinal round Friday, Nov. 25. With the victory, the U.S. advances to take on Korea DPR in the semifinal round on Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 1 a.m. EST on Fox Sports 1. The winner of Korea DPR and the U.S. will face the winner of Japan and France in the championship match on Dec. 3. 

For the fourth-straight match, four Nittany Lions started for the Red, White and Blue as Emily Ogle (Strongsville, Ohio) started in the midfield, while Maddie Elliston (Omaha, Neb.), Ellie Jean (Coventry, Conn.) and Kaleigh Riehl (Fairfax Station, Va.) recorded starts on the backline. All four Nittany Lions played the full 90 minutes.

Germany, the defending FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup champions, was topped by France, 1-0, in the quarterfinal round.

Nittany Lion Laura Freigang (Oppenheim, Germany) started her fourth match in the German midfield and she played the full 90 minutes.

Match Day 6

Germany and the U.S. both clinched berths in the quarterfinals of the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Monday, Nov. 21.

Behind two goals within the first 25 minutes of play, Germany tallied a 2-0 victory over Korea Republic. For Germany, Laura Freigang (Oppenheim, Germany) recorded her third start in the midfield and she played the full 90 minutes.

With the win Monday, Germany clinched the top spot in Group D with a 3-0-0 record. In Group D play, Germany posted a goal differential of +7 after scoring eight goals and only allowing one goal.

The U.S. closed out Group C action with a 1-1 draw against Ghana.

Four Nittany Lions were featured in the United States Starting XI for the third-straight match as Emily Ogle (Strongsville, Ohio) started in the midfield, while Maddie Elliston (Omaha, Neb.), Ellie Jean (Coventry, Conn.) and Kaleigh Riehl (Fairfax Station, Va.) recorded starts on the backline. All four Nittany Lions played the full 90 minutes.

The Red, White and Blue finished Group C play tied atop the standings with France with five points (1-0-2) apiece. The two teams were tied in points and goals sending the tie-breaker to Fair Play. The U.S. received zero yellow cards, while France received one yellow card, which gave the tie-breaker to the U.S.

Both Germany and the U.S. will play Friday, Nov. 25, in the quarterfinal round. The U.S. plays Group D runner-up, Mexico, at 1 a.m. EST and Germany takes on Group C runner-up, France, at 4:30 a.m. EST. Both matches will be broadcasted on Fox Sports 1.

Match Day 4

Germany and the U.S. both tallied victories in their second match of group play at the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Thursday, Nov. 17. Germany moved to 2-0-0 in Group D action with a 3-0 shutout victory over Mexico, while the United States picked up a 3-1 win over New Zealand to move to 1-0-1 in Group C.

Laura Freigang (Oppenheim, Germany) started her second match in the German midfield and played 87 minutes.

Similar to the opening match of the tournament, four Nittany Lions were featured in the United States Starting XI. Emily Ogle (Strongsville, Ohio) started in the U.S. midfield, while Maddie Elliston (Omaha, Neb.), Ellie Jean (Coventry, Conn.) and Kaleigh Riehl (Fairfax Station, Va.) recorded starts on the U.S. backline. All four Nittany Lions played the full 90 minutes.

Following the second match of group play, both Germany and the U.S. lead their respective groups. Germany is 2-0-0 in Group D and the U.S. is 1-0-1 in Group C.

Group play concludes for Germany and the U.S. on Nov. 21. Germany takes on Korea Republic (1-1-0) at 4 a.m. EST on Fox Sports 2 and the U.S. plays Ghana (0-1-1) at 1 a.m. EST on Fox Sports 1.

The winner of Group C takes on the runner-up of Group D on Nov. 25 at 1 a.m. EST and the winner of Group D takes on the runner-up of Group C on Nov. 25 at 4:30 a.m. EST in the quarterfinal round.

Match Day 2 

The German and United States U-20 Women's National Teams opened play Monday, Nov. 14, at the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Five Nittany Lions started for their respective countries Monday.  

Defending champion Germany opened Group D play with a 3-1 win over Venezuela, while the United States began Group C action with a 0-0 tie against France.

Laura Freigang (Oppenheim, Germany) started, and played the full 90 minutes, in the German midfield in the tournament opener.   

For the United States, four Nittany Lions recorded starts, including three Nittany Lions on the backline.

Emily Ogle (Strongsville, Ohio) started in the U.S. midfield, while Maddie Elliston (Omaha, Neb.), Ellie Jean (Coventry, Conn.) and Kaleigh Riehl (Fairfax Station, Va.) recorded starts on the U.S. backline. All four Nittany Lions played the 90 minutes.

Germany (1-0-0) plays Mexico (1-0-0) on Nov. 17 at 1 a.m. EST on Fox Sports 1. The United States (0-0-1) takes on New Zealand (1-0-0) on Nov. 17 at 4 a.m. EST on Fox Sports 1.

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Senior captain Nickolette Driesse has been a key contributor to the Penn State Nittany Lions throughout the first 19 games of the season, making multiple big plays in key moments.  

 

There is no surprise that game 20 was no different on the biggest stage in college soccer, the NCAA tournament. Under the bright lights at Jeffrey Field in a do-or-die game, Driesse rose to the occasion once again and scored her first goal of the year to lead the Nittany Lions to a 6-0 first round victory against Bucknell Friday night.

 

In the 15th minute Driesse received a pass from Frannie Crouse just outside the box and ripped a left-footed strike to the top left corner of the net. The shot couldn't have been placed any better.

 

"We've been working as a midfield just kind of rotating into that holding mid position, and as soon as I took that touch I saw [Salina Williford] going out, and I just thought that I would take a chance," Driesse said.

 

This isn't anything new to Driesse. The bigger the moment, the brighter she shines.

 

Just look at her NCAA tournament resume. Three years, three championship appearances, two championship trophies. It doesn't get much better than that.

 

She spent her freshman and sophomore years at Florida State, where the team reached the championship in 2013 but lost to UCLA. In 2014 the Seminoles made it back to the final and came away victorious.

 

Driesse transferred to Penn State before her junior season, and led the Lions to their first ever NCAA championship. The girl is simply a winner.

 

"This time of the year and knowing that it's my last game on Jeffrey, the last time I'm going to be playing in front of some of these fans," Driesse said. "I kind of just knew that I needed to do something to make a mark here."

 

Driesse is out for her third consecutive NCAA title and her second in Blue and White. Anything less would be a failure by her standards.

 

Following Driesse's opening goal, Charlotte Williams added another in the 41st minute. It marked the first time since Sept. 11 Penn State scored two first half goals.

 

In the second half, Haleigh Echard and Marissa Sheva scored goals to stretch the lead to four. It was Echard's first goal of the year and Sheva's second.

 

Williams added another goal in the 70th minute for her sixth goal of the season and Schafer tacked on another in the 81st minute, her sixth of the season.

 

Frannie Crouse notched two assists in the game to lead the team. She had only one assist all season coming into the match.

 

Penn State's six goals in the match marked its season-high in 2016. The Lions hadn't scored more than three goals in any game prior to Friday night. Penn State outshot Bucknell 19-5 and held the Bison to zero shots in the second half.

 

"I actually saw quite a few elements in our attack today that I really was impressed by, things that we have been trying to put in over these last few weeks that just haven't come off against some of these other opponents that seemed to really click tonight," said head coach Erica Dambach. "Hopefully this game will give these guys a ton of confidence in their ability going forward."

 

Penn State is now 16-3 in first round NCAA tournament games and has won eight straight first round matches.

 

"This is the perfect way to end the season on Jeffrey Field in front of another great crowd," said Dambach. "With Nikki Driesse having the game winner in her senior year, and to get a shutout. I think we were firing on all cylinders tonight."

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Nickolette Driesse is the sole senior in the young Penn State starting lineup this year, but her leadership alone isn't enough to guide this team deep into the NCAA tournament.

 

Penn State needs other players to step up and take leadership roles for its road to a repeat title. So far, Elizabeth Ball and Salina Williford have shown strong initiative in stepping into those positions.

 

"We talked about stepping up to help Nickolette and help the other captains and those are the two that I would point out that have just been outstanding over the past week," said head coach Erica Dambach.

 

The two called an impromptu team meeting to bring everyone together and get the squad focused on the task at hand. It's moments like those that make the difference during such an important time of year.

 

Both Ball and Williford have been the epitome of team players since they stepped foot in Happy Valley.

 

Ball was a prominent striker in high school who barely played any defense prior to her freshman year, but she didn't even hesitate Dambach asked her to fill a void in the back line as a center back.

 

"We recruited her as a striker, and in her first year the situation dictated that we needed her to play in the back line and she was a natural," Dambach said.

 

"It's very different," said Ball. "Honestly, without [coach Dambach] being able to show me the ropes and without the help of the past defenders I wouldn't be where I am today."

 

Ball possesses a strong team-centered attitude with little focus on her personal accomplishments. In her three years in Blue and White, Ball has placed winning over gaudy stats, which she racked up as a goal-scorer at Deep Run High School in Virginia.

 

She also scored 57 goals in four years for the Richmond Strikes ECNL. Ball was named an All-American in 2013 and 2014 and was nominated for Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year from 2012-2014, all while playing up top.

 

Ball said she never even tried her hand at defense until one soccer camp. Evidently, Dambach liked what she saw.

 

Ball has proved throughout her career that she's incredibly effective anywhere on the pitch, whether she's up top winning headers or thwarting an opposing attack.

 

Her hard work transitioning to center back paid off this year, as she was named to All-Big Ten first team for the first time in her career.

 

"It's incredible," Ball said. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without the back line and our whole team because everybody makes everybody else so much better. It's really like our team getting that honor."

 

"Elizabeth's a winner," Dambach said. It doesn't matter where you put her on the field. We've moved her around a bit, but she provides a tremendous amount of confidence for our staff and her team to have her in that back line."

 

Williford, a redshirt junior, has been just as flexible this season, moving from position to position to fill necessary holes.

 

She redshirted last year because of a season-ending injury after a strong sophomore campaign in which she started every game, scoring five goals and tallying five assists.

 

This season, Williford has taken a backseat on the offensive end to focus on defending. She's tallied four points on a goal and two assists playing primarily in the midfield, but she has also filled in next to ball on the back line when needed.

 

Williford is like Ball in that she can play anywhere on the pitch, which is so crucial for this team that has lost so many players from last season.

 

"Whatever the team really needs I'm willing to do," Williford said. "They only real difference I would say is the shift from offensive-minded to defensive-minded the moment I know I need to go back there."

 

Both Ball and Williford have been all-important cogs for Penn State this season on the field, but now they're taking in upon themselves to jump into leadership roles for a team lacking older, experienced players.

 

It's imperative that teams have trusted leaders on and off the field for the NCAA tournament. Last year, Raquel Rodriguez, Britt Eckerstrom, and Mallory Weber illustrated this.

 

This year, Ball and Williford have made it a priority to harness those lost leadership roles for Penn State's postseason journey to a repeat.

 

"They want ownership of this team right now," Dambach said. "They want to set the standard. They want to make their expectations of their teammates clear, and they want to make sure that everybody understands what the standard is for this team."

NCAA Tournament Time In Happy Valley: What You Need To Know

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fall NCAA Tournament play in Happy Valley has nearly arrived as two Nittany Lion squads are set to kick off a pair of postseason events this weekend.

As both the defending NCAA national champion women's soccer team and the the 2016 Big Ten Tournament champion field hockey team gear up for postseason play, here's five things you need to know before heading out to catch them in action this weekend.

Penn State Women's Soccer vs. Bucknell - Friday, Nov. 11 - 6 p.m. (Jeffrey Field)
1. With an 11-4-4 overall record, the Nittany Lions have qualified for their 22nd consecutive NCAA Tournament, having also clinched a share of their 18th Big Ten regular season title earlier this year. 

2.  Penn State holds a 15-3 advantage in first round games heading into the matchup against the Bison, having won each of the last seven consecutive opening round outings. Within the last 15 years, the Nittany Lions have had the opportunity to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament in the "pod" format a total of 10 times, accumulating an 18-2 record within the 10-season span.

3. Penn State is 46-19-2 all-time in NCAA Tournament outings, which includes a total of five College Cup appearances along with the 2015 NCAA national title. 

4. Drawing Bucknell in the opening round, Penn State owns an 18-0-1 record in the all-time series against the Bison. The Nittany Lions and the Bison have met twice in NCAA Tournament play, with Penn State claiming wins in both outings at home in Jeffrey Field.

5. Bucknell is also a familiar program to Penn State head coach Erica Dambach, who started her coaching path out of college as a graduate assistant on the Bison staff in 1997.

More from Dambach below.


Penn State Field Hockey vs. Princeton - Saturday, Nov. 12 - 11:30 a.m. (Field Hockey Complex)

1. The Nittany Lions captured their seventh Big Ten Tournament title last week, taking down Maryland, 2-1 to secure the crown. Penn State earned the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, marking the first time since 2014 that the Nittany Lions will compete in the postseason event. 

2. The Nittany Lions have competed in 31 NCAA Tournament events in program history, which is tied with Old Dominion for second all-time.  

3. Penn State is set to welcome its NCAA Tournament first round opponent to the Field Hockey Complete for the first time since 2012. The Nittany Lions drew Princeton as their opening round opponent, having already defeated the Tigers, 4-2 during the regular season.

4. Both Penn State and Princeton most recently met in first round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament where the Tigers earned a 5-4 win to advance to the quarterfinals. 

5. Should the Nittany Lions defeat Princeton, Penn State would host the winner of the Michigan/Virginia matchup Sunday, Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. in the Field Hockey Complex. Penn State has also already topped both the Wolverines and the Cavaliers during the 2016 regular season, defeating Michigan once again in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

Catch up with Penn State head coach Char Morett-Curtiss ahead of the opening round. 

@GOPSUSPORTS

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