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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. 

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State suffered an early exit from the Big Ten tournament at the hands of Rutgers on Sunday afternoon on a soggy Jeffrey Field.

 

The Nittany Lions are the defending tournament champions and won a share of the Big Ten regular season title in 2016.  Despite the successful regular season, the No. 2 seed fell 2-0 to the No. 7 seed Scarlet Knights Sunday afternoon.

 

"Credit to Rutgers today," head coach Erica Dambach said. "Obviously, that's a team we're familiar with. They came out with more fire than we did, and I think they set the tone early in the game. They imposed themselves on us and we were never really able to find a foothold in this game today."

 

Penn State outshot Rutgers 13-7 and 7-4 in shots on goal. The Lions only managed two shots in a rainy first half, which is tied for their lowest number of shots in any half this year.

 

Both Nickolette Driesse and Megan Schafer hit the crossbar in the game. Another promising chance occurred in the 58th minute when a string of clever passes ended with a Marissa Sheva one-on-one with Rutgers goalkeeper Alana Jimenez, but Jimenez was able to save Sheva's close-range effort.

 

"I think certainly we created enough opportunities to put one in the back of the net, but overall I just think that we were too reactive to what was going on on the field today," said Dambach.

 

Defensively, goalie Amanda Dennis had two saves in the match for the Nittany Lions.  

 

Although it wasn't the planned result, this isn't a time to sulk for Penn State. It's imperative that Dambach and her troops stay focused on the upcoming NCAA tournament commencing on Friday November 11, which they plan to do.

 

Penn State ran the table to win its first NCAA championship in team history last season after winning the Big Ten tournament. This year will be a little different coming off a loss in the quarterfinals, but the goal remains the same.

 

The Lions will rely heavily on Driesse going forward as the only senior in the starting lineup. In her first three collegiate seasons Driesse reached the national championship each year, twice with Florida State and once with Penn State.

 

Driesse has two national championships to her name, but she isn't satisfied. She will be the leader on and off the field when Penn State begins tournament play in less than two weeks.

 

"I think that [the team] believes in Nikki Driesse," Dambach said. "They believe in her leadership, and obviously she's gonna want to go as far as she can with it being her senior year. I think it's important to jump on the ship with her right now."

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Meister.

 

Translation: champion. That is how German-born Laura Freigang can describe herself and her Penn State teammates following their game Wednesday night at Jeffrey Field.

 

Freigang, a freshman from Oppenheim, Germany, led the charge for the Nittany Lions in route to their 2-0 victory over Ohio State on Wednesday. The win ensured Penn State its 18th regular season Big Ten title in the last 19 years.  The Nittany Lions will share the trophy with Minnesota and Northwestern.  

 

Freigang got the Lions on the board in the 51st minute by heading home a curling ball from Haleigh Echard for her second goal of the season. Her two goals came in the first and last regular season games of the year, and both came in the 51st minute.

 

"I was so happy when I scored the goal because last week against [Michigan State] we had a very frustrating game, and there was a similar situation where I hit the ball way over the goal," Freigang said. "I kind of saw it coming and I was like I need to score this one because it was 0-0. I felt it coming. Everybody felt it coming, the first goal."

 

Head coach Erica Dambach noted Tuesday how the experienced players needed to step up in this match for Penn State to walk away with the win. Instead, the freshman made the most crucial play of the game and possibly the entire season.

 

"That is Laura Freigang through and through, coming up in a moment like she started the season against West Virginia," Dambach said. "She's just as dangerous as they come in NCAA soccer, and she proved it tonight."

 

Freigang has mostly come off the bench this season, starting just two games all year, but she's been aggressive when her number is called.

 

She has played 769 minutes this season and scored her two goals on 29 shots. She said following the win that she wished she could've done more offensively in her first year, but that the season isn't over yet.

 

Although she hasn't filled the stat sheet as much as she hoped, Freigang came through for Penn State when it mattered most on the biggest stage.

 

"It's always great when the work you put in comes out in such a game," Freigang said. "Props to Haleigh. The cross was great, I just had to finish."

 

In the 73rd minute Charlotte Williams added the insurance goal off a pass from Megan Schafer to make it 2-0. It was her fourth goal of the season.

 

The back line held a potent Ohio State offense to 10 shots and only one on goal. The defense didn't allow the Buckeye forwards anywhere near goalkeeper Amanda Dennis.

 

The title marks Dambach's ninth conference championship in her 10 years at Penn State. One might think she'd be used to it by now, but Dambach said this one is extra special.

 

"That was the first time in 10 years that I shed tears after a Big Ten championship, and that's just out of pure pride for what they did all season long," Dambach said. "We had our ups and downs but they came out here tonight with a set of belief. I'm just incredibly proud of this group."

 

Senior midfielder Nickolette Driesse is no stranger to championships either. She's been to the national title in all three of her collegiate seasons, the first two with Florida State and last year with Penn State.

 

Driesse, who is the only senior and a true leader in the lineup, was also emotional after the win.

 

"I don't think I could be happier, especially because we haven't really been playing to our potential and tonight it really clicked," Driesse said. "We saw how good we could be and we all believed in each other and that's why we got the result we did."

 

On a night filled with jubilation, tears of joy, and trophy-lifting, Penn State did what some thought it couldn't. Despite their ups and downs, nothing could stop the Nittany Lions from achieving their season-long goal.

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - One win and the Big Ten title is theirs.

 

That's the case for the Nittany Lions Wednesday night as they face off against Ohio State in the regular season finale at Jeffrey Field. A win will ensure at least a share of the Big Ten regular season championship.

 

As it stands now, Penn State is tied at the top of the conference standings with Minnesota and Northwestern at 21 points each.

 

All three teams finish the season Wednesday night. Minnesota faces Maryland and Northwestern will be home in Evanston, Ill. to battle Illinois.

 

If all three teams take care of business, they will share the Big Ten regular season title. Penn State needs a win Wednesday and either a tie or loss by both the Gophers and Wildcats for sole possession of the championship and home field advantage throughout the Big Ten tournament.

 

The Lions secured home field advantage last season and ran the table in the conference tournament. It's called an advantage for a reason, and Penn State knows how important it is in the postseason.

 

"Not having to travel is huge," junior forward Megan Schafer said. "It just puts a lot on your body and everything. Being able to sleep in your own bed, it's just a very big advantage."

 

It all starts Wednesday, where Penn State will be on its own stomping grounds in the first legitimate do-or-die game of the year.

 

"We get to be on our home field, and we just get another shot," Schafer said. "We kind of talk about the beginning before conference play is its own little season, and then the Big Ten is another season, so to finish out the season, we just want to finish out on a high note. To be able to do it at home, got a lot of excitement for it."

 

"Going into this season, our first main goal was to win the Big Ten, and to get a chance to do that at home is really exciting and I think we'll be ready," redshirt junior defender Brittany Basinger said.

 

The forecast calls for low-forties temperature and possible winds, which for most would be a daunting setting. For the Lions, it's just another fall night.

 

"It's awesome soccer weather," head coach Erica Dambach said. "This is fall for us. This is what we love to play in, and this is Jeffrey Field."

 

The combination of the freezing setting and a rousing home crowd will be key factors in Wednesday night's match and every match moving forward.

 

As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes possess a dangerous and aggressive offensive unit that can strike at any moment. Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten in goals (32) and points (92) this year.

 

Lindsay Agnew leads the charge up top with 27 points, which is tied for the Big Ten lead, on 10 goals and seven assists. She will be the focus of the Lions' defensive game plan.

 

Dambach stressed Tuesday at practice that Penn State needs to be able to thwart off seven and eight attackers and be able to counter quickly. She acknowledged Ohio State's personality players must be shut down, and that starts with Agnew.

 

For the home team, the players who have been in these situations before will be called upon to seize the moment.

 

Last year it was Raquel Rodriguez. This year it has largely been Frannie Crouse, but Dambach believes this is Schafer's time to get hot. Schafer has a five goals this season after netting 13 last year. This may just be the time she breaks out of her offensive slump, and what a time it would be to do so.

 

"Now that we've gotten to this point, we've got to see our big players step up now," Dambach said. "We've got to see Megan Schafer put one in the back of the net, and this is what big moments are all about."

 

Schafer herself is ready for that big moment. Nervousness is not a factor, for she's been here before and performed admirably. She's ready to go.

"I think when we have that pressure, I think we come out better and more prepared just because everything's on that line," Schafer said. "So it's all in our hands and it's our control. I'm just really excited to finish out the Big Ten season tomorrow night and start on the postseason."

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State continues to churn out successful players who flourish in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL).

 

Last season, 11 Penn State alumni suited up for seven different NWSL teams. Only North Carolina (15) and Florida State (14) had more representatives across the league.

 

Although collegiate soccer is the peak of most women's athletic careers, for some it's just a stepping stone. For those 11 former Nittany Lions, their experiences at Penn State readied them for their toughest challenge, the step up to the professional level.

 

Yes, technically they are former Nittany Lions. The transition from student to alumnus is a strange one for sure. But, even though every player must leave Penn State at some point, Penn State will never leave them.

 

Blue and White still courses the veins of all 11 women. It's evident in the way they still communicate, the way they support each other, and the ties they still have staked forever on Jeffrey Field.

 

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They are representing Penn State in the professional game and instilling the values they picked up in State College all over the country.

 

Most recently, Raquel (Rocky) Rodriguez and Britt Eckerstrom have entered the NWSL and carried the Penn State torch to Sky Blue FC and the Western New York Flash, respectively. They were both drafted earlier this year and have already made their mark one season in.

 

Their old head coach Erica Dambach watched the two Penn State legends all summer on YouTube as much as she could. Dambach still communicates with both women and was even at the draft for their big moment.

 

"One of the most amazing feelings as a coach is to watch that all play out, especially all the way through from the recruiting process to being at the draft and knowing that when they started with Penn State eight years prior that that was their goals and their dreams," Dambach said. "To know that we were just a small part of helping those dreams is the most gratifying thing that you can imagine."

 

Rodriguez was chosen second overall in January's draft by Sky Blue FC and wasted no time asserting herself in the league. She was voted Rookie of the Year after an impressive first season, becoming the first Sky Blue FC player to win the award.

 

"It means a lot because it's such a huge honor," Rodriguez said. "There's so many rookies that are competing for that and so many of them, if not all, are amazing soccer players. It motivates me to keep training harder, and it tells me that hard work pays off."

 

Rodriguez said she never expected to win the award and that it was a humbling accomplishment she will always cherish.

 

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"She's a winner. She makes other people better; better players, better people. They broke the mold with that one. She's the best and that smile is so infectious it just makes every day better," Dambach said on her former star. 

 

Rodriguez and her infectious smile started in 17 games, scored one goal on 22 shots and added one assist in her inaugural season.

 

For the last three weeks Rodriguez has been back in her home country of Costa Rica for some postseason vacation time. She has also been practicing with the Costa Rica national team as well.

 

Rodriguez will be returning to State College this weekend to begin her internship with Penn State Athletics on Monday. Dambach said she won't hesitate to use Rodriguez as a volunteer assistant coach while she's around.

 

Eckerstrom, who was drafted 26th overall by the Western New York Flash, played in three games in her first season. She posted the lowest goals allowed average of the three goalkeepers on the Flash in 2016.

 

After bringing Penn State its first National Championship, Eckerstrom clearly wasn't finished winning titles. Eckerstrom and the Flash won the NWSL Championship game, 3-2, against the Washington Spirit earlier this month.

 

Eckerstrom said her favorite part of her first season was being able to see old friends like Rodriguez, Whitney Church on the Spirit and Mallory Weber on the Portland Thorns.

 

"Obviously you're always busy in the middle of the season, but we're always talking to each other, giving each other a little congrats or a hard time for something," she said.  "I watch all the games so I'm always pumped to see them doing well."

 

Now in a backup role, Eckerstrom has learned how important it is to be a good teammate on the bench. Her supporting cast at Penn State was always there for her, so she is making it her mission to pay it forward and do the same for her teammates this year.

 

"When the camera panned to the bench and you see Britt Eckerstrom she's at the edge of her seat screaming her head off right there with her team," Dambach said. "All of the things that her teammates did for her while she was here that she never took for granted."

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Rodriguez and Eckerstrom have both followed the Penn State team closely all season, just as the team has followed their success. There's constantly a back-and-forth between former and current players that sets the Penn State culture apart from others like it.

 

Both had words of advice for the team as it's getting closer to beginning its road to repeat.

 

"Just be bold," said Rodriguez. "In a team sport, you just got to trust your teammates, and as long as everyone does their part, as long as everyone is bold and not afraid of anything, they can win. Just go for it."

 

"Don't let any outside voices set some sort of expectation for the team," said Eckerstrom. "I think your belief in everything should come from the team, and as far as you guys want to take it is as far as you guys can go."

 

Just as much as Rodriguez and Eckerstrom keep up with the team, the same goes both ways.

 

Charlotte Williams, who grew up in New York rooting for the Flash, went to Eckerstrom's first start as a pro to support her old teammate.

 

"The connections you make throughout the years, it never leaves," Williams said. "Once you're a part of this family you're a part of it forever. Even though they left, they're always going to be a part of the Penn State family."


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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Amanda Dennis recorded a career-high seven saves in No. 16 Penn State's 1-0 victory against Purdue on Sunday afternoon at Jeffrey Field.

 

Dennis totaled only six saves in the previous four matches combined. Her lack of saves this season has been a testament to a strong back line, but the freshman was leaned on heavily with starting center back Grace Fisk out of the lineup.

 

Purdue sent 15 shots at Dennis, but none got behind her.

 

"She makes it look easy," said head coach Erica Dambach. "I think some of the saves looked easy, but I think that's because Amanda made them look easy. Our positioning was good, and she continues to be a real force for us."

 

"It's just important to keep the ball out of the net," Dennis said. "When you find teams that are getting a lot of shots off you just got to really keep tight, keep your mind tight, keep the details right and make sure that the defense is cleaning stuff up."

 

In the last five minutes of the game Dennis made two crucial plays to keep Purdue off the scoreboard and ensure the win.

 

In the 86th minute, Purdue's Erika Arkans received the ball five yards away from the net but Dennis was there to make the save on Arkans' point blank left-footed attempt.

 

Then, with just 20 seconds remaining, Andrea Petrina made a run up the left flank and found herself one-on-one with Dennis. Dennis made a split-second decision to charge at Petrina and forced her shot wide of the net, solidifying the shutout win.

 

It was Dennis' sixth solo shutout on the year and fifth in Big Ten play.

 

Frannie Crouse netted the Nittany Lions' only goal with a 25-yard missile to the top left corner of the net in the 38th minute. Crouse beat a few defenders up the left side of the pitch, switched directions to the middle and scored her team-leading 11th goal of the season.

 

Crouse has now scored 11 goals in two consecutive seasons. Her next goal this year would be a career-high.

 

Penn State honored three members of the Nittany Lion program before the game on Senior Day in front of 1,122 fans.

 

Nickolette Driesse headlines the group as the only true senior on the team. Driesse transferred to Penn State from Florida State before last season and tallied 14 points on four goals and six assists last year. She has six assists this season but hasn't found the back of the net.

 

This year she serves as one of the three team captains. Dambach describes her as the heart and soul of the team in the midfield.

 

"Nikki Driesse is a winner in so many ways, whether it's her contribution on the field, so much off the field, in the classroom," said Dambach. "She's exactly what we want in this program as a Penn State women's soccer player."

 

"Always being on Jeffrey Field is a great opportunity, and then adding my family to that, I don't think it could get any better than that," said Driesse.

 

Redshirt junior Angela Widlacki, who was also honored before the game because this will be her last year, finally got to step onto Jeffrey Field in a regular season game. Three ACL tears have kept her off the pitch, but she was substituted in the game in the last minute in an emotional moment for her and the team.  (You can read her story here.)

 

"She's been through a lot and it's college soccer and it's important to make sure we recognize the contribution that these players make for us," Dambach said.

 

Team Manager Erika Wollman was also honored before the game. 

 

With the win and both Northwestern and Minnesota drawing Sunday, Penn State retakes the lead atop the Big Ten standings. The Nittany Lions lead Northwestern and Minnesota by one point with two matches to play.

@GOPSUSPORTS

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