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By Jack Dougherty, 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."


By Jack Dougherty, 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.



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.



"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."



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."


By Jack Dougherty, 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.


By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - International recruiting has become more and more imperative to success in college soccer in recent years.

There are capable players littered all across the country, but legitimate cornerstone players can be found outside of the United States of America.

Take Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez for example. The Costa Rica native was recruited five years ago to Penn State and led the Nittany Lions to their first ever national championship win by scoring the only goal in the title match.

Head coach Erica Dambach gives most of the credit to recruiting coordinator and assistant coach Tim Wassell, who actively seeks out potential international stars every offseason who could make an impact.

"He's done a nice job of getting us into the international market," said Dambach. "International student-athletes have always been a big part of this program.  We feel it is important to expose our players to the highest level in the world and that includes providing them the opportunity to compete against international competition on a daily basis."

This year Penn State brought in two freshmen from overseas, Grace Fisk from Bromley, London, England, and Laura Freigang from Oppenheim, Germany, with hopes they can do just what Rodriguez was able to accomplish.

Alina Ortega Jurado, a sophomore from Waldgirmes, Germany, rounds out the group. The three international players is the most on a Penn State squad since the 2012 season. 

Fisk and Ortega Jurado are intriguing players this season because of the big shoes they are currently filling.

Ellie Jean (right back) and Kaleigh Riehl (center back) are taking a year away from the team to compete with the U-20 women's national team. Jean and Riehl were both voted to the Big Ten All-Freshman team in their first seasons. Both were part of a back line that posted 15 shutouts a year ago.

Enter Fisk and Ortega Jurado. Fisk is taking Riehl's place in the center of the defense, and Ortega Jurado completely switched positions to fill the void at right back.

Fisk didn't arrive on the Penn State campus until August 1, just 10 days before the Nittany Lions would suit up in their first scrimmage of the preseason. 

Nine days after her first tune-up, Fisk was thrust into the starting lineup on opening day in front of more than 5,000 fans against No. 6 West Virginia. Fisk played all 110 minutes and has only missed one start all season since then. 

She was given barely any time to adjust to the American lifestyle she knew nothing about beforehand, but she has responded tremendously. The center back has logged 1170 minutes in 13 games, which is the fourth highest total on the team.

"I've been here for two months but I feel like I've been here so much longer," Fisk said. "I feel like I fit in fine and the girls have been so welcoming. It's just been great."

Before deciding to travel 3,260 miles to State College to play college soccer in America, Fisk really had no idea what she wanted to do after high school. No options in England seemed to interest her, and the thought of playing overseas seemed daunting until Wassell contacted her. 

Wassell watched Fisk play and immediately saw a star in the making. After talking to Wassell and conducting some research on Penn State, it didn't take long for Fisk to make her decision. 

"Everything kind of fell into place," said Fisk. "I looked Penn State up and it just looked amazing." 

Before coming to the states, Fisk played in more than 25 matches with the England women's national team at four different age levels. She was also named Young Player of the Year last year for her club team, the Millwall Lionesses FC. 

Fisk says the biggest adjustment she had to make was the uptick in strength and conditioning drills and the sheer amount of soccer being played every day.

"She's never played this much soccer in her life," said head coach Erica Dambach. "She has blisters all over her feet, and I think that goes to show she's just not used to playing this much soccer.  With that being said, she has quietly put together a tremendous freshman season."

Fisk's father, Alan, watches every game from home and provides a detailed match report after each contest outlining the good and bad of Fisk's performance. She hopes her family can make a trip next year to see her play live. 

As for Ortega Jurado, her journey to the starting lineup is much different.

She played in 20 games in her freshman season last year and was chosen to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team along with Jean and Riehl. She played both forward and midfield in 2015, but this year Ortega Jurado has started every game at right back and logged 1293 minutes.

Fisk described Ortega Jurado as a wizard on defense. Not a bad compliment for someone who has only played the position for only a few months.

"As she was learning to play in the back this past spring she had her frustrating moments but through video, hard work and repetition she started to pick up some of the nuances of the position," said Dambach. "Then she came into the preseason and all of the sudden had a tipping point and, as far as I'm concerned, is one of the best right backs in the country right now. She's been fantastic."

Ortega Jurado played for the German national team at three different age levels. She competed in the U-17 and U-19 European Championships while with the national team. 

Freigang traveled the longest distance to play soccer at Penn State (3,997 miles). She has started two matches and come off the bench in nine.

Unlike Fisk and Ortega Jurado, Freigang plays up top and looks to score goals as a substitute. In her first career game Freigang scored in a 1-1 draw against West Virginia to ensure a point for the Nittany Lions. 

"I couldn't have wished for a better start, except for maybe winning the game," said Freigang. "It was great. It was a great feeling and the crowd was amazing. It was one of the best nights ever."

She has logged 600 minutes on the pitch and serves as a strong-footed compliment to the speedy forwards Penn State boasts up top.

Freigang started to build interest in Penn State after skyping with Dambach and Wassell a few times. Once she visited the campus back in March, she knew it was where she wanted to be.

Freigang played for five different age levels on the German women's national team. She competed in the U-16 Nordic Cup Championships in which she scored a goal, the U-17 World Cup, and the U-19 European Championships.

All three players have at least three years of national team experience, which has prepared them to step in and contribute right away for the Nittany Lions. 

"They're a riot. They're so much fun to have around and I think the team's really enjoying them and vice-versa," Dambach said. "They provide a little bit of a different flair. They see the game in a different way. They talk about the game in a different way, and I think it brings so much to the experience of all of our student athletes. They've been an absolute pleasure to have within this squad."


By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 13 Penn State women's soccer team enters its weekend road trip with seemingly little to improve upon.


The Nittany Lions are undefeated in Big Ten play and have allowed only two goals in their last seven matches. The only game they failed to win during that stretch was a 1-1 draw against No. 17 Minnesota, which was ranked inside the top ten earlier this year.


The back line gets better every week, the offense is starting to find its groove, and Amanda Dennis is starting to take charge of her role between the posts as a freshman leader.


"Right now with each progressing week we're just trying to get better and more cohesive as a unit, just becoming tighter knit overall," said Charlotte Williams. "I think we're just focusing on working hard for each other and showing up every day at practice."


There may be few apparent weaknesses on this team, but head coach Erica Dambach is never satisfied. Like any good coach, Dambach is continually finding a specific area to improve and pounding it at practice.


This week it was crossing and finishing.


Tuesday's practice ran a bit longer than normal because the team did nothing but crossing and finishing drills for the last hour. Dambach drew up drills that involved the entire team from the strikers to the goalkeeper to nail down a unified effort to create more chances from the wide areas.


"We challenged them a bit in crossing and finishing, which is something that we really need to focus on going into the weekend," said Dambach. "We created a lot of chances in wide space against Illinois, and just an area we need to be better in right now."


Dambach mentioned the Lions produced 28 crossing opportunities in last Friday's 2-0 win against Illinois but created only one good chance from them.


"It's not the players in the box, it's not the wide players, it's the combination of all of it," said Dambach. "Overall I think the communication just has to be better in that area."


Look for Penn State to place an emphasis on playing the ball out wide and attacking the middle via crosses this upcoming weekend. The Lions will square off against Indiana on Thursday night and Maryland on Sunday afternoon.


Penn State shutout both teams last year at home.


Indiana boasts a 5-7-1 record overall and a 2-3 mark in conference play. The Hoosiers are 2-4-1 at home and have lost two of their last three overall.


Indiana possesses a balanced offensive attack that features nine players with at least one goal and eight with double-digit shots on the season. Mykayla Brown leads the way with four goals, including three game-winners.


"They've come out in a bunch of different ways this season, a couple different shapes," Dambach said. "They're young. They've got a bunch of freshmen that are starting for them, which can be good and bad."


One of those freshman is goalkeeper Sarah L'Hommedieu. L'Hommedieu owns a 1.47 goals against average and has recorded 57 saves, good for second most in the conference.


Maryland, on the other hand, is almost the polar opposite of Indiana.


The Terrapins (3-9-1, 1-4) have four players with one goal each and two forwards, Chelsea Jackson and Jarena Harmon, who have scored 17 combined.


Jackson (nine goals) and Harmon (eight goals) have accounted for 80.95% of Maryland's goals so far this season. Jackson is tied for the most goals scored in the Big Ten and Harmon is tied for fourth.


 "Those two players have played well," said Dambach. "They're fast. They're dangerous. We're going to have to protect the space behind our back line."


Unlike Indiana, which uses one goalie, Maryland has featured three different keepers this year. Katelyn Jensen has had the most success of the three, starting seven games and posting a team-best 1.77 goals against average.


Indiana and Maryland both reside near the bottom of the Big Ten standings, but taking teams lightly always causes trouble. Dambach and her troops will have to focus on handling a road environment calmly.


"At this point, every match is a Big Ten championship match," Dambach said. "We're sitting in a good position to keep challenging so we've got to make sure that they understand with six matches left that each one of them can determine how the league finishes and that we've got to make sure that we're there to play that particular match."


Penn State currently sits in second place in the Big Ten with a 4-0-1 conference mark. Two wins this weekend could go a long way to catching Michigan, which is in first place at 5-0 in the conference.


By Maria Canales, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Despite a gloomy forecast before the game, the No. 14 Penn State women's soccer team (8-2-2, 4-0-1 Big Ten) shined brightly at Jeffrey Field on Friday night. The Nittany Lions defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini (3-9-1, 0-4-1 Big Ten) 2-0, thanks to a unified effort from the midfield.   

With the temporary departure of midfielder Emily Ogle to the United States U-20 Women's National Team, Penn State head coach Erica Dambach has leaned on other midfielders during recent games.  

At the start of Friday night's match, four midfielders took to the field. Senior Nickolette Driesse, redshirt junior Salina Williford, junior Haleigh Echard, and sophomore Charlotte Williams worked with one another to open up opportunities on offense.

"Just watching the way that they train and we're trying to really keep track of them on a daily basis," Dambach said of picking her starting four midfielders. "Just giving the nod to the players that are continuing to perform every day."

Echard, who is more offensive-minded at midfield, constantly surveyed the field for open attackers. Echard assisted junior forward Frannie Crouse's goal, which gave the Nittany Lions a 1-0 lead. Crouse has eight goals so far this season 

With less than ten minutes left in the first half, Dambach made the decision to substitute three midfielders for two midfielders and a defender. This strategy, Dambach explained, was to prevent Illinois from tying the game in the last few minutes of the half.

"We focus so much on the defending piece because you can always do that well," Dambach said. "And then if the attacking isn't coming along then you still have 50 percent of your game going well. I give so much credit to Sheva, [Williams], and [Echard] because they've come such a long way in their defending."

Midfielders support offensive attacks but also easily transition to a defensive role. Active communication between midfielders and other players is essential. The midfield connects the defense with the offense, controlling transitions and setting plays.

"It's super important [for the midfield to communicate with the forwards], because if not it's a mess," Crouse said. "In the first half we started off really slow and weren't connecting and then we got our stuff together and throughout the second half I thought we played a lot better with connecting and movement off the midfield and front line."

Crouse also gave credit to the defense, which has consistently been shutting down opposing team's offenses this season.

"Our defense, throughout is growing and they've become such a great line," Crouse said. "I hate playing against them in practice let alone other teams. They're so great to have back there, they create such a trust that you know that they're going to get that ball."

 During the second half, the midfielders continued their dominance. Sophomore midfielder Marissa Sheva found the back of the net for the first time this season to widen the Nittany Lions' lead, 2-0. Williams got the assist. 

"It was awesome," Sheva said. "I've been waiting for it for a little bit but I think things are finally starting to click for us as a team and our attack. Things have just been going well and coming away with another win in the Big Ten is always big for us."



By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - At every meeting, practice, and match there is always one player on the Penn State women's soccer team with a constant smile on her face.


That player isn't in the game making slide tackles or on the practice field running sprints.


That player has suffered three ACL tears in the past five years that have stopped her from stepping foot on Jeffrey Field in game action. She will never be able to do so.


That player has been one of the strongest and most crucial influences that has contributed to the massive success Penn State has endured while she's been a part of the team.


That player is Angela Widlacki.


Widlacki suffered her first knee injury in her junior year of high school. She made a sharp cut to defend an opposing attacker and torn her left ACL, an injury that kept her out all season.


She had committed to Penn State prior to the injury, and head coach Erica Dambach had no hesitation to still bring her on board. Dambach offered words of encouragement to Widlacki throughout her rehab process with the confidence that she would come back stronger than ever.


Widlacki did just that, as she led Naperville North High School to a state championship in her senior season. The team didn't lose a game.


In her first two seasons in Blue and White, Widlacki was a steady bench presence cheering on her teammates through her recovery, and she was ready to contribute in year three.


Widlacki had a solid camp in the summer of 2015 and carried high expectations going into her junior year, but the injury bug came back to bite at the most inopportune time. In the team's preseason tune-up against Army, Widlacki was marking an opponent on the end line when she was hip checked to the ground, tearing her right ACL in the process.


She was unable to play all last season.


Widlacki was back practicing with the team in the beginning of this year until the week following Penn State's loss to BYU. During practice that week, Widlacki suffered her third ACL tear. The following week, the MRI revealed she had a partially torn ACL and meniscus, and she was informed she wouldn't be able to play again.


For most, this news would be so devastating it would discourage them from ever wanting to be involved with soccer again and make them curse the very sport that betrayed them.


For Widlacki, she says it's the one of the best things that's ever happened to her.


"I got so much more appreciation for the little things in life, like walking," Widlacki said. "There's so much strength for you to pull out of yourself in that moment and you're going to waste that if you're dwelling on it or just seeing the negatives."


Seeing the negatives is something Widlacki simply refuses to do. She's still one of the peppiest players at practice every day, and she works just as hard now as she did when she had shin pads on.


"Regardless of whether she's healthy or not it's the same personality and attitude and fight and determination," said Dambach. "But talk about turning [the injury] into something positive and being a huge part of the team despite injury. She's the heart and soul of this group."


Widlacki has assumed an active role as a self-defined 'mini coach,' without the thought of leaving the team even entering her mind. She's currently assisting the coaches with preparing for upcoming matchups and adding her input mid-game.


"First and foremost, always being a good role model to the underclassmen, just trying to be helpful, trying to keep a positive attitude," Widlacki said. "And I kind of try to look for the little things within the game that, maybe [the coaches] are focusing on a bigger picture and there's a little tweak that they might miss I can point out."


"It was something we felt our team needed and she seemed to be the perfect person because it's something that's near and dear to her heart," Dambach said. "I think it's been a perfect match and it's been really helpful for me and in matches for her to come down at halftime and talk about what she's seeing."


In the realm of coaching, this isn't foreign territory for Widlacki. This past summer Widlacki worked as the assistant director for the Red Stars Academy in Chicago. She gained valuable experience coaching girls aged 6-16 and realized she found something she could see herself doing in the future.


"I really enjoy coaching and coaching little kids a lot more than sitting in an office," Widlacki said.


Widlacki's biggest influence who led her to recognize her love for coaching is her club coach and former Penn State defender Bonnie Young. Young opened the door for Widlacki to work with Red Stars Academy.


Young also set up an East Coast college tour for Widlacki and her club team, which led to Widlacki choosing to travel 595 miles from Naperville, Ill. to Penn State to earn a degree.


"I owe so much to her. She's an incredible lady," Widlacki said.


Aside from soccer, Widlacki is an active participant in THON at Penn State. She danced on the floor last year for 46 straight hours, and was able to take the lessons she learned there about facing adversity and apply them to her current situation.


"You can feel that you're having an impact on them immediately, and just getting to know the kids and the families and see what you're doing for them, I think I'm more grateful to them for showing me how strong they can be," Widlacki said. "People say that I'm strong through my injuries, but meeting those kids and hearing those stories-- way stronger. Way, way stronger."


Widlacki may not be able to help the team on the field, but she's an irreplaceable piece to the puzzle. Neither Widlacki nor the rest of the team even considered parting ways after the news of her third ACL tear, proving this group isn't just a team. It's a family.


Widlacki's injuries are certainly cruel and unlucky, but no one should feel sorry for her. That's not what she's going to do. That's not what she wants from anyone, either.


"Situations like this where I can't really change how I got injured, it happened and that's how I see it," Widlacki said. "It happened, what's the next step? I think when you see something like this, I don't see a point in being down about it. There's no reason to dwell on it. I think everything happens for a reason, and there's a reason that I'm here in this role now."


Widlacki is optimistic about the next chapter in her life and grateful for the time she was able to play at a high level. This isn't the end of the Angela Widlacki story, it's only the prologue.


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By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With three minutes remaining in the first half Sunday afternoon at Jeffrey Field, Penn State and Nebraska were dead even at 1-1.

Both teams had created the same amount of chances and had shared possession evenly all afternoon. The only difference between the conference rivals at this moment was Nebraska's eighth-leading goal scorer all time, Jaycie Johnson, was standing behind the ball on the penalty circle with no one but freshman goalkeeper Amanda Dennis in front of her. 

The only other penalty kick Dennis faced in her young collegiate career was against Long Beach State three weeks prior. She was unable to save that opportunity, but this time she stepped up and made the biggest play of the match.

In the battle between the seasoned veteran and the new kid on the block, Dennis read Johnson's run, dove to her left and stopped her attempt to keep the game tied at one.

"We scouted her. I knew that she was going to go to the left side, so I was hoping she would stick to the game plan, which she did," said Dennis. "I made the save and kept it at a 1-1 tie."

What would've been a one-goal lead for the visitors with momentum on their side heading into halftime turned out to ignite the home crowd and send Penn State to the locker room on a high note. 

"Certainly that ball goes in and it's a completely different game," said head coach Erica Dambach. "She continues to come up big for us, certainly not playing like a freshman."

Dennis also made a one-handed punch save in the 83rd minute to hold the Cornhuskers to one goal.

"You have to make those kinds of saves. It boosts everyone up," said Dennis. "It's a Sunday game, everybody's exhausted on a Sunday, especially when you're getting close to the 90-minute mark, so just making saves like that I got to keep my team in the game."

Dennis has held opponents to one goal or less in eight straight games. With Penn State only losing once in that span. 

Offensively, Megan Schafer stole the show for the Nittany Lions with two goals on four shots. She scored two goals all season leading up to this game.

Schafer got the Lions on the board in the 16th minute with a 12-yard shot that found the bottom left corner of the net off the assist from Salina Williford. 

In the 69th minute Schafer broke the 1-1 tie with a long run to catch up to a through ball from Nickolette Driesse and finished over goalkeeper Audrei Corder for what ended up being the game-winner.

In a game comprised of 23 total fouls and two yellow cards, Schafer flourished like she usually does in physical contests.

"Megan Schafer is a Big Ten soccer player at its finest," said Dambach. "This is where she thrives."

"I just love when it comes around for conference play," said Schafer. "It's just such a physical game, and sometimes it's not the prettiest of games but I love that. It just gets me fired up even more. It's kind of weird but I like contact more. I think that's why today was so successful."

Penn State boasts a bevy of forwards who can outrun the quickest of defenders, but in games that rely on a physical presence, the team turns towards Schafer in the middle to get the job done. She did just that on Sunday.

The Lions will be back in action at Jeffrey Field on Friday, Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. For another conference battle against Illinois.


By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It took some time for Penn State (6-2-2) to crack Iowa's (6-5) tight defensive game plan, but the Nittany Lions used a second half surge to power past the Hawkeyes, 2-0, Friday night.


After a scoreless first half that featured only four combined shots on target, Penn State ramped up the aggressiveness to start the second frame.


Penn State earned a long free kick in the 55th minute and Elizabeth Ball got above the defense to head the ball home to give the Lions a 1-0 lead. It was her first goal of the season and fifth of her career.


"It's so much fun to go forward," said Ball. "Every time we have a free kick or a corner I'm just super excited to get in there and see what I can do."


Ball also led the defensive unit to its fourth shutout in the last five games. The back line held the Hawkeyes to 10 shots and four on target.


"You saw tonight what she's capable of doing," said head coach Erica Dambach. "She's leading the back line and then we need a goal and she goes forward and puts on in the back of the net. She's just getting better and better and I think as the season goes on we've seen that every year that she comes into her own."


This is about the time last season that last year's back line hit its stride, and the same could very well be happing with this group of new faces led by Ball in the middle.


"They're becoming more of a unit" said Dambach. "I think they're getting much more comfortable. We've got two new players in that back line in [Alina Ortega Jurado] and [Grace Fisk] and obviously [goalie Amanda Dennis] is really starting to lead that back line."


Dennis hasn't stopped improving since game one. The freshman has surrendered eight goals this season, but only one in the past five games.


"We really respect Amanda. It's not even like she's a freshman," Ball said. "It's really nice to have somebody so solid back there that we don't have to worry about, and she just gives the whole back line and the whole team confidence."


In the 81st minute Dennis made a full-stretched diving save of Iowa forward Bri Toelle's left foot that seemed destined to the upper left corner of the net. What could've been a momentum shifter for the Hawkeyes turned out to amp up the crowd and preserve the shutout.


"We scouted [Toelle] so we knew that she was going to take a lot of shots from distance, so I just dropped back on my line and made a nice, easy save and kept us in the game," Dennis said.


The Nittany Lions were able to pad the lead in the 63rd minute courtesy of Frannie Crouse. Crouse made a run up the right edge of the box and finished a loose ball over goalie Claire Graves for her team-leading seventh goal of the year.


Crouse is now tied for third in the Big Ten in goals scored. She also vaulted herself into a tie for 15th on the Penn State all-time goals list with the score.


The Lions have outscored their opponents 11-2 in the last six contests. They begin the Big Ten season 2-0-1 with a matchup against Nebraska looming this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.


"This group's in a good place," Dambach said. "A couple shutouts and again back line is starting to come together and we got different people scoring goals for us. I think we got a good balanced attack right now, but we've got a very tough Nebraska team coming in on Sunday."


By Jack Dougherty, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As Penn State prepares to commence Big Ten play this Friday night, the feeling around the team is that a new season is just beginning.


The Nittany Lions wrapped up their non-conference slate with three straight wins to vault their record to 4-2-1 and bring some much-needed momentum into conference play.


Calling the conference schedule a season in itself, however, doesn't downplay the importance of the first few contests out of conference. In fact, head coach Erica Dambach made it imperative to test her troops early and often this year.


Of the seven nonconference matches Penn State played this season, three of its opponents are currently ranked in the top 11 of NSCAA's national rankings.


"Scheduling-wise we tried to see a lot of different challenges," said Dambach. "We saw teams that like to run, we saw teams that like to pack it in, we saw possession teams, we saw direct teams so my biggest message to the team after last match was we learned a lot of lessons, let's make sure we don't learn them twice."


A challenging nonconference schedule provides a variety of benefits to a new team still trying to feel itself out.


Firstly, it gives the coaching staff a solid feel of what lineups work well together and what style of play best suits each group on the pitch. It also provides a good idea of what the team needs to improve upon before conference play starts up.


Maybe the most important factor of strong non-conference matchups is acclimating the freshman and younger players quickly who haven't contributed in years past. It's more effective to show them what games will be like in the Big Ten right away, so they won't shy away from the competition when it matters most.


The captains, Megan Schafer, Brittany Basinger and Nickolette Driesse, spoke to the young players this week at practice about the additional challenges Big Ten games present and how important each is to the end goal of this team.


From top to bottom this team is focused and ready to get the real season started. Here are some of the biggest Big Ten storylines as PSU begins its road to repeat.


Target on the Back


There's no secret who everyone's coming for this year. Ask any coach in the conference.


Every Big Ten team had the game against Penn State circled since the day the schedules were released. Who wouldn't want to knock off the defending national champions?


That only means one thing: the Lions will get the best effort from each and every team they face from here on out. PSU must be sharp for 90 minutes every game because their opponent surely will be.


"It helps our team in the long run in every way, shape and form," said Dambach. "I would say our opponent has a lot of fire in their bellies. That's the best way I could describe it. They have that little bit of extra desire."


Dambach even noted one of Penn State's early opponents had the words "make history" written on their arms.


It's essentially Penn State against the world this year in the Big Ten. It will be interesting to see how the Lions react.


No Games Off


The Big Ten conference is so deep and talented this year. Penn State can ill afford to take anyone lightly.


As it stands now, four Big Ten teams (Minnesota, Penn State, Ohio State and Rutgers) reside in the NSCAA top 25. Northwestern is right behind as the second team excluded off the list, and Nebraska received a vote as well.


Not to mention Wisconsin, who shared the Big Ten Championship with Penn State last year, and both Iowa and Michigan, which own better records than the Lions in 2016.


Teams to Look Out For


No. 22 Rutgers- The Scarlet Knights sported arguably the best defense in the conference last year, and they have continued that pattern in 2016. Rutgers has given up three goals in seven games and boast a 2-0 win against No. 23 UConn.


Offensively, Nicole Whitley leads the conference with six assists in a very balanced offense. Rutgers was one of the favorites to win it all last year, and they have the discipline to make another push this season.


Northwestern- The Wildcats finished fourth in the conference last season with a 14-6-2 overall record and a 7-3-1 mark in conference play. They have already exceeded expectations this season, starting a perfect 7-0.


The Wildcats don't jump off the page statistically, but they're stifling defense led by goalie Lauren Clem has allowed just one goal all season. Clem's six shutouts leads the conference.


No. 10 Minnesota- Penn State's first conference test on Friday may be its toughest all season. Minnesota beat PSU in Happy Valley last season, and its only two losses this season came to top 10 teams in Duke and Stanford.


Besides those two setbacks, the Golden Gophers have been pretty darn good. In their six wins this season Minnesota has averaged three goals per game, thanks mostly to the reigning Big Ten Forward of the Year, Simone Kolander.


Kolander leads the conference with seven goals and 17 points in 2016 and is making a strong case to repeat as forward of the year.


The road doesn't get much easier for PSU as they travel to Madison, Wis. on Sunday to face the Wisconsin Badgers.


"Going into Minnesota and Wisconsin, we always know it's going to be competitive, but we know that we need to just start the standard high and bring it right from the start and that will prepare us for the games ahead of us," said Driesse.


"We talked about going into conference play where we have a clean slate, so we go in and just got to get work done in conference play on the road this weekend," said Schafer. "All of the stuff that we put in this summer and we've been working for, the season starts now."


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