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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Academic advisor Jim Weaver has a shelf in his office lined with trophies and plaques commemorating the great athletic success his teams have enjoyed over the years.

 

Front and center on the top of that shelf sits the women's soccer 2015 National Championship ring, framed in a glass case.

 

No, Weaver wasn't on the team roster or the coaching staff for that historical season, but he was just as much a part of that team as Rocky Rodriguez or head coach Erica Dambach. Ask anyone on the team.

 

"Let's just say I would not be graduating this December without Jim Weaver," senior Frannie Crouse said. "Through and through he's a savior with our classes, our scheduling and our soccer schedule. He's always there on the phone or email, and he never lets you down."

 

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As a matter of fact, ask anyone who has ever donned a women's soccer uniform at Penn State over the years. Weaver was the academic advisor for every single one of them. He also works with the men's and women's volleyball teams and the men's lacrosse team at Penn State.

 

Weaver began his tenure at Penn State in 1993, a year before the women's soccer program was born. He's the only staff member who has been with the team for all 24 years.

 

"There's a lot of programs out there that have academic advisors, but he's different," Dambach said. "He's different in his ownership, he's different in his accountability, and he's different in his desires to drive them to be their best."

 

Weaver's relationship with the players begins before they even enroll. He's a stop on nearly every recruiting trip for high school prospects, and he gets started transferring high school credits and building schedules the second they arrive on campus.

 

He first makes sure every incoming player receives eligible credits from high school classes, then meets with them to plan their first semester. This step is crucial for some freshman, like former player Emily Hurd, who was on the team from 2010-2014.

 

Hurd came to Penn State with the possibility of earning 35 college credits before she even sat in a Penn State classroom. Weaver made sure of that, and Hurd began her quest for an early degree as a second semester sophomore based on academic credits.

 

Because of the jump start, Hurd was able to earn an undergraduate degree in communication arts and sciences in three years and a graduate masters degree in higher education administration in a year and a half. Hurd said all the credit goes to Weaver.

 

"Jim's so good at reading people and knowing what makes people tick and being able to find passions in people by having meaningful conversations, so he was able to lead me toward the direction of communications," Hurd said.

 

Weaver inspired Hurd to pursue a career similar to his. Hurd now works at James Madison University with the Duke Club, which is similar to the Nittany Lion Club at Penn State.

 

She said in the future she wants to work with a college athletic program as an advisor, just like Weaver.

 

Hurd's story exemplifies why Weaver loves his job. He said the most rewarding part of his career is being able to help a student-athlete realize their passion and grow to thrive in that field.

 

Just recently Weaver helped a women's volleyball player land a work study with a Penn State librarian. She enjoyed it so much she might pursue a master's degree in library studies or a similar field.

 

"Helping people accomplish their goals is what it's all about," Weaver said. "The beautiful thing here is we got some people with some serious goals. Half the time I have to tell them to settle down and take it slow."

 

Weaver's everyday duties go far beyond just helping with scheduling and finding student-athletes' passions, though.

 

He hosts study halls for players, teaches a first year seminar course, proctors exams for players on the road, and makes sure a team's Academic Progress Rate (APR) is where it needs to be.

 

APR is an NCAA standard that holds institutions responsible for progressing student-athletes in the classroom. Weaver's job is to help ensure every player is academically eligible each semester and that the team keeps above a 0.925 APR.

 

Throughout his career, the teams he oversees have consistently outperformed the NCAA standard. Even the 2015 championship team, which was on the road all semester, earned a 3.49 average GPA.

 

"Women's soccer is the epitome of what this is all about as far as success in the classroom, success on the field, and good citizens and members of the community," Weaver said. "The staff--coach Dambach in particular--makes my job very easy. They set the tone."

 

Weaver and Dambach work closely with both the academic and athletic pieces of the players' lives. Dambach constantly checks with Weaver about getting players tutors and making sure they're all going to class.

 

Weaver also sits on the sidelines for every game. He said their ability to merge the two worlds of a student-athlete makes them so successful both in the classroom and on the field.

 

Weaver's relationship with players goes beyond the classroom and the playing field, however. Dambach said he's a genuine friend to the team before anything else.

 

"He is not just an academic advisor," Dambach said. "He is their mentor, their teacher, their friend, their coach. His ownership is unlike anything I've ever seen in the world of academia before."

 

Junior Charlotte Williams said Weaver cares about each and every player as the person they are, not just the student or the soccer player.

 

"Jim has been huge, not only with our academic success, but he cares about all of us on a personal level, which is really nice to have," Williams said. "He allows our schedules to work the way they do, especially with travel and everything so he's been super helpful."

 

Hurd still maintains her friendship with Weaver, even though she rarely gets to visit State College. When she came back for a recent Penn State football game, she said Weaver was one of the first calls she made.

 

"He builds relationships that are lifelong. He's not just a student academic advisor. He's a person in your life that becomes so important to you," Hurd said.

 

Weaver has different approaches for every student-athlete he works with, but his resounding goal with all of them is to make sure they're ready to take on the world after soccer.

 

He's been a large part of the high graduation rates for Penn state athletics in recent years, most notably the 89 percent rate last year, but he says that's just part of his job.

 

"I want two things when you're done," Weaver said. "I want you to not want to leave because that means you just loved it here, but I want you to be prepared to go."

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The college soccer season is a grind, and players rely on their coaching staff more than ever to keep their minds and bodies in tip top shape throughout the year.

 

The head coach and assistants surely aid players by pushing them when they can handle it and dialing it back when they've clearly had enough, but coaches have far too much on their plates to be worried about each and every player's bodies on a daily basis.

 

That's where the duo of Andra Thomas and Rhian Davis come in for Penn State women's soccer.

 

Thomas and Davis keep track of the team's physical and mental fitness day in and day out so that head coach Erica Dambach and company can focus on scouting and game planning.

 

"There's a lot of years that that support staff can make or break you," Dambach said. "You look at the dynamic of this staff and first and foremost you love coming to work every day, so from a personal standpoint they make my day much better."

 

Thomas is the Associate Director of Athletic Training Services for the team and has been at Penn State since 1992. She has worked with the women's basketball, men's and women's golf, softball, and men's and women's soccer teams during her tenure.

 

Her duties span from conducting yoga sessions with the team to working rehab with injured players.

 

Thomas spent four years with the women's soccer team from 2008-2012 and returned for a second stint at the start of last season. She said coming back to the team was one of the best decisions she's made in her professional career.

 

"That was the absolute best year that I've ever had with a team," Thomas said. "They were the most enthusiastic to do anything and everything that I asked, and they completely bought in. They're the easiest group I have ever had to work with. I love working with them."

 

Thomas said her favorite part of the job is rehabbing players who deal with injuries. She prides herself in bringing players from a sense of hopelessness to becoming a stronger and more skilled version of themselves before the injury.

 

Over 25 years, Thomas has been through a plethora of changes in regards to the way training staffs track player fitness. She said the various technology the team is able to use today helps her immensely with her job.

 

"The amount of data that we can get on kids right then and there to be able to assess injuries and better see how we can get them ready--it's a night and day as compared to 25 years ago," Thomas said.

 

One of the most prominent ways the team is tracking fitness this year is a cell phone app called Fit for 90.

 

Fit for 90 tracks how players are feeling on different scales--mentally and physically. It can tell players if they're sore, fatigued or sleep deprived based on the info they input to the app.

 

For Thomas and Davis, the team's strength and conditioning coach, the app helps them diagnose a hurt body part as a serious injury or simply soreness from training. It can tell them when to hold certain players out of practice by giving them a readiness score for each player.

 

"First and foremost we always make sure that our program has injury prevention in it," Davis said. "That's the most important for me. Strength in terms of muscle weight is important, but it's not everything."

 

Davis has been with Penn State since 2013 and oversees both the women's soccer and softball teams. She also worked as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Rice University and Jacksonville University.

 

She said seeing scrawny and somewhat out-of-shape freshman turn into to mentally and physically strong players on and off the field is what keeps her going. She said she loves seeing the team's work in the weight room translate to the field.

 

"My favorite thing is when we're not the biggest kid out there, but the big kids bounce off of us," Davis said. "I think that has a lot to do with the culture that spread to this program through Erica and the rest of the staff in that our kids hit the ground running as hard as they can, and they're not going to fall down. If you're going to hit them it better be a really hard hit and even if they do fall down they're going to get right back up."

 

Both Thomas and Davis may not be in the spotlight like players and head coaches are every week, but their work never goes unappreciated, especially by the players.

 

"They're so important to the team, especially with all the prevention stuff and flexibility things that we do I think it's made a world wind of change, not just with soccer but in everyday life," Salina Williford said.

 

"The players believe in them," Dambach said. "They trust them. They want to go seek out their help and guidance and there's no healthier environment you could create than the one they have created."

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

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

 

Penn State happens to be one of those teams.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The assist was Basinger's first of the season.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Next up--North Carolina.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach Erica Dambach and senior defenders Brittany Basinger and Elizabeth Ball spoke at Penn State Media Day Wednesday morning, following the team's 2-0 start to the 2017 season.

 

The Nittany Lions took down No. 8 BYU 3-1 last Friday and defeated Hofstra 3-0 on Sunday. Penn State vaulted from unranked in the United Soccer Coaches poll to ninth in the country after the strong start.

 

The team will be back on the pitch Friday to face Arkansas, but for now here are five takeaways from media day.

 

Tough Road Ahead

Dambach has made it a priority this year to gain experience playing the very best the country has to offer. Penn State will play three consecutive games against top 10 teams before beginning the conference slate.

 

Playing No. 2 West Virginia, No. 4 North Carolina and No. 10 Virginia in the span of nine days will be one of the most grueling stretches any team will endure this season, but Dambach views it as a positive.

 

"We've got one of the more challenging out of conference schedules that we've ever faced, and we felt like it was the right year to do it with great leadership from [captains Basinger and Ball] as well as a really strong senior class," Dambach said. "We also love to bring in big names to Jeffrey Field and get the community an opportunity to see the highest level of women's soccer and great opponents. But for these guys we want to test them in every environment. We want to challenge them in every way possible before we get in to Big Ten play."

 

How the Nittany Lions fare out of conference this year will prove how ready they are to compete for another National Championship.

 

Welcome Back!

Emily Ogle, Kaleigh Riehl, Ellie Jean, Maddie Elliston, Rose Chandler, and Laura Freigang all return to the team this year after playing in the U-20 Women's World Cup in 2016. All six will look to jump into the lineup for the Blue and White this season.

 

"It's awesome to have so much depth because there's more time to sub and we have more time off of our feet and so it's just awesome to have all the girls back," said Ball. "They came back seamlessly."

 

Reihl, Jean and Elliston bolster the back line that already featured Basinger and Ball. Being able to rotate defenders in and out without losing a step will be a huge advantage for Penn State this season.

 

"Going into a season knowing that you can rely on your defense and your unit in the back line feels good. Going into a season with depth in your back line feels even better," Dambach said.

 

Ogle fits right back into her role of creator and possession specialist in the center midfield position. Almost every attack runs through her when she's on the pitch, and she rarely turns the ball over.

 

In 2015, her freshman year, Ogle scored seven goals and tallied two assists. She already has a goal and an assist in two games this year.  Freigang, who spent time with the Nittany Lions in 2016 before the World Cup, earned Big Ten All-Freshman honors last season from her midfield position.  


Chandler, the goalkeeper of the group, played in five games for Penn State in her freshman 2015 year, and earned Academic All-Big Ten honors that season.  


Freigang played in 15 contests during her freshman year in 2016. Last year she scored two goals before missing the NCAA Tournament to join Germany at the U-20 Women's World Cup. 

 

Oh Captain My Captain

Basinger and Ball were named 2017 captains by the team before the season. They have the most experience on the roster, as Basinger is playing in her fifth year and Ball has been a starter for three years.

 

They have patrolled the back line for what seems like forever, and their chemistry on the field is unmatched.

 

"One of the things I like about these two is that they've got different skill sets, and they balance each other out really well," Dambach said. "I think they're both big voices within our team in terms of their respect that they've garnered over the years. When our team selected these two they wanted to be held accountable. So far I've been really impressed with what they've done."

 

Nittany Lions in Prime Time

The Big Ten Network will televise three Penn State regular season games this year--the matchups against North Carolina, Northwestern and Rutgers.

 

The network also provides fans a way to watch every PSU game via BTN Plus.

 

"The effect that it's had on our program alone in women's soccer has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of the feedback from the alums," Dambach said.

 

Dambach also said the television coverage has helped immensely with recruiting nationally and internationally.

 

Thanks to BTN, players' families can watch every minute of Penn State women's soccer. Even program alum Rocky Rodriguez's family was able to watch her games from Costa Rica when she is from.

 

Penn State Pride

Both Basinger and Ball spoke about what the Penn State experience means to them.

 

"To play for Penn State is a complete dream for every young girl," Basinger said. "Being able to put that jersey on every Friday and Sunday is something that I look forward to. This is my fifth year and it never gets old."

 

"Every night that we get to put on our jersey, I think we all have a sense of just how grateful we are and we all recognize that feeling and it's just incredible because there's no better place to play soccer in the country," Ball said.

 

Dambach, whose parents are Penn State alumni, also said that this is her dream job and she wouldn't want to be doing anything else.

 

"Being a part of the Penn State athletic department has been even more than I expected in my wildest dreams," Dambach said. "It's a family, and I think that's what keeps so many of us here. We look around and we look at the quality of the coaches and we look at the comradery within the group and we look at this town and the community and there's no better place to coach college soccer in the country."

@GOPSUSPORTS

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