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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from Dambach below.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Meister.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Team Manager Erika Wollman was also honored before the game. 

 

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

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com 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."

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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com 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.

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By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com 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."

 

@GOPSUSPORTS

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