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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Home field advantage is a very real sports phenomenon.
There are stadiums and arenas around the country that strike fear into the hearts of visiting opponents, even before they board the plane or bus to make the journey.
Oracle Arena, CenturyLink Field and Lambeau Field, among others, possess unmatched atmospheres created by die-hard fans that fuel their teams to perform at its highest possible level. A great fan base can quite literally add wins to a team's season.
In the realm of women's college soccer there is no place that illustrates this more than Jeffrey Field. It's an intimidating ground that chews up even the strongest enemies and spits them out when it's finished with them.
Since 2011, Penn State is 56-4-5 on Jeffrey Field. For head coach Erica Dambach and her troops, it seems like more of a home field certainty than a home field advantage at this point.
"Every time we go out on the field we always say protect Jeffrey," said forward Megan Shafer. "That's one of the biggest things coach always says. It's a sacred ground to play on. It's just an honor to wear that jersey on that field."
The biggest fuel to the fire that is the Jeffrey Field atmosphere is the student section called the Park Avenue Army. The Park Avenue Army is a wild group of loud, dedicated Penn State students with large drums and seemingly unending singing voices that show up early to every home contest and keep the crowd engaged all game.
"They drive the environment at Jeffrey Field," Dambach said. "They drive the atmosphere. They are one of the main reasons why opponents hate coming in to play us. I think that college players want to play in front of their peers. When we walk out and we can hear The Park Avenue Army on Jeffrey Field it just raises the energy."
This season, the group is even more prevalent than in previous years. For the home opener against No. 6 West Virginia, the rowdy crew led the team onto the field and will do so for every home game.
This was new for everyone on the team, but for freshman Laura Suero, it was her first ever experience at Jeffrey Field wearing blue and white.
"My nerves are going crazy before walking out," said Suero. "You can hear them in the locker room and you can hear the crowd. It was probably one of the most amazing experiences walking out onto Jeffrey Field."
Penn State played West Virginia to a 1-1 draw in front of a record setting 5,791 fans, the most ever for a women's soccer game at Jeffrey Field.
"It was just an incredible feeling," said Shafer. "This atmosphere to play on Jeffrey Field, we couldn't ask for anything better, especially on opening night."
The environment was electric, and it all starts with The Park Avenue Army. It had the crowd chanting "We are... Penn State" and various songs to keep the energy from ever dying down.
Coach Dambach, although she has a job to do, sometimes gets caught up in the fun. Her favorite songs The Army performs are "Sweet Frannie Crouse" because of her deep Neil Diamond fandom and, of course, "Walsh's World."
Defending home field is a goal of every team in the country, but for Penn State it's a necessity. Coach Dambach believes her team is better than any team in the country on Jeffrey Field, and she has made a point to schedule tougher teams at home to test her squad.
West Virginia is a top-ten team capable of winning a championship, and Penn State will play No. 15 BYU next in Happy Valley. It's a challenging start to a new year, but that's just the way Penn State likes it.
"Because of the environment that's created, it doesn't scare us to bring anybody in to this place," said Dambach. "We feel like the atmosphere can lift us over any opponent. For us, if you come into our home it's protect Jeffrey. I dare you."'
If the United States Women's National Team came to Jeffrey Field and suited up against Penn State, the Nittany Lions would expect to put up a fight with The Park Avenune Army and almost 6,000 fans behind them.
The friendly confines of Jeffrey Field drastically improves the team's energy and all-around play. It's an unrivaled atmosphere in college soccer.
"Every time we step out on the field, defending Jeffrey is one of our biggest aspects," said Suero. "Playing your heart out, playing for your teammates, for your community, for your coaches and each other it's just one big family and it is awesome playing out on Jeffrey."
Dambach puts it best.
"There is literally no better place on a Friday night than Jeffrey Field."