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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 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."