The Nittany Lions have remained one of the top teams in the NCAA so far this season without showing their full hand.
No. 8 Penn State women’s soccer currently has two All-American forwards, Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram representing the United States in the U-20 World Cup in Japan. In their absence, a number of players have had to step up for an offense missing its two top scorers from 2011, and so far these players have not missed a beat.
Freshman Mallory Weber and redshirt junior Tani Costa are starting in place of the missing forwards. The two of them, along with senior Christine Nairn, have led the charge with a well-balanced attack, pushing the Lions to a 3-1 record.
Weber has exploded onto the scene in her first year with four goals in four games. Weber’s open-field quickness and skills as a ball hawk have made her an early season go-to option.
“It was really exciting, kind of nerve-racking at first,” Weber said. “But knowing that I had the chance to step up early and play has been really exciting.”
Costa has also been a key contributor with one goal this season against Virginia. Her presence has gone beyond scoring — her ball control against then top-ranked Stanford allowed Nairn to tie the game in the Lions’ eventual 3-2 loss.
Costa finds herself in a bit of a role reversal after having Schram come in for her after going down with a knee injury last season.
“Last year when I got hurt she stepped up for me when I was gone,” Costa said. “It’s nice that I kind of get to return the favor for her.”
With the subs performing at such a high level a conflict appears to be looming with the imminent return of Hayes and Schram. The lineup will likely be shaken up with Weber and Costa either moving to the bench or moving to different positions.
“We haven’t discussed it much because what we have right now has been really working apparently,” Costa said. “We’re going to be so diverse and so unpredictable when they come back. I’m excited to see it all work out.”
Head coach Erica Walsh will have a lot of talent to work with when Hayes and Schram return, which could be as early as next week.
“Tani and Mal Weber have proven to be a wonderful combination and we will find ways to integrate Hayes and Schram back into this group,” Walsh said. “But right now I’m proud of what we’re doing, I’m proud of this group of players and we’re excited to get them back.”
Though a 13-hour time difference separates them, the teammates have been able to stay in touch during the World Cup run. They frequently Skype and sometimes text one another. The team has kept up with Hayes and Schram’s performance in Japan. The U.S. team is currently 1-1-1 and will play North Korea in the quarterfinals on Friday.
“Credit to the team and credit to Hayes and Schram, they have created a system where they Skype on game day and they have stayed together as a team,” Walsh said. “I think the thing they say most often is ‘we miss you, come back healthy.’ They had a good plan in place before they left.”