One-time “late bloomer” Mallory Weber is off to a quick start in her freshman campaign for Penn State women’s soccer.
The forward has emerged on the scene as a weapon for the No. 11 Nittany Lion offense. Weber, who got the opportunity to start when All-American forwards Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram traveled to Japan for the U-20 women’s World Cup, is flourishing in her role. Weber is second on the team with five goals in the first eight games this season. About 69 percent of her shots have been on goal.
“I think it’s been good coming in playing like I have nothing to lose,” Weber said. “I’ve had the chance to take advantage of the minutes I’m getting with Maya [Hayes] and [Taylor] Schram being gone.”
Weber has quickly earned the respect of teammates and coaches alike with her level of play. Head coach Erica Walsh has praised the freshman for her early success.
“In my six years, I have not seen an attacking player impact the game as much as Mal Weber has in her first eight games,” Walsh said. “She was a bit of a late bloomer. She played on a real small club team all through the recruiting process, and we didn’t see her until late in the process. Fortunately, no one else did either.”
A Michigan native, Weber spent most of her early soccer career as a member of the club team the Michigan Rush.
While playing for the Rush, Weber was coached by Andy Vanover who was able to develop her game since the ripe age of eleven.
“What most separates her from anybody else is her work rate,” Vanover said, “She always wants to get better. When she first started she wasn’t always the top player in the group but she’s done nothing but try to get better on a consistent basis.”
Vanover cites Weber’s ability to hold the ball with her back to the goal as well as her ability to create space from defenders as her strongest skills. Weber displayed these abilities in the Lion’s Aug. 24 match against Stanford when she was able to find space after a deflected Christine Nairn shot and slip in a goal from the right corner.
“She has the tremendous ability to find space and continue and finish runs that most players wouldn’t finish,” Vanover said. “It puts her in good positions to score.”
In her senior year, Weber switched to the Michigan Hawks, a larger club team that would allow her to get more exposure. Penn State has a history with this team, former Lion forward, Dani Toney, was recruited from the same club.
“As soon as I saw Weber, we jumped on her,” Walsh said. “From there, things went pretty smoothly in the recruiting process.”
After heading to a larger club, Weber’s stepped her play up to a higher level, scoring a hat trick in the championship game for the Hawks. Weber also enjoyed a decorated career at Northville High School, earning All-State honors in her junior year, as well as three All-Conference and three All-District nods.
Weber admits there was not a lot of competition as far as her recruitment.
“The coaches and the level of soccer helped my choice,” Weber said. “The school is great, and the support from every single sport, plus the academics. It was just the perfect fit.”
Though Weber has admitted that the speed from the high school to the college game has been the biggest challenge, Walsh points out that Weber’s standout work ethic is allowing her to make the necessary adjustments.
“She has an enormous upside,” Walsh said. “There’s a laundry list of things she needs to work on, but she’s the hardest working player I’ve ever been around.”
Teammates have noticed Weber’s work ethic, as well. Senior Christine Nairn, the leader of the offense with seven goals and four assists this season has been impressed with the newcomer’s game play.
“Mal has been awesome. She’s come in with a good head on her shoulders and has absolutely taken off,” Nairn said. “Especially as a freshman, she’s jumping on board with our team. She’s been here to learn and has taken over.”
Nairn and Weber have already developed chemistry on the field. Three of Nairn’s four assists this season have been to Weber.
The two forwards, along with redshirt junior Tani Costa, have formed a balanced offensive attack that ranks tenth in the NCAA with 3.00 goals per game.
The talented offense is expecting an interesting weekend against Wisconsin with the return of Hayes and Schram from Japan. Though their maybe some changes in lineup position, Walsh has been clear on Weber’s role in the lineup.
“Mal Weber has established herself as a starter,” Walsh said. “The way that we incorporate Maya and Schram is to work them in with the way Mal and Tani have been playing.”
Weber has already exceeded her season goal of simply being able to get minutes and become a minor contributor. With that, she has set her sights on bigger successes.
“At first, I thought about trying to get as much play time as possible,” Weber said. “Now I think it’s just being as effective as I can, scoring as many goals as I can and focusing on work ethic and helping the team.”
To email reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org