With limited experience, freshman Mallory Weber has answered the call every time her team needs her.
In an offense mired by uncertainty going into the season, Weber was arguably the biggest surprise for the Penn State’s women’s soccer team with five goals in her first seven games.
Weber’s hot streak cooled off when junior Maya Hayes returned to the lineup Sept. 16 against Wisconsin. The freshman was moved from a forward to an outside midfielder, and though the No. 4 Nittany Lions are 7-0-0 since her switch, her statistics have taken a hit.
In a more defensive-minded midfield role Weber has seen her shots go down from 16 in the first seven matches to seven in the last seven. Playing at midfield for five games, Weber was only able to net one goal. Still, she has managed to contribute to the Lions on both sides of the ball. She has been able to set up scoring chances for the offense, notching her first assist of the season as a midfielder.
“The biggest thing with moving Mal Weber was helping her to understand that we weren’t disappointed in her as a forward,” coach Erica Walsh said. “Another piece came back into the puzzle in Maya Hayes and Mallory Weber proved that should was good enough to be in the starting 11. We wanted to find a home for her and luckily that outside mid position seems to be a good place.”
Hayes has validated her coach’s decision with nine goals in seven games this season.
With junior forward Tani Costa not able to play this past weekend due to illness, Weber found herself back in her natural forward position. For the first time this season, she had the opportunity to start alongside Hayes up top.
Weber was back to her early season form as she put in a team leading two goals on four shots as the Lions dominated Indiana 5-2. Ironically, Hayes went scoreless on five attempts in the match.
Weber’s performance earned her a third Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor.
“I was excited to get back playing up top so I was able to take advantage of that and tried to capitalize when I could,” Weber said. “We’re all playing really well right now. Everybody’s getting shots because we’ve been so dynamic up top.”
Weber admits that though forward is her natural position, she is learning in her new role and doing what she can to contribute. She has been a student of the game, learning from upperclassmen that have had experience in her role.
“I’m definitely not as comfortable [at outside midfield]” Weber said. “Each game I get more comfortable. Maddy Evans has helped me out a lot because she previously played the position.”
With Costa returning to the lineup, Weber will likely move back to midfield for the Lions. In a multi-faceted offense that boasts a conference leading 46 goals this season, Walsh has had to make difficult decisions about where to place players. However, she said this has not been too much of a challenge with Weber because of how she has stepped into her new position.
“It only becomes a challenge when the player starts to struggle,” Walsh said. “Players can struggle for a variety of reasons, technically, tactically or emotionally. But Mal Weber hasn’t skipped a beat or had any issues, in fact she has embraced her new role.”