Correction appended: Nov. 27, 2012.
They entered the season with many questions, but since then they have been answered.
The team’s two leading goal scorers were competing in Japan, its best defender was out with an ACL tear and ended last season with an early exit in the NCAA tournament.
But this season for the No. 1-seeded Penn State women’s soccer team has been a complete turn around.
The Lions are gearing up to face also No. 1-seeded Florida State on Friday in the College Cup in San Diego, Ca. which is college soccer’s version of the Final Four.
Coach Erica Walsh said that the team draws on everything surrounding the University to propel them through this season.
“Obviously the entire University has gone through a lot since last November and behind the force of coach O’Brien and Michael Mauti being kind of the leading force for our University, we have just been inspired,” Walsh said. “Everyday we are inspired, we are inspired by Tim Frazer’s reaction when he got injured and [defender] Lexi Marton when she went down for our team. We have seen so many examples of unbelievable leadership over the past year.”
After defeating Duke 1-0 in the Elite Eight on Friday the Lions earned a birth to the College Cup, but the success of the team has not come easy.
The potent scoring duo of Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram missed the first eight games of the season to compete in the Under-20 World Cup in Japan, but back in Happy Valley the Lions were gearing up to face then-No. 7 Virginia and No. 1 Stanford.
Walsh said some could think starting off the season at Virginia without Hayes and Schram is crazy, but she said she looks at it as they are geniuses.
Without Hayes and Schram, younger players were given the opportunity to make an impact early. Freshman forward Mallory Weber perhaps has made the biggest strides adding 13 goals and three assists.
“That could perhaps be our greatest blessing is that we have always supported our National Team players to go off and participate in these World Cups, we celebrate it,” Walsh said. “We think it’s wonderful when their careers can go in that direction and they come back to us more experienced, shoulders back, sometimes even a bit more fit. It is a wonderful thing for the education of the players and we have always supported the World Cup players. It also gives the opportunity for other players to step in and you never know how that’s going to go. It provided us with the opportunity to test some of these players early. So when those guys came back in, our biggest challenge was how we were going to fit all of our goal scorers on the team at the same time on the field and what a great challenge that is as a coach.”
Hayes called the season a battle, but said that if the team puts work in the will come out with a win on Sunday.
It has been said all season long that this years team is different than they have every seen before because of the fitness level.
Senior midfielder Christine Nairn said she sat down with Walsh at the end of last season and said Walsh told her to “get her act together” and that she took it to heart.
“I think the biggest difference between this years team and last years season team-wise is we got our stuff together and we got fit,” Nairn said. “I can speak for myself, I kind of had to have a tough conversation with coach right before I left, but I took it to heart and I think everybody else did. I mean we’re winning, I don’t know what else there is to say. I think a fit team is the best Penn State team we have seen in the past couple years and I am glad to be a part of it and we are on to San Diego.”
In her final season senior captain Maddy Evans has been called the key to success for the Lions this season by her teammates and coaches alike, but she said that getting to this point has been a team effort.
“Every single person from the seniors down to the freshmen, everyone is on board,” Evans said. “We set goals together and while we have our differences, in the end we are likeminded individuals when it comes to what we want to do as Penn State student-athletes. It is a complete team effort, it is just the fact that everyone is buying into it. This year especially it has kind of been a different feeling even since last season ended. It is kind of really putting a foot down and saying this is what we want to do we are on a mission and what does it take to get there. Look each other in the eye and say ‘I’m willing to do it.’”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the date of an upcoming women’s soccer game. The team will face Florida State in the College Cup on Friday in San Diego. The above article reflects the correct information. The Daily Collegian apologizes for this error.