Penn State’s season ended in a heartbreaking overtime loss to Virginia in the Sweet 16, but the championship window for the Nittany Lions is more open than ever
The blue and white has plenty to celebrate after a 15-5-3 season, including the program’s ninth Big Ten Championship. At the forefront of the success was Penn State’s tremendous depth.
Coach Erica Dambach’s team had starpower in the starting 11, but hardly skipped a beat when subbing from the bench. Penn State could undergo lots of roster turnover this offseason, which will cast the spotlight on the youngest talent in Happy Valley.
Here’s how each position group stacks up in 2023 and beyond:
It’s hard to miss Ally Schlegel with her trademark pink headband and knack for scoring goals.
The redshirt senior striker led the Big Ten with 13 goals on the year and was always in the right positions for Penn State’s attack. A big part of Schlegel’s success was the brilliant service she received from her teammates.
Penelope Hocking, USC’s all-time leading goal scorer, transferred to Penn State this season and provided a huge spark to the offense. The fifth-year forward brought attitude to the pitch and impressed with her ball skills and vision as both a passer and a shooter.
Flying along the opposite wing was senior Payton Linnehan, who came on strong in the postseason. Linnehan scored a goal in all three NCAA Tournament matches this season and was dangerous whenever she was on the ball.
These three were the stars of Penn State’s offense, and it's possible that none of them will play another match in the blue and white kits. Even so, there are young players ready to step into the starting role.
Amelia White was a highly-touted recruit from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and showed the nation why in her first season in Happy Valley. With elite speed and ball skills, White has the potential to be one of the top forwards in the country if she can continue improving on the mental side of the game.
Another super sub for Penn State was Kaitlyn MacBean in her first season of action. The redshirt sophomore scored three goals en route to the Big Ten all-freshman team, along with White.
MacBean and White are favorites to lock down starting spots next season, but it’s hard to say who will fill in elsewhere offensively.
A match can be won or lost in the midfield, and the Nittany Lions boasted plenty of experience in that position this season.
Cori Dyke locked down a defensive midfielder role, and her play garnered high praise from Dambach throughout the season. The senior was a secure tackler and had the ability to work the ball out of trouble in her own half.
Team captain Maddie Myers played in a similar role as Dyke, and together the two were strong vocal leaders for the team.
The pieces are there to fill the departure of the senior duo in the form of Olivia Smith and Olivia Borgen.
Smith is an attacking specialist with all the tools to be a force in the midfield. The freshman saw her playtime increase as the season progressed, eventually becoming one of the first subs off the bench. She wowed with her ball skills and her aggressiveness on every play.
Borgen also saw her minutes increase as the season went on and is trending toward being a more integral piece on Penn State’s squad.
With junior Natalie Wilson likely to make her return, the midfield should be a solid unit, especially if the young players can continue their development.
The blue and white defense flew under the radar, as any good defense should. The unit allowed just 22 goals in 23 matches and played a critical part in some of Penn State’s biggest wins.
Fifth-year defender Jillian Jennings was a big transfer portal addition from Boston College, anchoring the defense as a centerback. She was joined by sophomore Mieke Schiemann, who broke out this season and earned a third-team All-Big Ten nod.
Schiemann is expected to return along with junior Ellie Wheeler, who brought pace as a defender and could run with speedsters on the wings.
The transition in net could be the most notable of all for the blue and white if redshirt senior Katherine Asman hangs up her Penn State cleats. Her backup, Morgan Messner, is a fifth-year in her own right and might not stick around.
If neither keeper returns, it’s a toss-up as to which young player takes the reins in net.
Junior Katie Evans made her first and only career start during the 2021 spring season, while redshirt freshman Amanda Poorbaugh is waiting for her first minutes.
The defenders in front of goal look to be strong, but the goalkeeper storyline is one to watch moving forward.
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