It was a busy weekend for coach Erica Dambach’s squad to open the campaign, but the two games against Stanford and Hofstra served as a very promising litmus test going into the season.
No. 6 Penn State women’s soccer took on No. 3 Stanford on Friday night in its home opener. Catarina Macario was the star of the show as her two goals lifted the Cardinal over the Nittany Lions, despite the debut goal of Kate Wiesner once equalized for Penn State.
A quick turnaround pitted the Nittany Lions against Hofstra on Sunday, and it was a one-sided affair. Penn State found the back of the goal six times in a morale-boosting win.
The Nittany Lions went neck-and-neck with one of the premier programs in the nation, and it ultimately came down to moments of magic by one of the top players at the collegiate level in Macario.
The team generally retained shape very well throughout the game through patches of ups and downs. The press and defense stayed relatively compact, especially with the midfield and frontline rescinding to a flat five to control space better in the middle of the pitch.
This was shown in stints that Stanford was not able to find openings down the middle of the stingy Nittany Lion defense. The most effective faction of the Cardinal offense was on the counter, and that stems off the occasional Nittany Lion aggression.
Despite the result, Dambach said she liked what she saw in the team’s ability to solve problems on the fly.
The quick turnaround showcased the mental toughness of Penn State as the Hofstra game exhibited the dominance this team is capable of.
It was a near-perfect performance and a smash-and-grab type of victory as the Nittany Lions emphatically won back the midfield against the Pride. The midfield and the backline allowed very limited chances to Hofstra and strangled its creativity.
Looking over the first two games, a point of emphasis was definitely the display of the freshmen on the team. In two very similar lineups, Dambach featured three freshmen in Wiesner, Cori Dyke and Payton Linnehan.
Wiesner found her first goal and showed positional flexibility, often making attacking runs through the middle as the de-facto left back. Dyke looked comfortable as a more defensive center-mid alongside Shea Moyer. Linnehan made dangerous wide, often solo runs as the Nittany Lions looked solid on the break.
This opening weekend also saw a new leadership group being eased in right away. Penn State lost key players like Emily Ogle and Maddie Nolf from last season, but the upperclassmen picked up the slack in no time.
The three co-captains, Amanda Dennis, Ellie Jean and Kaleigh Riehl, led the backline. Moyer, Frankie Tagliaferri and Kerry Abello also reprised their integral roles in the attack. However, it was Sam Coffey who stood out the most.
The All-American transfer from Boston College wasted no time showing her skills and leading the team. Coffey seemingly always shows up at the right place at the right time and wisely used her sphere of influence to open up spaces for teammates.
Dambach credited her presence in the spring for her chemistry and leadership within the team.
“Her leadership has shown through since the day she stepped into our group,” Dambach said.
“She was smart enough to let it come a little bit in the spring. It was so important that she was here in the spring, but she will start to come in her own soon and today was a good step forward.”