Editor’s Note: Speculation State is a weekly series where we leave reality and look at what could’ve occurred if Penn State’s athletic teams were able to play their fall 2020 seasons.
With an abundance of talent and experience on its roster, Penn State was poised for another deep postseason run in 2020.
After defeating the Michigan Wolverines in the 2019 Big Ten Championship, the Nittany Lions were well-positioned to make a run at their second consecutive conference title.
With coach Erica Dambach returning to the helm for her 14th season in Happy Valley, expectations were high and rightfully so. In her 13 seasons at Penn State, Dambach has an overall record of 219-73-20.
The only thing holding back the Nittany Lions last season was the injury bug.
Last season, multiple key players such as Shea Moyer, Kate Wiesner and Kristin Schnurr all went down for significant amounts of time during the season.
Even with a trying 2019 season filled with adversity, Penn State was still able to maintain a certain level of dominance, so its past experience should have it prepared and ready for another successful campaign.
Filling the void on defense
While Penn State returned seven of its 11 starters, the loss of defenders Kaleigh Riehl and Ellie Jean and goalkeeper Amanda Dennis were felt.
Despite the loss, Dambach and her squad was able to overcome the loss and find a rhythm after the first few games of the regular season.
Sophomore Cori Dyke took over on the defensive side of the ball.
Dyke started all 25 games last season and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team as well as the TopDrawerSoccer Freshman Best XI first team.
Her game excelled in her second season at Penn State, making her one of the top defenders in the nation.
It also did not hurt that the Nittany Lions had defender Kate Wiesner healthy for a full season.
The former No. 1 recruit, who was recovering from a torn ACL, showed why she was the top player in the 2019 recruiting class, helping to solidify a staunch Penn State defense.
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Home Field Dominance
The Nittany Lions finished the 2019 season with an overall record of 7-5 at Jeffrey Field.
The majority of those losses last season came in the second week of September as they dropped three straight games to Oklahoma State, Virginia and Michigan respectively.
That was not the case this season.
The Nittany Lions again established their dominance at home and cemented Jeffrey Field as one of the most difficult places in the country for opposing teams to win at.
Penn State picked up where it left off last season away from Happy Valley in a dominant fashion, making it one of the most impressive teams in college soccer.
Its only home losses were at the hands of Wisconsin and Nebraska, who Penn State would lose to by a score of 2-1 and 1-0 respectively.
Back to back?
Penn State entered the Big Ten Tournament as the clear favorite, as evidenced by being named the No. 1 seed and finishing with a 9-2 conference record.
The Nittany Lions went on to handedly defeat both Purdue and Maryland before meeting up against the Wisconsin Badgers in the conference championship.
The Badgers did not go down without a fight, as both teams went into halftime tied at a score of 1-1.
Sophomore Payton Linnehan, the hero from last season’s Big Ten Championship game, scored an early second half goal to put Penn State ahead for good.
Captain Sam Coffey padded the Nittany Lions’ lead late in the match as Penn State went on to win back-to-back conference titles, this time by a score of 3-1, marking the program’s fifth Big Ten championship under Dambach.
Another deep tournament run
After its outstanding play in both the regular season and conference tournament, Penn State was awarded the No. 2 seed in its respected bracket behind only Stanford.
The Nittany Lions cruised the first two rounds of tournament play similarly to last season when they defeated both Stony Brook and Arizona.
Penn State made it to the Elite Eight round of the tournament before once again running into the buzzsaw that is perennial powerhouse-Stanford.
Coffey’s first half goal would be the only score the Nittany Lions offense could muster, and they fell to the Cardinal 2-1.
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