A leader is defined as a person who commands a group and sets an example.
Penn State has no shortage of leaders making up its program.
The current issue the Nittany Lions are facing is needing to unify under those leaders and get on the same wavelength on the pitch to bang in more goals.
With several new recruits earning playing time for the squad, it’s a process for Penn State to get the younger group ingrained into the culture.
Redshirt senior Ally Schlegel is one of many upperclassmen there to pass the torch, so when she leaves the team, the new group is ready to take over.
Schlegel said she appreciates the unit for giving its full attention whenever she has words of advice to give.
“With the younger girls and Amelia [White], they’ve just done such a great job buying into what we, as leaders, ask them,” Schlegel told The Daily Collegian. “They are very good at saying yes and being incredible followers.”
White, the former No. 2 recruit in the nation, isn’t used to the bag full of information being tossed at her.
Molding her game into what Penn State is trying to teach is a new problem White has yet not faced, but she said she knows “it’ll all work out” in the end.
“Even though there’s a lot of new concepts coming at me, it’s just sticking to the basics and leaning on my teammates to be that rock,” White told the Collegian.
Schlegel said from her own experience, it’s not easy adjusting from high school soccer to the collegiate level.
Ranking No. 10 in her recruiting class, Schlegel was no slouch in high school. She had the high-level talent White did, so seeing her teammate get used to the system is a memory she can relate to.
“You really don’t know what you don’t know as a freshman,” Schlegel said. “There’s a big shift between the club game and the college game, and I think she’s done a really good job of taking it all in — and she’s not scared to be herself.”
A difference between the two is White is playing fresh out of high school, while Schlegel redshirted her true freshman season.
Thisis what sets the 2022 Gatorade Indiana State Player of the Year apart when she’s on the pitch, even as she finds some difficulty adjusting to the level of play.
While it’s evident that White is talented, there’s often a noticeable difference with much more experienced players on the same pitch.
Though White may not be as willing to take risks, Schlegel encouraged her to not be scared and to push herself.
“I want her to try things and to make mistakes,'' Schlegel said. “Part of my role with her development is giving her confidence.”
Confidence is a big thing for any freshman earning minutes. Even though White may feel nervous, she doesn’t show that side of her when her name is called. Her role may not be clear to her at the moment, but she is confident in the process.
“You need the confidence to know that you have something to offer,” White said. “It’s knowing that I can excel on the field and just help the team out. I’m here for a reason.”
One way Schlegel helps ease tension and boost confidence with her young teammates is by being vulnerable with them. She also lets them know that she is confident that they will do great things going forward.
The redshirt senior forward realizes she can tell White and the others a million things, but “the best thing we can do to pass the torch is just live, breathe and be our culture.”
Schlegel knows the freshmen only get an idea of the end product when they come in, but she said she wants them to know there’s a process behind it.
Even though it’s early in the process for the rookie to develop her confidence, coach Erica Dambach has seen major progress in White.
In comparison to her first game, when she took no shots, Dambach noted how she had six against Indiana, showing progression very early in her career.
“Not just is she taking shots now, but she’s getting the most amount on goal,” Dambach told the Collegian. “She’s a very dangerous player, and that’s a really good sign of what direction she’s going.”
A major contribution in the progression of White’s confidence is getting to know the players around her, especially Schlegel.
Dambach mentioned how she saw the two form a connection from Day 1, and she realizes how much that’s helped White develop.
“Ally’s gonna lift people up around her. She recognizes really early on what a special person Amelia is and took her under her wing,” Dambach said. “That friendship and relationship continues to grow every day, and I think it brings Amelia a lot of confidence that Ally has so much confidence in her.”
Becoming the name synonymous with a team doesn’t happen overnight; “days need to pass” in order for White to reach that threshold, according to Dambach.
Dambach also said the process is a rough one, but she knows White will pick up the information in no time, referring to White as “a sponge.”
As the leaders try to teach the recruits the fundamentals of the team, they’re also allowing them to be their own creative player.
Dambach said she doesn’t want to remake stars of the past, but she instead wants to facilitate one breaking out in the future.
“We don’t want you to become Sam Coffey or Ally Schlegel,” Dambach said. “We want you to become the best version of yourself.”
As for the Parker, Colorado, native, Schlegel wonders where the time went playing for the team she’s dedicated a big chunk of her life to.
Just looking at the stats alone, the Nittany Lion has more than impressed, racking 37 goals alongside 17 assists during her standout career.
Even though she is nearing the end of the road at Penn State, she said she’ll never lose this part of her.
“I’m a Penn Stater. I was meant to be a Penn Stater. I will always be a Penn Stater,” Schlegel said. “If I look back, it all feels very fulfilling because it was exactly what it was meant to be. That was to be home, but to push me further than I could have even pushed myself.”
Schlegel added the program has become a way of life for her — living, breathing and sleeping blue and white soccer.
This isn’t only obvious to Schlegel herself but to everyone around her.
Her teammates and coaches see Schlegel’s passion for the club, even White, who had high praise for her older peer.
“She has a sense of, ‘We got this’ mentality. She’s always bringing the fire. She puts the team together,” White said. “I look at her, and she is Penn State soccer. Implementing that mentality throughout the team is going to make us really good.”
With it being potentially the last year for Schlegel, she said she wants to give the team everything she has before her time runs out.
Being a part of the team seemed to open Schlegel’s eyes in a new way. While she said she wants to be strict and win games, she realizes these are special moments in life and tries to live them to the fullest.
“A lot of us realize how little time we could have left. Let’s just enjoy every month,” Schlegel said. “You have to stop and look around every once in a while because life goes by fast.”
Throughout the years, Dambach said she couldn’t be prouder of who Schlegel has become for this team.
She has stood on the sidelines, seeing the progress right before her eyes and is happy with the way Schlegel has grown as a player and a person.
“She was everything to everyone for a long time,” Dambach said. “She understands now that her own time is important, and she needs to be really intentional with how to give others her time while also giving herself time. It’s made her a better leader that she’s taking better care of herself right now.”
For a collegiate athlete, the coaches and the team as a whole, seasons are generally filled with many highs and lows.
Dambach said these moments can be used in a positive way, but it’s sometimes hard to really learn from the darker times.
This year, the team will strive to improve its connection with one another and enjoy the moment, as they learn life travels fast when you’re having fun.
As for White, in her first year with the team, she’s just trying to enjoy every minute playing with the squad, realizing that the grind will be worth it in due time.
“We have to accept that even though [some games] were hard, in the end, you’re gonna look back on them and cherish all the funny, happy and sad moments,” White said. “All the good times and all the bad times, it’s going to give you more experience. It’s gonna be great in the end.”
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