Aug. 20, 2009
The 2009 season will be viewed by many as a bounce back season despite Penn State capturing its 11th consecutive Big Ten Championship in addition to the 2009 Big Ten Tournament title.
Third-year head coach Erica Walsh returns nine starters from a team that won 16 games, the fewest for a Nittany Lion squad since 1997. After the team’s 2008 NCAA First Round exit, sights turn to 2009 in order to recapture the glory of previous years. In 2009, the team will have plenty of tools to send the Lions deep in the NCAA Tournament.
Leading the quest for PSU’s fourth Women’s College Cup appearance will be team captain and two-time All-America goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Alongside her will be a cast of talent and experience to guide the squad to a 12th-straight Big Ten title and a deep NCAA run. Another Big Ten crown would place the PSU women’s soccer team alongside the Michigan swimming & diving teams of 1987-98 as record holders of the most consecutive Big Ten Championships in women’s sports.
Up front, Katie Schoepfer and Danielle Toney headline a powerful forward contingent. Schoepfer, a two-time First Team Big Ten selection, looks to return to her 2007 form where she set season highs in goals (15) and points (35) en route to NSCAA Second Team All-America honors.
Nevertheless, Schoepfer wound up as the team’s leader in goals and points last year with 11 and 29 respectively. She ranks in the top 10 all-time in goals, points, game-winners and shots in Penn State history.
On the other hand, Toney, who came on late in 2008, was a force in the Big Ten Tournament earning the Offensive MVP. She set new season highs in goals (10), assists (seven) and points (27), second most on the club behind Schoepfer. Toney figures to be a key cog again this year spearheading the attack with Schoepfer.
Alongside Schoepfer and Toney will be Nikki Watts, a senior forward from England. Watts impressed last year, appearing in every game notching five goals, three of which were game-winners. Watts wound up with 12 points in 11 starts, third most on the team that will look to her increased production in 2009 in order to succeed.
Myers won’t be the only Lion up front with previous experience as Carly Niness saw time in 19 games last year as a freshman, tallying a goal and three assists. A playmaking attacker, Niness looks to continue her positive vibes from her first campaign and translate it to her sophomore season.
A bevy of freshmen will add to the cast of characters in the forward unit, as a decorated freshman class accustomed to scoring and winning will add much to an already accomplished position.
Tani Costa, Julie Hubbard, Jackie Molinda, and Alexa Thompson are the quartet of forwards added to Walsh’s arsenal, all will compete for playing time in their first years in University Park.
Of the two graduating seniors from 2008’s starting lineup, Zoe Bouchelle will leave open a gap for one of the most anticipated incoming freshmen in the history of Penn State women’s soccer.
Filling that role successfully will be on the shoulders of U.S. Women’s Senior National Team member and FIFA U-20 World Cup winner Christine Nairn. Donning the No. 10 this season, Nairn will bring her winning and extremely talented ways to the Blue and White, picking up where Bouchelle left off.
In the middle with Nairn for her final season at Jeffrey Field is Melissa Hayes. A starter in 21 of the 24 games last year, Hayes provides leadership and familiarity in a midfield with plenty of experience. A primary kick taker, Hayes will play the part of distributor, setting up the offense with Nairn and getting her teammates involved on the attack.
Returning midfielders Meghan Gill, Alli Rago and Megan Monroig will take up spots alongside Nairn and Hayes displaying their collective veteran prowess. Gill was a Second Team All-Big Ten in a breakout campaign last season, bouncing back beautifully after an injury-riddled freshman year in 2007. Walsh and company will rely on Gill for her passing ability and scoring spark, as she netted three goals in just 16 games last year.
Rago and Monroig have combined for 24 starts in their careers at Penn State, improving every year. Rago scored her first career goals last year, while Monroig posted a goal and two assists as both midfielders saw time in every game last year.
Other returners who saw time in midfield last year are Jess Rosenbluth and Ali Schaefer. Rosenbluth played in every match a season ago with 10 starts, notching her first career goal and assist, and will attempt to bump those numbers up in 2009. Schaefer played primarily as a reserve in 11 games a season ago.
Jess Shue and Dani Zavala look to return from injuries, as they redshirted the 2008 campaign. Joining the duo are two freshmen in Rachel Lamarre and Maddy Evans. Lamarre is a quick and clever midfielder from Montreal, while Evans boasts a background from Glenside, Pa. Also adding depth in midfield occasionally will be Hubbard and Molinda.
In the absence of 2008 co-captain and All-Big Ten defender Jessie Davis, three returners provide the core of the backline in 2009. Tara Davies, Maura Ryan and Emma Thomson are going to play vital roles this season in securing one of the most successful defenses in the east, in addition to the Big Ten.
Davies is a capable senior defender, who has 28 starts under her belt in three years. With Ryan on the right flank, the Nittany Lions are set with playmakers and steady defenders as Ryan has, not only the ability to contain, but make runs up the field to support the midfield in the attack.
A 2008 All-Freshman Big Ten selection, England-product Thomson is poised to recapture and improve on her initial campaign in the Blue and White. Thomson saw time in all 24 games, making 22 starts, notching a goal and two assists, tops amongst defenders.
Returning to the fold are sophomores Bri Garcia and Jackie Hakes, who assisted the defense primarily as reserves a year ago, totaling 36 appearances with 11 starts. Both will continue their respective roles giving the team much-needed depth.
An important addition to the defending corps will be Canadian National Team member Lexi Marton. Already a stabilizing force for the Canadians, Marton has given the Lions sufficient size and experience as a freshman during spring play and has an excellent opportunity to crack the starting lineup for Walsh’s squad. The defensive unit’s other freshman is Meghan McCarty, a steady and capable player in the backfield from Baldwin, N.Y.
Returning fresh off a winning U.S. U-20 campaign with teammate Nairn, Alyssa Naeher was named team captain for the 2009 season. The two-time NSCAA First Team All-American ranks in the all-time top five in many goalkeeping categories at Penn State and looks to move up the charts some more this upcoming season.
Naeher’s task will be guiding the Lions to their 12th-straight Big Ten title and to the team’s first Women’s College Cup since 2005. Currently, Naeher sits in second in shutouts (25.39), minutes played (6,047:31) and wins (47), as well as third in saves (272) and goals against average (0.86). The three-time First Team All-Big Ten selection has the chance to go down as one of the greatest Nittany Lions with another successful year.
In Naeher’s occasional absence due to U.S. team call-ups, Krissy Tribbett received plenty of playing time. Tribbett recorded a 2-1 record in seven games with three starts. Totaling 343 minutes in net, Tribbett boasted a 0.52 GAA and a .833 save percentage, giving up just two goals all year. Kristin Hartmann redshirted last year and will be Walsh’s third option in goal.