Aug. 25, 2005
In 11 years of program history, Penn State has undeniably accomplished a lot. Ten consecutive NCAA appearances. Six NCAA quarterfinal appearances. Seven-straight conference titles. Two College Cups. This year, Penn State looks to go where they've never gone before.
"I think we're always competing for a national championship and I believe that our schedule shows that we are trying to prepare for that," said head coach Paula Wilkins. "After our disappointing exit in the NCAAs last year, I feel our seniors are motivated to that goal."
In her fifth year at the program's helm, Wilkins seems to have all the pieces in place to gather the one goal that has eluded the Lions-- a national championship.
According to Wilkins, "We will look at our season in three sections. First, the beginning of the season with great out-of-region and regional competition such as UCLA, Virginia, Maryland, UCONN, and Washington. Then the second part of the season will consistent of the Big Ten schedule with the third season looking at postseason play in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAAs. We feel that the first two parts of the season will prepare us for the last part, which we find to be the most significant."
This year, Penn State is shooting for its unprecedented eighth-straight Big Ten title. In 2004, the Nittany Lions went unbeaten through the conference schedule, but lost to host Ohio State, 2-0, in the Big Ten Tournament before earning the highest NCAA Tournament seed ever in program history.
"The team knows it's not an easy task to win eight consecutive Big Ten championships, but feel its one of their utmost goals," states Wilkins. "With three All-America players returning, I think it gives us a good start. I believe, however, that those players are surrounded by a significantly talented core of players, which enables them to excel. I think it's a significant group returning, not just significant individuals."
The Hermann Trophy runner-up last year, Tiffany Weimer returns for her senior campaign as one of the Lions' main targets this season. While Carmelina Moscato provides one of the only other true veteran presences, Penn State will also look to add the skills of U.S. Under-19 team member Sheree Gray for the first time after her absence last fall for the U-19 World Cup.
"Obviously, we'll be led by Tiffany Weimer," said Wilkins. "With the loss of Sophie Hiler to graduation, Carmelina Moscato, Sheree Gray, Aubrey Aden-Buie, and incoming freshman Ashley Myers will be looked on to create a cohesive unit, complimenting each other by being both technically skillful and dynamic."
Last year, Weimer led the nation in scoring with 26 goals, adding 12 assists. Her single-season goal total was one-off from tying 2001 Hermann Trophy winner Christie Welsh's Penn State record.
Led by 2004 first team all-Big Ten selection Ali Krieger, the Nittany Lion midfield is as deep as it is talented. In addition to the talented junior, redshirt-freshman Zoe Bouchelle returns after a season-ending injury that sidelined the starter early in the year.
"We have an extremely talented core of midfielders that will cause great competition for starting and playing time," said Wilkins. "Ali Krieger will be the focus for this group because of her work rate and her ability to penetrate out of the midfield, but each of the midfielders compliment each other with their styles.
"Whether it's Jean Rettig being a good holding center mid or Zoe and Carly (Bedesem) having great vision and attacking ability, we have a lot of good choices. Allie Long will be the final component to the center of the midfield and integrating her into the midfield will be important. On the flank midfield, Holly Lincoln, Janelle Hoak, Allie Daus, Sarah Dwyer, and Heather Tomko will be attacking, dynamic 1-v-1 players with great work rate that will be attacking presences."
Adding to the depth in the midfield mix is Kay Adami. Gray and Moscato, also listed in Penn State's stable of forwards, could also see time in the midfield this year.
With 15 shutouts, including 10-straight at one point, the Penn State defensive unit was obviously a key last year for the 19-3-1 Lions. Mix in a miniscule goals-against average of .466 per game that ranked second in the nation, however, and the word "key" doesn't seem to truly capture just how good the unit was.
"Our defenders were the core of our team last year," commented Wilkins. "The three returning defenders will once again be looked upon to be the anchor of the team."
First team NSCAA All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Natalie Jacobs returns as one of the premier backs in the country. Team captain Lindsay Bach also anchors the unit as a fifth-year senior. Helping the two veterans is 2004 SoccerBuzz Freshman All-American Denay Riley. Riley also collected second team All-Big Ten honors her first year wearing the blue and white.
"Natalie Jacobs, Lindsay Bach, Denay Riley, and Jessie Davis will determine a lot of our team's success based on our organization and competitive nature. They will also look to be an attacking presence out of the back."
Long-serving back Holly Lincoln, as well as junior Sarah Dwyer and Heather Tomko could play significant roles on the defense. Janelle Hoak will also bring her work ethic and tenacious play to the position.
With a returning All-American, another decorated veteran and a talented newcomer, Penn State boasts one of the best goalkeeping units in the country heading into the 2005 season.
Third team NSCAA All-American Erin McLeod returns for her final go-around at Penn State after transferring from Southern Methodist before last season. McLeod earned the starting spot several games into the 2004 season and finished second nationally in goals-against average with a 0.43 average. Additionally, McLeod reset the Penn State single season marks for winning percentage (.875) and fewest goals allowed (9). Senior veteran Amanda Brown also returns after starting her first two years with the Lions and, with the addition of sharp freshman Kate Milstead, will combine to increase an already competitive situation at the goalkeeping position.
"These three are probably the most talented goalkeeping group in the country with a great mixture of experience and goalkeeping talent," said Wilkins. "Their training atmosphere and presence in the goal allows all three of them to be confident, good selections to play the position."
With a arguably the most talented Lion team returning in the program's 11-year history, 2005 could be the season Nittany Lion fans have been waiting for.