Share Your Story: Meghan Hyland
The Penn State women's soccer story I know isn't a story; it's a fairytale of firsts. The year I was born (1977) was the first year some forward-thinking women organized a club team, though it wasn't recognized by the university for another two years. Seventeen years later, Penn State hired their first head coach Pat Farmer, who later became one of the first WUSA coaches with the New York Power, and their first assistant coach Paula Wilkins, who later became the first female head coach.
Unbeknownst to me, on my 17th birthday, the Penn State women's soccer team took the field for the first time as a varsity team in the beautiful state of Virginia. In that game, Rachel Hoffman, a Pennsylvania girl I had yet to meet, scored the team's first goal (only one of her many firsts for the team). Rachel later became the first player to be inducted into the Penn State Hall of Fame.
It's odd to think that a university as well known as Penn State - and with a sport that is arguably the most popular women's sport in the country - didn't have a varsity women's soccer team until 1994, but it's true. During these years, we were all lucky enough to have lived and played with women who established the first Penn State women's soccer records. This may not seem like an important detail until you consider that records have to be made before they can be broken by the future "Rachels" of Happy Valley.
We were also the first American women's soccer team to play in England's Wembley Stadium, and my good friend Carole Dutchka became the first American woman to score a goal there. Kelly Convey was the first player to be named a Division I first team All-American. Bonnie Young recorded the first hat trick, each goal assisted by the same player, Jeannine Verdrager - which may be a first and a last. We were part of the first Penn State women's soccer team to play on Jeffrey Field, be on TV, win a game (and lose a game), win a title, win a ring, win a hat and t-shirt.
It was also the first time, perhaps, that we realized as individuals we weren't the best player on the team like we had been accustomed to for so long. The first time we lived in such a small space - as lovely as a dorm room can be - and the first time we shared that space with someone we hardly knew. It was probably the first time many of us were engulfed by the aroma of manure and bonded with complete strangers while asking bizarre questions like "Can you feel your legs?" or "Is it normal to see double?"
It may have even been the first time some of us went to the weight room and actually used the weights. We're also the first to commend those who have come after us; they have represented well. These athletes have already had their fair share of "firsts," too. The first time old records were broken, the first time a Hermann trophy was won, the first final four appearance. Maybe if it's in the cards, the first NCAA title, as well. And while those firsts are great, they are the firsts of the younger generation to enjoy, and we find the memory of our firsts just fine.
It has to be said, though, that we are more than impressed with the attitude, heart and skill of the ladies who followed our path. While they may have "followed" us, it is apparent that it's only in terms of time, as they are certainly proven leaders in their own right. These ladies are all gifted athletes who continue to remind people how beautiful the game of soccer is and how the presence of a Penn State women's soccer player is not only something to be felt but something heard as well. "WE-ARE... PENN-STATE!"