Posts tagged ‘Erica Walsh’

Redemption Song: Penn State Women’s Soccer Wins a National Title


In 2012, when I was a junior, the Penn State women’s soccer team made it to the NCAA title match. And got trounced.

Going up against the closest thing women’s college soccer has to a dynasty in North Carolina, the Nittany Lions lost in the College Cup final, 4-1. Honestly, I remembered the scoreline indicating a bigger blowout, as Penn State was thoroughly outclassed by the Tar Heels that afternoon.

That match came to mind after coach Erica Walsh and Co. won the program’s first national championship on Sunday afternoon against, ironically, UNC’s bitter rival—the Duke Blue Devils. It was the exact opposite of a dominating performance by one team over another. Instead, it was 90 minutes of back-and-forth soccer that culminated in Penn State winning the NCAA title (meaning at least one Nittany Lion team has won a national championship for the ninth consecutive year).

It was things coming full-circle. Three years ago, Penn State got run off of the pitch by a team from the Research Triangle. Sunday was the chance for redemption for Walsh and the handful of seniors who participated in that match against UNC. And because sports can sometimes be the best, that’s exactly what happened. The Nittany Lions’ goal was set up by a brilliant run and pass from senior Mallory Weber and finished by classmate Raquel Rodriguez, the only players in the starting XI for both matches.

The team was dominant for the duration of the tournament. Its attack was potent, as it netted 20 goals in six matches. Its defense was stout, as it didn’t allow a single goal during its entire postseason run. It was the type of all-around performance that you don’t even expect out of teams at the highest levels of soccer, let alone a group of college kids.

And as a fan, man, was it fun to watch. Everyone knew that this matchup was going to be about as even as it came, mostly because the two sides played a thrilling scoreless draw in Happy Valley earlier this year. But this match exceeded expectations. Both sides had opportunities to convert chances, both had long spells of possession, and both perpetually seemed like they were on the cusp of breaking the match wide open.

In the end, Penn State came out on top. Watching Walsh finally getting a national title after years of coming so close was spectacular. Watching the veterans who lost to North Carolina celebrate a championship was spectacular. And watching a team that will bring back eight starters in 2016 can only leave fans with one question: what’s going to happen next year?

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

December 7, 2015 at 2:08 pm 2 comments

Talking Football—the Global Version—on the Coaches Caravan

Futbol or football? Walsh, Warming and Franklin find common ground at the Coaches Caravan.

Futbol or football? Walsh, Warming, and Franklin find common ground on the Coaches Caravan. Photo by Mark Selders

It’s a small irony that, while riding the bus on a Coaches Caravan trip that is understandably focused on football, I’m indulging in the chance to talk at length about soccer. That’s “football” to most of the rest of the world, of course, and as men’s soccer coach Bob Warming has jokingly reminded every Caravan crowd thus far, it remains the most popular sport on the planet. Warming knows as well as anyone that most Penn Staters are more interested in “American” football, and he’s okay with that. He knows his sport is on very solid footing in the States.

Certainly it’s in great shape in Happy Valley. In Warming and Erica Walsh—both of whom are on the bus this week and speaking at every Caravan stop—Penn State unquestionably has two of the best college coaches in America. Warming, a two-time national Coach of the Year during stints at Creighton and St. Louis, has led the Nittany Lions to the last two Big Ten regular season titles. Under Walsh, who doubles as an assistant coach with the U.S. women’s national team, the women won six straight Big Ten titles from 2007-2012.

As a regular at Jeffrey Field since my undergraduate days—for a lot of reasons, it remains one of my favorite spots on campus—I’d catch most of the men’s and women’s games even if the teams were mediocre. Happily, they’re terrific, and Warming and Walsh have a lot to do with that. Being able to pick their brains on this trip—even as James Franklin jokingly yells at us to take all the soccer talk to the other end of the bus—has only clarified why they’re both so good at what they do.

From Warming, it’s insights into the strangely adversarial relationship between Major League Soccer and the college game, and anecdotes about how soccer savvy today’s young players are about the international game. From Walsh, it’s insider knowledge about the challenges of the recruiting process and the workings of the national team set-up. From both of them, it’s good humor and an appreciation (or tolerance, at least) for a passionate soccer fan who can’t get enough of hearing all they know.

As cool as it’s been, I can say I haven’t been surprised. A couple of years ago, I sat in on a class for area soccer coaches looking to add a certificate to their resume: It started with an X’s and O’s session with Warming, who previewed that night’s game with Indiana, arguably the Lions’ biggest regular-season match. He detailed key matchups against the Hoosiers, told us certain players’ tendencies to keep an eye on, and explained the high-tech video system the program uses to fine-tune its scouting and game prep.

After watching the first half of the match at Jeffrey Field, we were joined in the bleachers by Walsh—she was in the midst of her own season, remember—who proceeded to give us an incredibly detailed halftime breakdown of what was and wasn’t working for each side. Based on her knowledge, you’d have thought she was coaching one of these teams, not running a top-10 women’s program of her own.

In both cases, these coaches gave generously of their time, showed off a remarkably thorough understanding of their sport, and conveyed that knowledge in a way that illuminated the game for all of us. Sitting across from them this week on the bus, I’ve been lucky to soak up more of that soccer intelligence. It’s been a blast.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

May 8, 2014 at 10:29 am Leave a comment

The Penn Stater Daily — Oct. 21, 2013

From news to features, your daily dose of everything Penn State.

Winning weekend: Another football bye week put the focus on the rest of Penn State’s fall teams, and they sure seemed to enjoy the attention. Where to start? The fourth-ranked women’s volleyball team posted weekend road wins at Illinois and Northwestern, the second of which gave coach Russ Rose his 1,107th career victory. That total is second-best all-time in college women’s volleyball, second only to current Hawaii coach Dave Shoji.

The field hockey team went the dramatic route for its weekend win. Trailing Michigan State 3-1 in the second half on Saturday, the Lions rallied to force overtime and then pull out a 4-3 victory over the Spartans. It was the 10th straight win for Penn State, which improved to a flawless 4-0 in Big Ten play. Oh, and the drama we mentioned:

That was senior defender Brittany Grzywacz with the game-saving dive. Grzywacz is the defending Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and she’s won the league’s weekly defensive award three times this season. At this point, they should probably just name those awards after her and be done with it.

The men’s soccer team chose a similar script—late drama against Michigan State with its Big Ten lead on the line—in its 2-1 OT win Sunday in East Lansing. Junior forward Jordan Tyler scored the game-winner and junior goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton made a career-high nine saves for the Lions, who improved to 4-0 in the league and need just a draw in one of their final two games to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.

For the women’s soccer team, the weekend theme was dominance, not drama. It started with a 4-2 win Thursday over Ohio State and ended Sunday, on senior day, with a 5-0 thumping of Illinois. After the team’s final home game of the season, Coach Erica Walsh called her graduating class, which played a huge role in getting Penn State to the national title game last fall, “program changing.”

Larry Foster remembered: The Star-Ledger of New Jersey has an obituary of Garden State native Larry Foster ’48, the former Penn State trustee, Alumni Association president, and public relations industry giant who died last week. (more…)

October 21, 2013 at 9:24 am Leave a comment

From the Magazine: Rocky’s on a Roll

Expanded content from the pages of The Penn Stater.

We weren’t surprised to hear that Raquel Rodriguez had been named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week. With two goals and an assist in a pair of Penn State wins last week, Rodriguez is having just the sort of impact we expected in 2013.

Photo by Cardoni

Photo by Cardoni

In fairness, (more…)

October 1, 2013 at 3:57 pm 2 comments

Women’s Soccer is Back in the Final Four

For the first time in seven years, the Penn State women’s soccer team has earned a place in the NCAA College Cup.

The top-seeded Nittany Lions knocked off Duke Friday night at cold, blustery Jeffrey Field, going up early on Christine Nairn’s 14th-minute penalty kick and holding on for the 1-0 win. Penn State will face Florida State next Friday in San Diego in the national semifinals.

It was fitting that Nairn (above) scored the game’s only goal. The senior midfielder might be the best in the nation at controlling tempo and possession for her team—for a knowledgable soccer fan, she’s a joy to watch—but she’s the rare midfielder who also leads a great team in scoring; Friday’s goal was her 16th of the season. ESPN earlier this week ran a nice feature that gives a sense of just how good Nairn is, and how much she’s matured under Penn State coach Erica Walsh.

The win gives Penn State its first College Cup berth since 2005, and the fourth in program history. The Lions have never won the national title, but with Walsh (an assistant coach on the U.S. Women’s national team), Nairn, and last year’s national scoring leader Maya Hayes leading a tough and talented squad, this year’s team has a real shot. Hopefully the lack of cold and wind out in San Diego won’t throw them off.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

November 24, 2012 at 2:36 am Leave a comment

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