With all the turmoil and negative publicity being generated out of Happy Valley, the Penn State men's and women's soccer teams have provided a breath of fresh air to the university and some positive news.
The Lady Lions just completed an incredible year on the soccer field. They progressed to the round of Sweet 16 in the NCAA tourney before dropping a tough 4-2 decision to Wake Forest. The Lady Lions compiled a 21-5 record while going as high as No. 11 in the national rankings, grabbing an amazing 14th consecutive Big Ten title, sporting the nation's leading goal scorer in Maya Hayes with more than 25 goals, an undefeated home record while outscoring opponents, 5-to-1, at home and nearly 4-to-1 overall on the year.
Eleven of PSU's players were on the youth national team and three had senior national team experience. Christine Nairn of the PSU squad was captain of the USA U-20 World Cup team last summer, which had Hayes on it. Nairn will be vying for a spot on the USA roster in next summer's Olympic Games.
The PSU men's team started the year in what looked like disaster mode. It was unable to win a conference game. The Lions had outstanding defense, were able to contol the ball at midfield, but struggled in every way imaginable to put goals on the scoreboard. The men finished the regular season at .500, but things came together for them during the Big 10 playoffs, advancing to the championship game where they dropped a hard-fought final to Northwestern.
The PSU men's scoring woes should be helped greatly by the addition of incoming freshman Kelton Cheyney from State College High School. Cheyney led State College to a 15-1-1 mark and a District 6 Class AAAA championship over defending champion Hollidaysburg.
The Hollidaysburg Golden Tigers had a very strong season, finishing 14-5-1, with three of those losses coming at the hands of Cheyney and State College. Cheyney pulled off a hat trick in the final and was really the difference maker in every aspect of the 4-1 game. Watching him play, it was evident to anyone observing the game that among a field of very good players, he stood out as great.
PSU Altoona success
The Penn State Altoona men's and women's squads earned some bragging rights of their own. The women's team, which featured a number of players recruited by PSU women's assistant coach and former Altoona campus coach and Hollidaysburg native Tim Wassell, had a blockbuster year. Current coach Pam Snyder Etters' ladies finished the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference undefeated in conference play at 8-0-1 and 13-4-2 overall, suffering a heartbreaking championship loss in a shootout following a double-overtime game.
The women controlled much of the play against Penn State Behrend but were just unable to notch a goal, and the game ended in regulation time in a scoreless tie. Most coaches believe the shootout is the wrong way to end a championship match, and just like any other sport the winner should be determined by play on the field. The girls showed resolve, however, in bouncing back by reaching the semifinals in the ECAC Championships.
The Penn State Altoona men's team, under coach Maurice Taylor, had a roster that was extremely young, with freshmen comprising the majority of the team. The Lions had a successful conference campaign and lost a tough semifinal match in the AMCC playoffs. Look for them to make some noise in the conference next year.
New hope for Solo
U.S. Women's World Cup and Olympic goalie Hope Solo had a message for all players in her recent interview with ESPN The Magazine. The Golden Glove winner at the 2011 World Cup revealed that after her shoulder surgery, her career was nearly ended. She had to learn to strengthen her wrists and hands to stop 50-mph shots instead of relying on her shoulders.
She cited the importance of having confidence in herself to adapt as the difference that kept her career on track, a trait she believes every player must hold to in troubled times to get through them. Solo definitely could be the biggest factor in America's success in the upcoming Olympics.
Tom Schmitt's soccer column runs monthly in the Mirror.