UNIVERSITY PARK — The Penn State women’s soccer team’s season is already a week old, but it was tough for them to focus on their opening opponent when they knew what was to follow.
Yes, they did get that opening 3-1 win at No. 7 Virginia, and followed with Sunday’s 5-0 home victory over St. John’s, but the marquee match on this year’s schedule is the season’s third contest.
The No. 6 Nittany Lions are home Friday night against No. 1 and defending national champion Stanford.
“I don’t think we could be more excited,” senior midfielder Christine Nairn said Wednesday at Penn State’s fall sports media day. “We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time and feel ready for it. It adds to the excitement.”
The teams meet at 7:30 p.m. at Jeffrey Field as part of the Penn State Invitational, with a Big Ten Network crew on hand as well.
The contest also is a rematch from last season, a 4-0 Cardinal win in Palo Alto, Calif., in the season-opener.
“We’ve been training for eight months now for this rematch,” senior midfielder Maddy Evans said. “We can look at the tapes and learn a lot from it and get a better result this time.”
It’s just plain good fortune they get the defending champs on their turf this year. The schedule was set a few years ago, completing a home-and-home deal between the programs.
“We want to compete against the best and we wouldn’t be able to get the quality of players that we get if we didn’t schedule these opponents every year,” head coach Erica Walsh said. “You schedule a few years in advance, so sometimes it’s the luck of the draw when you bring the defending national champions into your home field.”
It is part of a tough stretch in the season put together by Walsh. After her team faces Central Michigan on Sunday, they have only one more home game — Sept. 16 against Wisconsin — until the last day of September, and Walsh wanted to put her team, with a strong senior class, through a wringer.
“We knew we were going to want to put them through all sorts of challenges,” Walsh said. “The scheduling of different years are dictated by your personnel, and when you looked at our roster when these guys were sophomores, we felt very good about the 2012 season so we wanted to challenge them as much as possible. Our hope and desire is to meet Stanford again in the national championship game.”
Come one, come all
While the women’s soccer team is hoping for a big crowd Friday, the men’s team is aiming for some packed bleachers next Friday night. The Nittany Lions are looking to break the program’s attendance record when they face Duquesne.
The game time was moved back to 8 p.m. so it will follow Football Eve at Beaver Stadium, and head coach Bob Warming said football coach Bill O’Brien plans to cajole fans to head across the parking lot to watch some soccer.
The team plans on plenty of promotions, including T-shirt, replica jersey and food giveaways as well as a kick for cash for a chance at $5,000.
A little inspiration
While everyone is focused on their coming seasons, various Nittany Lion athletes also got to reflect a little on getting to see former Penn State athletes competing at the Olympics.
There were 19 current or former Nittany Lions competing in London. Among them were volleyball players Megan Hodge and Christa Harmotto, who won silver medals, and a number of track athletes including Bridget Franek, who finished 14th in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
“Nothing is cooler,” said senior volleyball player Kristin Carpenter, “to say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve played with Megan Hodge and she is the leading scorer against China right now.’ That was just unbelievable. It just makes you so proud that they went to Penn State and I was blessed enough to be a part of a team that she was on.”
“Lindsey (Graybill) and I both do steeple and we relate to Bridget,” senior cross country runner Natalie Bower said. “She helped us along as we came in as freshmen. She’s an outstanding athlete and person in general and to see her make it that far was pretty inspiring to me for sure.”
Also competing was volunteer track and field assistant coach Ryan Whiting, who was the indoor world champion last winter and was ninth in the shot put in London. He will return to coach with the program this winter.
“It was awesome actually just to see him training here all the time in the track season and helping out with the throws guys,” said senior runner Tyler Corkdale. “It’s pretty cool to see somebody that we see that often doing that well at an Olympic level.”
“It’s definitely a unique situation,” senior runner Tom Luff said. “Not just him, a lot of the women’s athletes were in the Olympics so it’s definitely cool to see them walking around and training.”
The women’s volleyball team opens its season Friday at the Active Ankle Challenge in Louisville, Ky., which just happens to be the home town of All-American outside hitter Deja McClendon.
The team arrives there this afternoon and McClendon will be on hand at her high school’s home match where Dupont Manuel Magnet will retire her jersey.
She is also expecting a big following for their matches, especially when they meet Louisville on Saturday.
“I hope it’s humongous, I really do,” McClendon said. “Everyone that’s going be there is going to be cheering for us. It’s so loud.”
Welcome to the big leagues, kid
As always, the first few days of practice for Division I athletics is an eye-opener for freshmen as they come to grips with the expectations, physically and mentally, required to compete at a high level.
When you join a program that had just finished a run of four straight NCAA titles, like the women’s volleyball team, it can really be daunting.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for years,” freshman defensive specialist Kendall Pierce said. “Preseason is really hard. It’s a lot of practices, a lot of hours, a lot of work put into every single day.”
Pierce is one of four freshmen on this year’s team, but she at least had some inside knowledge to get her prepared: Her father played with the Penn State men in the 1980s and her mother ran track for the Lions.
“He prepared me all through high school and club — he and my uncle were never easy on me,” Pierce said. “They never treated me as anything special. He told me to keep my head up. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
What did you say?
The field hockey team, which has a tough test for its season opener Friday against No. 3 Old Dominion, has had an unusual distraction as they ran through practices and drills for the last few weeks.
On one side of their field, just beyond a fence, is a giant pit of earth as construction continues on the Pegula Ice Arena, the future home to Penn State ice hockey. Every day the team has to hear the sounds of machinery and vehicles as the giant steel building is put into place.
“We block it out,” senior Hannah Allison said. “Sometimes it gets real loud. It’s hard to talk to each other, but it’s exciting to see our university get built up and see the facility get that much better and another sport go Division I.”
What makes it even harder is when noise-makers get competitive. The field hockey team will blare their music, and a few hundred yards away the football team is practicing with the speakers turned up — though the selections may differ.
“It’s a real mix when you hear the rap going on down there, and then we might have Celine Dion playing,” head coach Char Morett said. “It’s a weird combination going on with the construction going on along side of it. It’s a very festive atmosphere, I have to say that.”