After a less-than-ideal 2015 campaign, the Penn State men’s soccer team couldn’t start the 2016 season with a tougher task.
But head coach Bob Warming thinks his side is ready for what’s ahead in the near and distant future.
“Our team is prepared and excited for a fantastic season filled with a lot of challenges,” Warming said at Penn State fall media day on Tuesday. “We start off with a big one.”
The Nittany Lions, 7-8-3 last season, face reigning national champion Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., to open the 2016 slate at 8 p.m. Friday.
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The Cardinal are No. 1 in the NSCAA Coaches rankings. Penn State isn’t ranked and didn’t receive votes.
And there’s a reason why Stanford received 20 first-place votes. The Cardinal won the 2015 College Cup final 4-0 against Clemson and own a 19-1-5 record in their past 25 home matches.
“I think they were behind a total of 15 minutes at home last year,” Warming said. “It will be a great match for us and a great environment.”
Senior leaders Connor Maloney and Robby Sagel are equally excited for the test.
“We have been itching to go there the entire time since we heard about it,” Maloney said. “We are ready to do it.”
If the Nittany Lions are to go to the Golden State and get results against Stanford on Friday and California-Berkeley on Sunday, they will need to be in scoring form.
That starts with Maloney.
A star at Bishop McDevitt, the 5-foot-6 attacker has been an impact player since arriving on campus in 2013. Maloney has 19 goals — seven in 2015 — and 12 assists in three seasons with the Nittany Lions.
The 2014 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has an eye for goals, but also sounded confident in who’ll be joining him in peppering the keeper.
The forward mentioned Canadian forwards Aymar Sigue and Dayonn Harris. Sigue, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Tulsa, has five goals and a pair of assists in stints with the Under-15, -16, -18 and -20 Canadian national teams. Harris, a sophomore, missed most of last season due to injury.
“Those two are goal-scoring machines,” Maloney said. “They are very dangerous.”
Maloney also thinks his brother, Austin, and fellow wingers Pierre Reedy and Sam Bollinger, a State College native, could get after it scoring goals.
“I think we will have some headliners,” the former Temple transfer said. “I could name all 28 guys if you want me to.”
Defensively, the Nittany Lions will be led by Sagel, Penn State’s lone senior defender. Dani Marks, a redshirt sophomore, started 13 games last year, while Brennan Ireland appeared in 17 matches.
Outside of that, Penn State has two freshmen, a transfer sophomore (State College native Stephen Kenney) and a redshirt sophomore at its disposal.
The Nittany Lions also have options at goalkeeper after Matt Bersano (13 starts in 2015) graduated. Senior Evan Finney had five starts last year, but he’ll be challenged by freshmen Josh Levine and Arie Ammann and redshirt freshman Wes Bergevin.
Whether it’s in goal, on the attack or with the back line, the Nittany Lions are going to find out a lot about themselves in California.
But question marks and a difficult early schedule aren’t enough to faze the squad.
Warming thought the spring before last campaign was poor, and saw massive improvement in the team’s attitude this offseason, leading him to positivity entering the 2016 season.
As for Maloney? He wants to make his final year at Penn State count.
“I am expecting Final Four, College Cup,” the forward said. “That’s where I want to be at the end of the season. It is our senior year, and I think we can do it.”