Laura Freigang has had a nose for heroics this season, so it figures she has been at her best at the most important part of the year.
Of the 10 Penn State goals scored during the Big Ten and NCAA soccer tournaments, the sophomore has five of them.
“I get that question a lot,” she said of her sizzling November. “I can’t really answer it. I think it’s just, we, in general, have a little more urgency.”
Freigang will be looking to add to her totals when the No. 3-seeded Nittany Lions (13-4-4) face Wake Forest (11-5-4) in the second round of the NCAA tournament at 4 p.m. Friday at West Virginia’s Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. Rutgers and the host Mountaineers meet in the night’s second match, with the winners battling in the NCAA third round Sunday.
This month has been pretty special already for Freigang, a sophomore midfielder from Oppenheim, Germany.
She netted two of the team’s three goals in the Big Ten tournament, including a double-overtime score to beat Ohio State 1-0, then came her big moment last Friday night on the frozen grass of Jeffrey Field, delivering a first-half hat trick in a 7-0 NCAA opening-round win over Stony Brook. It was the first Nittany Lion hat trick since Sept. 4, 2011, and the 21st in program history.
She now leads the team with eight goals thanks to her November surge.
“She has experience in these big-stage games,” said junior midfielder Emily Ogle. “It showed. She’s been our go-to player and has really come in big for us when we need her.”
Freigang’s knack for the big-time score did not begin with this postseason. Her three regular-season goals also were important — two more overtime game-winners and a game-tying goal in the 87th minute against Purdue. In all, she has four game-winners this season.
The potential was there for the scoring burst, coach Erica Dambach felt; everyone was just waiting for the pieces to fall into place.
“It was a long time coming,” Dambach said. “She’s been in and out of the group with national team duty. It’s taken her a while to get fully integrated. We felt that once she did that this was going to be the result.”
It has been quite the surge in production after netting just two goals as a freshman, starting just twice and playing in 15 games, though she still made the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
She was not around for the whole season, however, playing for her native Germany in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. She started every game, with the Germans falling in the quarterfinals. She also saw action with the national program in a number of other events and levels the last few years.
“For sure it prepared me for the physical part of the game,” Freigang said. “It’s much more physical here in America than it is in Europe, and if you play against International teams, for sure it prepared me a little bit. Plus the pressure you have. In tournaments, you lose and you’re out.”
She was not the only Nittany Lion missing action last season, with five teammates playing for Team USA in the U-20 World Cup.
Freigang is not the only German Nittany Lion either, joined by junior Alina Ortega Jurado. Having a foreign player on the roster injects added dimensions to the Nittany Lions, with different perspectives and training.
Having a few non-Americans on the roster is nothing new, with Dambach recruiting in recent years players from Canada, England and, most notably, Costa Rica — home to Raquel Rodriguez, who led the team to the 2015 NCAA title and won the Hermann Trophy as the nation’s best player.
“It has an impact on the field, in the locker room, comic relief — she’s just pure comedy,” Dambach said of Freigang. “She brings a great flair. Our internationals, all of our internationals have come with personality, they’ve given us, obviously, a taste of the international game. I think they’ve brought so much to the experience to both our players and our staff.”
Having the team scoring leader netting just eight goals — with 39 scored by the team — also says something. Five different women have posted at least four goals, so scoring is coming from a variety of places, and that has Freigang and the Nittany Lions confident this postseason.
“I feel like it shows how much everyone wants it,” Freigang said. “How much just everyone enjoys playing soccer.”