The list of players who have suited up for Erica Dambach during her 13 years at the helm of Penn State’s women’s soccer program is impressive.
There have been 33 All-Americans, 18 Big Ten Players of the Year and now several members of the United States Women’s National Team — all of whom would likely be considered “big-time players.”
But on a chilly Friday night in front of the second-largest crowd in Jeffrey Field history, a new “big-time player” burst on to the scene for the Nittany Lions — freshman defender Kate Wiesner.
Wiesner scored the only goal, and the first of her career, in No. 6 Penn State’s 2-1 opening day loss to No. 3 Stanford and showed her mettle early on.
Even though the Monrovia, California, native is on a team laden with upperclassmen and prominent scorers and battle-tested players, Dambach isn’t surprised it was Weisner who rose to the occasion on opening night.
“Kate Wiesner is a world-class player and she’s going to show it throughout her four years here,” Dambach said. “She’s going to be a big-time player in this program.”
“These freshmen have been around the block — they’ve played in huge games and huge environments like this,” Dambach said. “It’s a big ask and we threw them in there and they did an unbelievable job tonight.”
If Dambach has indeed cultivated “big-time” players during her tenure at Penn State, then she’s done so on one of the preeminent big-time stages in college soccer.
Jeffrey Field has played host to countless regular season and Big Ten tournament games and has gone through several incarnations, but Dambach’s teams have always remained among the best in college soccer.
Still, up until Friday night, all but one of those teams and one of those games drew as big a crowd as the Nittany Lions’ did on the opening night of Dambach’s 13th season when 5,283 turned out.
To Dambach and Wiesner, that was evident early on, but it’s that subsequent electricity and atmosphere that they both revel.
“I had goosebumps when this game started. This place was rocking and this was the place to be tonight in college soccer,” Dambach said. “I think anybody at this game tonight would agree with me, that it’s the best place to play college soccer.”
To Wiesner though, the energy, the fan support and the bright lights were all a part of something more symbolic — the storied history of women’s soccer at Penn State, which includes 18 Big Ten titles and one NCAA title.
Sure, Wiesner felt what are probably standard opening day jitters for a freshman starting in their first game for a historic program. But it was because of that history that the support system was in place to provide for such an invigorating atmosphere and quickly dispel those nerves
“First time out here, (I was) definitely a little bit nervous, but my teammates were there helping me and supporting me. I leaned on them and they helped me get through it for sure,” Wiesner said. “The atmosphere was amazing. Jeffrey Field is one of if not the best places to play college soccer. They gave us the energy going out there to go out and do our best.”
It’s clear Kate Wiesner left an early impression on the seasoned vet Dambach, but through just one collegiate game, it was Dambach’s impact that permeated throughout and it’s what Wiesner said is a driving force for her.
“It means everything. Penn State is a historic program, there’s a lot of history here,” Wiesner said. “Coach Dambach has built just an incredible program and it’s such an honor to put on this jersey and play on Jeffrey Field.”