Four returning members of the 2015 Penn State women’s soccer national championship team won’t actually be returning to the Nittany Lions for the 2016 campaign.
Junior midfielder Emily Ogle and defender Maddie Elliston and sophomore defenders Ellie Jean and Kaleigh Riehl will forgo the 2016 season in pursuit of a spot on the United States’ U-20 World Cup team, Penn State announced Friday. The program also announced that redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Rose Chandler will be enrolled in fall classes and train with the team, but will also compete for a spot on the World Cup squad.
“I would like to wish the best of luck and continued success to Maddie Elliston, Ellie Jean, Emily Ogle and Kaleigh Riehl this fall as they pursue a spot on the United States Under-20 Women’s National Team that will be participating in the upcoming U-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea,” head coach Erica Dambach said in a statement. “They will be withdrawing from Penn State for the fall semester to focus on a busy training schedule over the next few months with the U.S. team, while Rose Chandler will remain at Penn State for the fall semester and will be training with our Nittany Lion family.
“We support the dreams of our student-athletes on and off the field. We are excited to follow our five Nittany Lions work toward their dreams of playing in a World Cup, but it is time for our team to turn its attention to the upcoming season.”
Ogle, Elliston, Jean and Riehl will redshirt.
“For all of us, it’s a huge accomplishment,” Jean said. “We’re all really blessed to have the opportunities that we’ve been presented with.”
All five have been with the U-20 USWNT for some time. They were rostered for training camps in North Carolina from June 15-23 and in San Diego from July 6-15.
In July, Chandler, Riehl, Elliston, Jean and Ogle were among 21 players on the squad. The United States will bring 21 players to the World Cup, hosted by Papua New Guinea from Nov. 13-Dec. 3.
Plus, Ogle, Riehl, Jean and Elliston will be aiming to join the squad for another camp in September.
Riehl said it’s always humbling to wear the United States jersey, and her teammates echoed her sentiment.
“It’s an honor to wear the crest,” Ogle said.
However, the Nittany Lions were bummed that they couldn’t join their teammates in a 2016 title defense.
Penn State will miss them, too. The four players combined to start 82 games last year, while Ogle and Riehl were named to the Women’s College Cup All-Tournament Team.
Still, the group wanted to be a part of the team. Jean, Riehl, Ogle and Elliston have been training with Penn State throughout the preseason.
“It’s definitely bittersweet because we have such a great team, a great family, great coaches and great people here,” Elliston said. “It’s tough seeing your teammates and knowing you don’t get to be a part of this.”
Fortunately for the players, their teammates and coaches have made the decision easy on them.
That’s especially true for Penn State head coach Erica Dambach, who has years of experience working internationally, most notably as a U.S. women’s national team assistant coach for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2011 FIFA World Cup.
Dambach understands commitment to the U.S. Soccer Federation, and her players feel her support.
“She presented it as, ‘Guys, this is such a great opportunity,’” Elliston said. “And it really is, and we know that.”
Should the five Nittany Lions make the team, they’ll be facing some of the world’s finest young talent in Papua New Guinea.
Now, Papua New Guinea is far from a soccer power, and is certainly an odd location for an international tournament.
But to get acclimated to their surroundings, Riehl, Ogle, Jean and Elliston traveled with the U-20 team to Papua New Guinea in May for a World Cup test run.
“It was actually winter there,” Riehl said, somewhat perplexed. “And it was hot.”
Weather be damned, all five Penn Staters are looking forward to the chance to cement a spot on the United States U-20 roster and earn a trip to the World Cup.
“We put a lot of work in,” Jean said, “and we’re really excited to see what’s ahead.”