Penn State Soccer

Penn State women’s soccer ties West Virginia in season opener

Above: Penn State’s Megan Schafer takes a shot on goal around West Virginia’s Easther Mayi Kith (16) during the Nittany Lions’ season opener on Friday. The teams played to a 1-1 tie. Below: Penn State’s Frannie Course (9) and West Virginia’s Amandine Pierre-Louis fight for the ball
Above: Penn State’s Megan Schafer takes a shot on goal around West Virginia’s Easther Mayi Kith (16) during the Nittany Lions’ season opener on Friday. The teams played to a 1-1 tie. Below: Penn State’s Frannie Course (9) and West Virginia’s Amandine Pierre-Louis fight for the ball adrey@centredaily.com

Penn State women’s soccer coach Erica Dambach and athletic director Sandy Barbour stood proudly underneath the northwest scoreboard, each pulling down on a piece a rope.

In between them dropped a banner.

“2015 Division I Women’s Soccer Champions”

That wasn’t the only reminder.

The top right corner of the Beaver Stadium-side bleachers featured a massive College Cup banner. All throughout the crowd fans wore shirts denoting the accomplishment. The Nittany Lions even had the trophy itself on display.

You couldn’t ignore it even if you tried.

But this is a new season for the Nittany Lions.

They came out of the tunnel with a new kit — a blue jersey fading into white at the shoulders — while coaches sported T-shirts with the program’s updated crest.

A stream of students crossed University Drive from East Halls to pack Jeffrey Field and watch a couple true freshmen like themselves, along with several newly-starting Nittany Lions.

The past was honored, the future was represented, and in the present, Penn State began its title defense.

Before a record crowd of 5,791, the No. 2-ranked Nittany Lions drew No. 6 West Virginia 1-1 on Friday night under the lights at Jeffrey Field.

“You could feel the heartbeat of this place,” Dambach said. “It didn’t disappoint tonight. The crowd came out for a good match, and that’s what they got.”

In a rematch of last year’s NCAA quarterfinal, both sides looked starkly different than they did in November. Compared to their last matchup’s starters, West Virginia and Penn State each had six new faces on the field.

Both were missing several contributors — for Penn State, 2015 captains Raquel Rodriguez, Britt Eckerstrom and Mallory Weber graduated, and four would-be returners are forgoing the season to pursue a place on the United States U-20 World Cup squad.

As for the Mountaineers, they lost a few cogs to graduation, and stud midfielder Ashley Lawrence and defender Kadeisha Buchanan were with the Canadian Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro.

So who stood out in a match between two transitioning sides?

Starting with the lone goalscorer seems appropriate.

Laura Freigang, an 18-year-old German international, made an impact in her first appearance for the Nittany Lions.

After a first half filled with opportunities for Penn State forwards Megan Schafer and Frannie Crouse, Freigang came on as a sub in the 31st minute, finished out the first 45 and stayed out on the pitch to start the second half.

Freigang, after jostling with a couple West Virginia defenders, had a brief, clean moment on the ball just inside the 18-yard box. She let loose, striking it off the left post and in to send Jeffrey Field into a frenzy.

“It took a curve to the left and just hit the post,” Freigang said. “It was very, very close. I’m lucky.”

Dambach spoke highly of the German youth national team player.

“You could see that she stepped in there like she had been with us for months and months,” Dambach said of Freigang, who just arrived on campus Monday night. “We’re going to ask her to continue doing what she did tonight.”

The other highlight of the night for Penn State was Freigang’s classmate, freshman goalkeeper Amanda Dennis.

Dennis, like Freigang, has a wealth of international experience. The 6-foot shotstopper was a member of the United States U-14, U-15, U-17, U-18 and U-20 teams, and she showed her prowess.

On the evening, Dennis made six saves, including a one-on-one opportunity denied in the first half.

She did let one slip by her, though.

West Virginia cashed in on constant pressure in the 77th minute, when Mountaineers junior Michaela Abam beat a sprawling Dennis.

Regardless of the goal, Dambach was happy with her keeper, and Dennis was proud of her performance.

“It was awesome to come out of the gate for my first game and really wear the jersey,” Dennis said. “I loved it.”

With the affair knotted a 1-1 at the end of regulation, the match went to two 10-minute overtime periods.

In the first, the Nittany Lions had their chances. A 25-yard free kick by Isabelle Clauss was saved, and so was a two-on-one break. In the 100th minute, Schafer possessed down the left side of the box, and Crouse ran down the right with a defender in between, but Schafer’s attempt on goal was secured.

Penn State will try to convert a few more chances against Hofstra at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, but Dambach approved of her team’s efforts.

For a squad looking to defend a national title, Friday night wasn’t perfect.

But it was promising.

“Of the things that we focused on, we were really proud of,” Dambach said. “We still have plenty of work to do, but in terms of the spirit of this team, the fight and the drive, I think it very much replicates the Penn State teams of the past.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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