Penn State soccer team looking to make noise in NCAAs
Depth, talent, experience, home-field advantage — it's all there for the Penn State women's soccer team.
And now, junior Taylor Schram said she's finally back in top form.
No wonder coach Erica Walsh is so confident.
“I wouldn't want to play us,” said Walsh, whose Nittany Lions (18-3-1) host Boston College (11-7-3) in an NCAA Tournament second-round game at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Schram, a Canon-McMillan graduate and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's girls athlete of the year in 2010, has suffered two concussions in the past year. The first came during last year's NCAA Tournament, when Army's goalie went to punch the ball away and hit Schram's head with two fists.
Schram watched as Penn State was eliminated in the third round, and she was sidelined for another seven months. Schram received good news when her and Penn State teammate Maya Hayes were selected for the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team this summer. Schram got to train with the gold medal-winning squad in Japan — an experience she said words can't describe — but missed Penn State's first seven games this season.
During her first practice back at University Park, Schram suffered another concussion while going up for a head ball.
“I couldn't believe it was happening again,” she said. “I was more scared than anything. I didn't know if I'd have to sit out the year. The redshirt topic came up, but this will probably be our best team in my four years.”
After missing four more games, Schram passed her concussion tests and returned Sept. 30. She wasn't her usual self right away, though.
“I hadn't played a game in 11 months,” said Schram, who has four goals this season after finishing with 12 goals and 12 assists last season. “I've been trying to take small steps back. It's been a slow process. I feel like I'm finally peaking.”
Walsh said the early-season absences of Schram and Hayes — the two-time Big Ten Forward of the Year — will make the Nittany Lions a better team in the long run.
“Last year, (Schram and Hayes) were the show,” Walsh said. “They played 90 minutes a game, and ultimately, that's why we lost. We're so much more well-rounded this year.”
As a No. 1 seed, Penn State will host the next two rounds if it keeps advancing. Friday's winner faces Michigan or Portland in the Sweet 16 at 7 p.m. on Sunday.
“There's not a team out there that scares me or intimidates me,” Walsh said. “We just need to go out and play. I'll take my players over anyone else's.”