Remember last year, when Penn State's women's soccer team destroyed everything in its path en route to winning a national championship? Well good news, everyone: Erica Dambach's squad is in a great position to defend its title, and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America agrees.
The Nittany Lions will enter 2016 ranked second in the NSCAA's preseason poll. Trailing only Florida State in the eyes of the NSCAA, Penn State received 10 of a possible 30 first-place votes in the first poll of the year. Rounding out the top five is Duke – which Penn State defeated in the College Cup final last year – Virginia, and Stanford. You don't have to look too far down the rankings from there to find the first ranked squad that the Nittany Lions will play in 2016, as sixth-ranked West Virginia will come to Happy Valley for the team's regular season opener on August 19.
While Penn State loses some serious contributors from the 2015 squad, including MAC Hermann Trophy winner Raquel Rodriguez, the team returns a ton of firepower this year. Leading the way will be Megan Schafer, a junior forward who led the team in goals last season with 13. Also returning to spark the attack are dynamic junior forward Frannie Crouse and senior midfielder Nickolette Driesse, who scored 11 and seven goals last year, respectively. Crouse also chipped in seven assists, while Driesse recorded six assists.
A number of impact players from the 2015 team who still have eligibility left – including Crouse and playmaking midfielder Emily Ogle, among others – could miss some time this season due to their involvement with the United States' U-20 team at this year's U-20 Women's World Cup. However, the team is still loaded with talent and should be in for another huge year in 2016.