Penn State's reunion a success
Goals: Zoe Bouchelle, Penn State (34th minute); Danielle Toney, Penn State (49th minute); Alli Rago, Penn State (50th minute); Claire Zimmeck, William and Mary (67th minute).
It turns out I wasn't the only one eager for a first look at No. 9 Penn State.
"I met two of the freshmen this morning," Penn State coach Erica Walsh said with a hint of bemusement after her team opened with a 3-1 win against William and Mary.
Fresh off a stint in China in which she helped guide the United States women's national team to gold in the Olympics as one of Pia Sundhage's assistants, Walsh watched the Nittany Lions pick apart her alma mater with a balanced all-field performance.
Barely excluded from the preseason top 25, William and Mary is an especially tough out on the same turf at Albert-Daly Field on which Walsh and Penn State assistant Ann Cook played for Tribe coach John Daly two decades ago. But Penn State seized control of the tempo almost from the opening whistle and was long overdue for a payoff when senior Zoe Bouchelle headed home Melissa Hayes' corner late in the first half.
The Nittany Lions needed just five minutes to put the game on ice after halftime, with sophomore Danielle Toney showing a nice finishing touch on a long ball from Emma Thomson to make it 2-0 and good vision in setting up Alli Rago to make it 3-0.
Katie Schoepfer and Bouchelle both looked the part of players on the Hermann Trophy watch list, but Penn State's attack swept forward on all fronts on Saturday.
"Three goals from different goal scorers, and to me that's the sign of a good team," Walsh said. "A little bit unpredictable -- you don't know if we're coming up the middle or we're coming up the flanks. And it's only going to get better from here, of course. I thought that we were unpredictable and dangerous and showed we could be a force this year."
Some of that came from players like Toney and Rago adding to an already deep base up top, but it also came from the back line getting into the mix. Walsh coached Heather Mitts and Lori Chalupny, as good a pair of attacking outside backs as there is in the world, with the national team and liked what she saw on this night from junior Maura Ryan and freshman Thomson in the same role.
"It's the first time I've seen Emma Thomson play; I thought she was brilliant. I thought she was absolutely brilliant," Walsh said. "I think we've got a real force coming out of the back right now in those two players. Mo Ryan is a state track champion; she can run 15 miles a game. And it looks to me like Emma is brilliant on the ball. So I think we're going to have a ton of success this year running at teams from the flank."