Penn State ended the 2021 season with a 12-8-1 record and the team has dealt with a plethora of injuries this year.
However, if the season indicated anything, it was that the Nittany Lions were able to rise when stars like linebacker Payton Linnehan left.
The Massachusetts Douglas native is a player the team relies heavily on, but the entire team plays a role in its success, according to fellow linebacker Corey Dyke.
“[Everything is] so appreciated in our team,” Dyck told The Daily Collegian. “In the center of the field, in the back line is the coach [Erica Dambach] knows and inspires us that the play begins with you.
“I don’t think anyone feels less valued.”
In addition to the entire team, Linnehan and redshirt junior Ellie Schlegel are the top two scorers of last season and are the reason why the team was able to win 12 games.
“We’re lucky to have great scorers like them and more,” Dyck said.
However, the blue and white’s versatility made everyone contribute last season as they had to rely more on effort than goals scored.
Schlegel said that a team’s success never depends on its single game or on Linnehan, but rather on the team’s overall effort in every game it plays.
“I think all of these goals, many of them, were never my individual efforts,” Schlegel told the Collegian. “But I’m the only one who makes it at the end of five, six, seven, eight passes in advance.”
Injuries to players like Linnehan may have had the biggest impact on the team’s leadership core. These injuries often disabled players who were leaders for the younger athletes on the team.
Dambach said her high school students are the pure embodiment of what she preaches day in and day out.
“When your leaders exemplify what you are trying to teach, they are the ones who have the most impact on the program and on young players,” Dambach told Collegian magazine.
Many players stepped up and became leaders when one of their teammates lost, which helped many of them take on roles they didn’t have before.
“We just adopted a ‘next player’ mentality,” Dambach said. “Some of these older players who didn’t get a lot of playing time in their freshman year understand what it means to grind and earn their spot.”
The team relies on every player included in the White and Blue squad, which is the key to including them in the system that the staff has implemented.
Dambach said that Dyck and Schlegel influence the team in every area of life.
“These two are incredible people,” Dambach said. “They embody everything we’re trying to do with the program.”
However, Dyke was not given anything. Like everyone else, she had to earn a place on the team.
“I was just trying to put myself in the best position I could put myself in as a freshman to contribute to the team,” Dyck said. “Everything is earned; nothing is given.”
Dyke has seen her hard work pay off alongside her teammates in locations other than Happy Valley. Dyke became the fourth Penn State player to be called up to the US Under-23 Women’s Team.
Linnehan made sure to give Dyke her props despite her teammate being unable to find the scoreboard.
“We have so many players who make our team what we are – they are not the players that are on the score sheet,” Linnehan said. “Dyck is the heart of our midfield and she hasn’t scored a single goal, but we need her as much as our top scorer.”
Dyke is aware of the lack of goals on her personal statistics sheet and says she hopes senior year will be a good year for her when she scores a goal.
While fans may ignore players like Dyke, Dambach doesn’t, and she understands how much effort she and many others put into the team.
“We are a team without stars; we don’t put players on a pedestal,” Dambach said. “We’re trying to really bring the whole team together and help the whole team, even those who haven’t been on the field, to understand their impact on the success of the program.”
In terms of group efforts, Dambach seems to have made it clear that the team works as a unit and fights as one, whether they win or lose.
Dyke echoed her coach’s sentiment, stating that the reason a team can come out and perform the way it does is because of the entire group.
“100% of everyone,” Dyke said. “Whether it’s our 90-minute players or players who don’t touch the field, everyone gives it their all in practice every single day and that’s what makes everyone better.”
The Littleton, Colorado native is aware of the burden that playing college football brings, so she’s grateful for the team’s depth as it helps create an environment unlike any other program.
Linnehan is on the same wavelength as Dyke and also mentioned the team effort that comes with every game.
“We couldn’t have done it without our scorers; we couldn’t have done it if the bench didn’t spin us or our replacements didn’t make a difference,” Linnehan told Collegian magazine. “People give everything on the field – that’s everything. It’s always a team effort.”
When it comes to how the team prepares for the upcoming season, Dyck said “it’s going to be a really special, talented group” that will hit the field in the fall.
While the team has merged so well over the years, there are still things the team and Dambach are committed to accomplishing in the 2022 season.
With the highest ranking in Top Drawer Soccer, Dambach is keen to get back on the pitch and play grass again at Jeffrey Field.
“There is no limit to the possibilities for this group,” Dambach said. “I certainly wouldn’t put any restrictions on this group depending on who we have.”
The team’s players, just like their head coach, want to get back to work.
Dyke said she believes the team can “go the distance” in the fall season and make this year special.
Like her teammate, Schlegel also said she believes the team has what it takes to have a dominant season in the conference.
“I want to win both the Big Ten tournament and the Big Ten regular season,” Schlegel said. “The men’s team did it last year, which made me very happy.”
While Schlegel’s goals are focused on team achievement, there’s no doubt that every Penn Stater employee has their own dreams.
Former Nittany Lion Sam Coffey was one of those players who recently saw her dreams come true when she was called up to the US Women’s Team.
Dambach acknowledged the achievement, saying it was a “moment of parental pride”.
“You know their struggles, you know what they’ve been through. You were a part of them, you pushed them to this fight,” Dambach said. “And to see them fly, to see them succeed, is one of, if not the most important, feeling in coaching – to see them go through the ups and downs and have that moment where they know that everything it’s worth it”.
Dambach’s sincere words are proof that every Nittany lion is part of “one family,” as Linnehan put it. Every player wants to see another teammate realize the individual dream they have set.
Dambach takes pride in mentoring her children every year and has said she wants all of them to achieve the position they only dream of before going to the University of Pennsylvania.
“I got the best job in the world. I work with incredible people – they are damn good at football,” Dambach said. “The people I work with in this office every day, the staff — we challenge each other, we laugh at each other. I can’t imagine doing anything else, anywhere else. I definitely have the best job in the country.”
MORE SPORT ANNOUNCEMENTS
In Mick Shrewsberry’s first full offseason as Penn State head coach, his vision for talent…