Penn State women’s soccer celebrates 25th season

Looking back at 1994, Forest Gump, Pulp Fiction and The Lion King were big at the box office; computer zip drives and the George Foreman grill were new inventions on the market; a gallon of gasoline cost just $1.11, and the Penn State varsity women’s soccer team took the field for the first time in Happy Valley.

This year, the program celebrates 25 years of trailblazing brilliance.

Women’s athletics at PSU is more than a half-century old and the Jeffrey Field soccer stadium was built in 1972, but it took the university’s move to the Big Ten Conference to spark the soccer change from club to varsity status in the mid-90’s. But it didn’t take the Nittany Lions long to become a contender on the national stage and the dominant force among conference competition.

A who’s-who of blue-and-white-wearing soccer stars returned to their alma mater last week to mark the milestone and reflect on how far the program has come in just a quarter century. (To put it into perspective, the first recorded Penn State football game took place in 1887; the women’s volleyball program was launched in 1976; the NCAA women’s soccer tournament started in 1982.)

The PSU soccer program enjoys accolades worthy of a much more seasoned program. Through just three coaches to date, the Lions have captured 18 regular season league titles and seven tournament championships. They’ve made 23 appearances in the NCAA tournament, winning their first national title in 2015. They go into every Big Ten season with a bullseye on their backs, and they consistently rise to the challenge.

As players from years gone by returned to their stomping grounds, they had the chance to reminisce about their trailblazing and history-making escapades, though they probably didn’t realize their significance at the time. They also get to see the next generation of Nittany Lions, who each year know the responsibility they have to continue the tradition of excellence.

In the early years, the stands weren’t so packed, the crowds not so enthusiastic, the sport still gaining momentum in the United States. But with the success of Team USA on the World Cup and Olympic stages, more and more little girls were getting soccer balls for their birthdays and joining youth programs throughout the region and nation.

And here in central Pennsylvania, they had some pretty awesome role models, including Penn State’s first Hermann Trophy Winner Christie Welsh and 2015 team captain “Rocky” Rodriguez, who led the Lions to their first National Championship.

This anniversary season is a great opportunity to get on the bandwagon. The Lions started the year ranked in the nation’s top five before dropping heartbreakers to second-ranked UCLA and Wake Forest. But the Big Ten season soon opens, and this program always rises to the occasion for conference competition.

As Penn State marks 25 years, they know there is still much more history to write.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org.