After a challenging 2016 season, the Penn State Altoona women's soccer program has used the offseason to push the proverbial reset button.
The Lady Lions were a competitive squad last fall, playing their opponents close more often than not. But the team was left searching for answers after dropping six games by one goal, including four one-goal losses to Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference opponents which played a big role in preventing the team from qualifying for the conference postseason. Additionally, the program has experienced significant roster turnover in the offseason due to graduation and the transfer of student-athletes to University Park to continue their degree paths.
But head coach Pam Snyder Etters, who enters her eighth year at the helm of the women's soccer program at Penn State Altoona, sees this as the perfect opportunity to build a new foundation for her team by reestablishing its culture of success.
"This team has taken time in the offseason to reevaluate our priorities. We have often found ourselves in positions to compete and win games, but we continually seem to fall short. The skillset is present to compete, so we are focusing on building our quality off the field, bonding as a team unit, and matching our quality on the field with a more developed quality of character," Snyder Etters explained. "I see this team coming together mentally this season. Positivity, hard work, and attention to the small details will make us more competitive. I am looking forward to taking a different approach with the girls, and I feel it can pay off in the win-loss column."
The Lady Lions will lean heavily on their top returner, senior forward Shoshana Mahoney (Sweet Valley, PA/Lake-Lehman). Mahoney has enjoyed much success throughout her collegiate career and ranks among the program's best offensive players. In team history, she is first all-time in shots on goal (96), second in game-winning goals (7), sixth in goals (20), and tied for eighth in points (43). Mahoney is coming off of her most productive season, as she set career highs in goals (10), points (22), shots (70), shots on goal (45), and game-winning goals (4) last fall en route to being voted second team All-Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference.
"Shoshana has been a very consistent performer for us in her three seasons, and she is prepared to step into a leadership role for her team this year," Snyder Etters said. "More than her quality on the field, she works incredibly hard off the field of play. This is often where seasons are won and lost, and she has set a precedent for the work ethic we are expecting this fall from her and the rest of the team."
Other returners for the team include junior defenders Sydney Emershaw (Dallas, PA/Dallas) and Kyrstin Johnson (Altoona, PA/Great Commission), as well as sophomore defender Maddy Jorich (Middletown, PA/Middletown.
Snyder Etters also points out some newcomers to the program who she believes can make an immediate impact this year: Defender Rylee Duck (Mifflintown, PA/Juniata) and midfielders Kierra Irwin (Altoona, PA/Altoona), Kaitlyn Shon (Honolulu, HI/Kamehameha Schools), and Gabby Stauffer (Greensburg, PA/Greensburg Central Catholic). Several of the squad's newcomers competed with the team in its spring activities and will look to carry that experience over into the fall season.
"Rylee will help shore up our back line after losing our two center backs from last season, while Kierra will look to help control play through the midfield," said Snyder Etters. "Gabby, a true freshman, has a lot of experience coming from a storied high school program at Greensburg Central Catholic. She has good size, pace, and vision for the game that will help her find her feet early on in her career. Kaitlyn comes from Hawaii and is a very composed central midfielder who I expect will combine very well with the more experienced players around her. She is coming off of an injury, but we are hopeful that she will be back by the time of the season when we are entering conference play."
Penn State Altoona's 2017 schedule includes eight non-conference matchups, with seven of those occurring before the team begins AMCC play. The Lady Lions get to work on campus right away, hosting Southern Vermont College for the squad's home opener on Friday, September 1 at 4:00 p.m. before another home game the next day, Saturday, September 2 at 3:00 p.m. against Waynesburg University. Other non-conference home games are against Chatham University (September 12) and Bethany College (September 20), while the team will hit the road to face out-of-conference foes Westminster College (September 6), Lycoming College (September 16), Penn College (September 17), and Washington & Jefferson College (September 28).
"Our non-conference schedule is definitely going to be a competitive one. I have added a few new teams this season, which I expect to be tough competitors that will prepare us for our conference slate," Snyder Etters stated. "Many of the teams that we play will compete with our conference opponents and help us gauge the level of play we must prepare for when heading into the second half of our season."
The Lady Lions' AMCC schedule starts on Saturday, September 23, when the team travels to Pitt-Bradford for a 3:15 p.m. contest. Other conference opponents that Penn State Altoona will travel to play are Hilbert College (September 30), Franciscan University (October 18), and Pitt-Greensburg (October 24). Meanwhile, the Lady Lions will host AMCC opponents La Roche College (September 26), Mount Aloysius College (October 4), Penn State Behrend (October 7), Medaille College (October 14), and D'Youville College (October 21).
"Our conference has become very tightly-contested over the last few years. Making the playoffs is much more difficult, which I honestly appreciate," Snyder Etters said. "We will look to be competitive and hope to come out on the upside of those tighter matches this year. Our goal is to finish in the top half of the conference this season and have a chance to compete in the postseason. Once there, you never know what can happen."
To qualify for the AMCC postseason tournament, Snyder Etters knows that her renewed emphasis on rebuilding the culture of Penn State Altoona women's soccer will need to couple with the emergence of the squad's young talent. She is optimistic that her team will gel on the field and off of it to reach a new level of success this fall.
"We are trying to develop a mentality where we play for each other, remain positive, and pay attention to details. We had a tendency to turn negative last season and lacked a belief in the team and system. Without a positive mental structure, it can be hard to dig out of a difficult situation," said Snyder Etters. "We will look to be the aggressor this season, but in the face of adversity, we will strive to remain positive and work hard for each other, for the staff, for the athletics department, and for University pride. In many ways, I think a simple change of attitude and perspective will lead to more success."