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2. FOCUS: Dynasty continues in Happy Valley
October 24th, 2006 5:08AM

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Penn State isn't being mentioned as a national contender like it was in 2005 when it went unbeaten in 25 games and reached the Women's College Cup, but Paula Wilkins is doing perhaps the best job in her six years as the Nittany Lions head coach.

On Sunday, the No 10 Lions beat Northwestern, 2-1, to clinch their ninth straight Big Ten regular-season title.

Wilkins' previous teams were loaded with individual talent like 2001 Hermann Trophy winner Christie Welsh, two-time Hermann Trophy runner-up Tiffany Weimer,  three-time All-American Joanna Lohman and Canada internationals  Erin McLeod and Carmelina Moscato.

After a 3-1 victory over top-ranked UCLA in their 2006 opener, the Lions showed their inexperience, going four straight games without a win. Wilkins' rebuilding efforts in Happy Valley were hampered by injuries to central defenders Jean Rettig and Denay Riley and Zoe Bouchelle's leg injury that kept her out of action for the first half of the season. Moreover, Allie Long missed the start of the season to represent the USA at the Under-20 Women's World Championship.

But captain Ali Krieger and fellow senior Heather Tomko were steadying influences for their young teammates. Junior Aubrey Aden-Buie, the Lions' most imposing threat up front, scored big goals early in the Big Ten campaign. Sophomore Sheree Gray, the former U.S. U-19 standout, has blossomed as a sophomore and become a much more consistent player. Aubrey Aden-Buie (who replaced McLeod in goal) and Katie Schoepfer (seven goals) have had outstanding freshman seasons.

As the Big Ten Tournament at Penn State Nov. 2-5 approaches, the Lions are starting to come together. While Rettig remains sidelined with a concussion, Riley and Bouchelle are playing again. Against Northwestern, Bouchelle fed Long for the tying goal, and Riley won the game with her second goal of the season.

(Click here for video of the Lions' title-clinching win.)


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