Penn State aims for 15th straight conference title

[BIG TEN PREVIEW] With a lineup that includes Christine Nairn, who helped the USA win the 2008 Under-20 Women's World Cup, and Maya Hayes, the nation's leading scorer in 2011, and Taylor Schram, both members of the 2012 U.S. Under-20 Women's World Cup team, Penn State has plenty of weapons as it aims to continue one of the longest streaks in the history of women's soccer. The Nittany Lions will be seeking their 15th straight Big Ten regular-season championship.

Hayes broke single-season records at Penn State for goals (31) and points (70). Schram tallied career-highs in goals (12), assists (12) and points (36). Nairn, a two-time All-American, had three goals and 13 assists in 2011.

Illinois won its second Big Ten Tournament title when it beat the Nittany Lions, 2-1, in overtime on a goal by Vanessa DiBernardo, daughter of former U.S. international Angelo DiBernardo.

The Illini have lots of experience up front but will need help on defense, where they lost Big Ten Defender of the Year: Jenna Carosio.

Like Hayes and Schram, Vanessa DiBernardo will miss the start of the 2012 season to represent the USA at the Under-20 Women's World Cup, which begins Sunday in Japan.

Also in Japan are six other Big Ten players: Canadians Nkem Ezurike and Shelina Zadorsky (both Michigan), Danica Wu (Ohio State) and Genevieve Richard (Wisconsin) and Mexicans Christina Murillo (Michigan) and Ari Romero (Nebraska).

TELEVISION. The Big Ten Network will carry 10 regular-season games as well as both semifinals and the final at the Big Ten Women's Tournament. Coverage begins on Aug. 24 when Penn State hosts 2011 national champion Stanford. BTN's soccer coverage also includes the BTN Soccer Report.

BIG TEN IN BRIEF:
2011 REGULAR SEASON. 1. Penn State (10-1-0), 2. Illinois (8-2-1), 3. Michigan State (7-4-0), 4. Wisconsin (5-3-3).
2011 TOURNAMENT. Illinois beat Penn State, 2-1.
2011 NCAA TOURNAMENT. Ohio State and Penn State lost in third round, Illinois lost in second round.

2012 FAVORITE. Penn State.
2012 CONTENDERS. Illinois, Ohio State.
2012 CREAM OF THE CROP. F Maya Hayes, Penn State, jr.; M Vanessa DiBernardo, Illinois, jr.; M, Christine Nairn, Penn State, sr.; D Annie Steinlage, Michigan State; G Steph Panozzo, Illinois, sr.
2012 TOP NEWCOMERS. M Taylore Peterson, Illinois; D Shelby Soldat, Ohio State; F Corey Persson, Penn State; F/M Raquel Rodriguez, Penn State; F Marissa Wolf, Ohio State; F Mallory Weber, Penn State.
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