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2016-03-01 / Spotlight

Making the Team

Erica Dambach, Penn State Women’s Soccer Head Coach


After just under a decade as head coach at Penn State, Erica (Walsh) Dambach brought the women’s soccer team to a national championship for the first time in program history. “We inherited an incredible program, where the margin of error was so slim,” she says. “To take that program and to elevate it was a tall order.” But her focus on team building, which has been a part of her life since childhood, has carried her through coaching the U.S. National Team at the Beijing Olympics and the World Cup to being named the National Soccer Coaches Association of America National Coach of the Year. “My passion is coaching and education, and I love that I can do it through this sport,” she says. Besides her husband, State College Spikes President Jason Dambach, and her team, we found out what five things score high for Coach Dambach.

Monkey Around
Dambach’s childhood treasure was her one-eyed Curious George doll. “He went everywhere with me,” she says. What she didn’t know when she was young was that it had been passed down from her brother, whom she lost to cancer. The family’s dog Murphy ripped the monkey up one summer, but the symbolism stays with her — “I come from a really, really supportive family.”

Luck of the Irish
Dambach’s family has Irish heritage — her maiden name is Walsh — and they’ve indulged that by taking trips to the Emerald Isle. “It’s the one time every few years that we all get together,” she says. “My travels have taken me everywhere in the soccer world, but it’s probably the one vacation I allow myself to take every couple of years.”

Birds of a Feather
Dambach grew up outside of Philadelphia, watching the Eagles every Sunday with her dad. “My whole childhood was my dad and I on Sunday afternoon with the Wawa hoagies and Tastykakes watching those games,” she says. “I have always had so much pride in being from Philadelphia.”

A Good Trip
When Dambach was with the U.S. National Team, she was spending about 180 days a year on the road. “You never see me without my backpack,” she says. “I’m always going somewhere, and I love it. It’s symbolic of the lifestyle that I’ve led, the experiences that I’ve had, and the places soccer has taken me.”

Teaming Up
Dambach’s family owned a summer camp, Spring Valley Day Camp, where she spent much of her childhood. “Growing up on teams kept you out of trouble,” she says. “And it’s the way I want to raise my own kids, getting them involved in teams as much as I can.” She credits the national championship win to that same team mentality: “It was a great soccer-playing group of students, but we were a team.”

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