By Tom Pedulla—
One last shot.
Although Sleepy Hollow’s Samantha Coffey was drafted 12th overall last January by the Portland Thorns F.C. of the National Women’s Soccer League, she is delaying her professional career in a last-ditch attempt to help Penn State win an elusive championship.
“I think I’d never forgive myself for leaving Penn State knowing I had one more opportunity at a national title with my teammates,” Coffey said during a phone interview. “I wanted to savor as much time here as possible and put myself in the best possible position to be ready and successful at Portland.”
Coffey made a tremendous impact locally when she was named Most Valuable Player in all four of her seasons at The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry. She amassed 100 goals during her high school career. She transferred to Penn State after two successful years at Boston College and has helped the Nittany Lions reach the Sweet Sixteen of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, only to bow to the top seed each time.
Penn State was blanked 2-0 by Stanford in 2019. Coffey helped set up the lone score when the injury-plagued Nittany Lions fell to Florida State 3-1 this past season. The Seminoles outshot their rivals 32-2 and reached the championship game before losing.
The NCAA is granting an additional year of eligibility to student-athletes who lost a season due to the pandemic. Coffey eagerly embraced that opportunity.
“I just love this place too much. I wasn’t ready to go,” she said. “From a soccer perspective, I was ready. But there are just too many incredible resources here.”
Coffey excels academically as well as athletically. She was honored as a first-team Academic All-America for 2020-21 and is eager to eventually earn a Master’s degree at Penn State.
“I love to learn,” she said. “I love to read and to write.” Her parents are Denise Willi and Wayne Coffey. Her father, a former New York Daily News sportswriter, is a best-selling author.
Their daughter studied journalism before moving in the direction of some incredibly complex subjects, namely the intersection of race, gender, sports and law. Coffey will take three courses toward that end at Penn State this fall and plans to eventually earn a Master’s degree.
Coffey continues to evolve athletically. Injuries led her to play defensive midfielder for 12-3-1 Penn State, a major adjustment because she has always been known for her offensive prowess. She registered 17 goals and 24 assists in 40 matches during a prolific sophomore season at Boston College and was honored as a first-team All-American and Atlantic Coast Conference Midfielder of the Year.
She made a rather seamless adjustment to the more physical Big Ten conference. She finished with 11 goals and 10 assists as a junior, ranking second in the conference in both categories. She was named first-team All-Big Ten.
A series of injuries to teammates last season led to a greater emphasis on defense than before. Although it came at the expense of offensive production, Coffey said, “I just love adding that element to my game. I love that challenge. It’s all just helping me to be more versatile and improve my stock.”
According to Coffey, Portland never pressured her to join its organization after drafting her with the second pick of the second round.
“They totally respect that I’m here and Penn State is my focus right now and that I have business here I want to get done before I go,” she said.
The Thorns retain her rights, and she monitors the team’s progress. She already has experienced the business side of the professional game. She was looking forward to playing for Mark Parsons, a coach with whom she had bonded, but he will soon be leaving to be head coach for the Netherlands.
With her studies, the all-or-nothing nature of the upcoming season at Penn State and the challenges that await in Portland, it can be daunting. Coffey is not allowing that to happen.
“Something that has been very important for me is just taking it a day at a time and not jumping the gun and thinking, ‘I’ll have this and then this is next and professional soccer is around the corner,’” she said. “That is the route to getting overwhelmed.”
“I just want to enjoy my last days at Penn State and savor every second and get myself excited and prepared for my next venture, which has been my dream since I touched a soccer ball. It’s incredible that it’s all coming to fruition.”