In 2009, Ben Berg was faced with a daunting task.
After not seeing any playing time in net during his Penn career, he was called upon to fill the void left by standout goalkeeper Drew Healy who anchored the Quakers in an Ivy Championship season.
Berg was a decent substitute, finishing the year 4-4-3 with a .661 save percentage — but the Quakers stumbled to a 6-8-3 record.
What a difference a year makes.
Behind Berg, Penn is 5-1-0 and the senior has already surpassed his win total from last year. With two shutouts to start the season, he’s let in only four goals at a .871 clip.
His saves include what he deems his biggest “Oh Crap” moment so far — on a point blank shot from Lafayette forward BJ Glenn with less than 10 minutes left and the score tied at 1-1.
That save pushed the game into overtime, where Loukas Tasigianis won the game in the 92nd minute on a penalty kick.
“BJ Glenn was just six to eight yards out all alone, had time to settle, and just ripped one that I managed to save somehow,” Berg recalled. “That could have been a gamechanger.”
Six games into the season, Berg is yet to give up more then one goal in a game. And while he plays behind a talented defensive unit, it is hard to underestimate the impact of the 6-foot-4 player standing in the net.
Berg attributes his improvement to the experience he gained playing in net last year.
“I was able to read situations a lot better this year from having seen them last year outside of the training grounds,” he said. “[I was] trying to make plays on my own when instead I maybe should have let the back four take care of it.”
That experience is also a reason he’s playing ahead of three other keepers that coach Rudy Fuller called “starting caliber.”
The competition for the starting spot is familiar for Berg — who after backing up Healy his first two years was forced to split time with then-freshman Garon Smith in 2009. This year however, he has solidified his role between the pipes.
“I think that Ben’s experience, and the amount of time he’d spent in goal already for us gave him the slight edge,” Fuller said. “We gave Ben the first crack at it and he’s run with it.”
While having three other players vying for one position may not be the most reassuring place for a goalkeeper, Berg uses the competition as motivation.
“If you have three other top-tier goalkeepers to push you as well, who knows how far you can go.” he said.
And with a confident Berg in net, perhaps the better question is whether he can take the Quakers with him back to the top of the Ivy League.