Instinct and reaction.
That’s what you need to be a successful goalkeeper in field hockey, and Penn sophomore Carly Sokach has it in spades.
She will put her instincts to the test Saturday when the Quakers (5-3, 1-1 Ivy) visit Dartmouth (4-4, 1-1) for one of their toughest challenges of the season.
After playing sparingly as a freshman, Sokach has stepped up this year as the full-time starter in goal.
“Carly is the biggest leader for our defense,” fellow sophomore MaryRose Croddick said. “She’s the one we all listen to. Everyone plays off of what she tells us to do.”
Sokach has handled the pressure admirably despite a lack of experience.
“Carly’s an interesting case, because when she was in high school … her senior year was really her first opportunity to be ‘the goalie,’” coach Colleen Fink said. “I think it’s a big role to step into at a young age and I think she’s handling it really well.”
Sokach has taken quickly to the unfamiliar role as leader of the defense, being more vocal on and off the field.
“I gained the confidence in my skill over the spring to step up my communication with my defense and learn how to best work with them,” she said. “It’s helped us play together a lot more, and especially fighting through some of the defensive problems we’ve had, it’s created this really cohesive effect.”
Still, the Quakers’ defense has struggled this season, allowing three goals or more in every game but one.
“There have been some areas of weakness on the defense,” Croddick admitted. “Every day at practice we focus on a different area: baseline defense, 1-v-1 defense, and … we’ve improved in every single area.”
The improvement may have come just in time too, as Penn’s defense will face a formidable foe in the Big Green, who are coming off an 8-1 hammering of Holy Cross and riding a three-game winning streak.
“They are a skilled team,” Fink said. “They have good ball speed, good possession, so I think we have to remain really patient.”
Sokach added that minimizing the number of penalty corners the defense faces will also be key.
The Quakers will aim to build off the momentum of last Saturday’s 4-3 win over Harvard at Franklin Field, when Sokach shined in the cage. Her biggest moment came with 12 minutes left when she made a diving save on a penalty stroke.
“That’s really all you can do in a stroke, just go with your instinct and lay out for it,” she said.
That boldness should serve her well this weekend in New Hampshire and for the rest of the season.
“I really want us as a defensive unit to get a shutout,” she said. “We want such a better season than last year. We want to be at least .500 and we want to be so much more than that.”