The standings show that the Penn women’s soccer team has been flawless through two games, but the Ivy title contenders want to see marked improvement in this weekend’s slate.
The Quakers (2-0) host Marist (3-2) Friday night before playing at local rival Drexel (4-1-1) Sunday.
Though Penn opened with wins over James Madison and Temple, coach Darren Ambrose said he saw a lot of holes the team needed to fill.
“The expectations that our kids have are very high,” he said. “So when we’re successful, we want to be successful doing things properly.”
Even players on the team agree.
“We can’t get away with what we got away with in the Temple game,” freshman Erin Mikolai said.
The rookie midfielder said some points of emphasis at practice have been defensive shaping and finishing offensive opportunities.
“There’s a lot of questions, but I think we solved a lot of them [at practice],” Ambrose said.
The Quakers do not want to improve over these early games at the expense of wins, however.
Ambrose mentioned the possibility of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and representing the Ivy League well as strong motivators for nonconference wins.
“Because at the end of the day we want to put ourselves, like last year, in a position maybe for an at-large [bid] if we don’t win the league,” he said. “From the standpoint of being one of the best programs in the league, we want to beat people outside.”
In opening their schedule with four games in Philadelphia, Penn has allowed three newcomers to showcase their talents close to home.
Freshmen Elissa Berdini, Caroline Dwyer and Mikolai all hail from the greater Philadelphia area. Ambrose also served as Dwyer’s coach for two and a half years with the Penn Fusion Soccer Academy.
“He was one of the best coaches I had,” Dwyer said. “So [coming to Penn] was an easy decision.”
None of the three played together before becoming Quakers, but they did face each other in interscholastic and club competition.
Dwyer, along with Mikolai, debuted in the Red and Blue’s opening game against James Madison. Dwyer described her first collegiate soccer experience as “nerve-wracking.”
“I got adapted to the practices in preseason fairly quickly, but the games are just so much more fast-paced,” she said.
The trio’s local ties allowed Ambrose to better know the players off the field as well as in recruiting them to Penn.
The coach was comfortable enough with his trio of local freshmen to play both Dwyer and Mikolai in the opening two games and Berdini against Temple. Dwyer even admitted she was shocked to see time in the opener.
“I knew when we got these kids that we were fortunate because I knew them quite well before they got here,” he said. “I think they are a good example of being good athletes but great kids.”
And while Ambrose is likely excited about the prospect of having Dwyer, Mikolai and Berdini on his team for the next four seasons, he’s focused on one thing this season: Getting the Red and Blue to the NCAA tournament.
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