Few acts in the recent history of Penn Athletics have been tougher to follow than the women’s soccer team’s defensive performance in 2011.
Last season, the Quakers led Division I in shutout percentage (.765), posting 13 shutouts in 17 matches. Penn finished third nationally in goals-against average (0.406) and seventh in save percentage (.887).
Making each statistic possible was current senior goalkeeper Sarah Banks, who earned first team All-Ivy honors a season ago.
But Banks and company have had a tougher time recently living up to last year’s defensive legend. While Penn still ranks first in the Ivy League in both scoring defense and goals-against average, the Quakers have already allowed five more goals than last season and are on pace to have fewer than half as many shutouts as they posted in 2011.
“It’s been rough, the mentality going into this season with last year in mind,” Banks said. “I think the defense has done well. [Erin] Thayer and Alex [Dayneka] have just been really solid the whole year. I think we had a couple mistakes — I know personally I’ve had a few.”
“At times she’s made mistakes,” coach Darren Ambrose said. “I think what she’s got to do is say, ‘Look, I’ve just got to admit it and get on with it.’ She can make mistakes and bounce back a little bit. That’s what we’ve asked her to do now.”
But coming off a devastating loss at Dartmouth that has jeopardized the Quakers’ hopes of an Ivy crown, Banks’ upbeat tenacity is just what Penn needs to get back on track.
“We need that kind of attitude and energy that she brings,” Ambrose said. “She brought great energy to practice [Tuesday]. I mean, just fantastic. The reason it was so intense was our goalkeepers were difficult to beat, and she was a big part of that.”
Banks is still a force to be reckoned with in goal, as she is currently tied for second in the Ancient Eight in shutouts and shutout percentage. Her confidence remains as high as it was throughout 2011 despite the greater adversity this season.
“It’s just the same mentality as last year,” she said. “Our defense is really strong, and they’ve just been phenomenal this year coming in every game consistently looking for that shutout. The goals that the other teams have scored — they have had to find a way. I’m talking crazy ways, because our defense has been very, very strong.”
“No one’s breaking [our defense] down,” Ambrose said. “I think it’s organization from Sarah and determination and pride on the team saying, ‘Yeah, we’re not gonna match last year’s club, but that’s not the point.’ That was an incredibly unique situation, but the idea is taking pride in limiting teams’ chances and shutting teams down, and overall we’ve done a great job.”
And Banks knows there’s one thing this defense can still accomplish that last year’s squad couldn’t.
“Nothing could be better than an Ivy championship,” she said.
With just three games remaining in her Ivy career, it’s up to Banks to complete her bounce back and make that happen.
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