In collegiate team sports, down years are unavoidable, even for the strongest and most consistent programs. And usually, the best answer to them is to just forget about it and start anew.
While that may be true more often than not, the Penn men’s soccer team — despite currently sporting a lackluster 2-13 overall, 0-6 Ivy record — faces a completely different situation.
Yes, the Quakers have yet to win an Ivy game and have not posted a single shutout. But that does not mean the team has to go back to square one.
In fact, as coach Rudy Fuller accurately stated, “When you look at [the] group, it’s not lacking talent.” Furthermore, since the team is only graduating two seniors — captain Travis Cantrell and Bryan Yasukochi — most of that talent is coming back.
The current junior and sophomore classes, which make up most of the starting team this year, will return next season with even more experience under their belts.
“The silver lining is that we have a lot of talented young men returning,” Fuller said.
Nevertheless, the squad still has a lot of problems to solve if it wants to become relevant again in the Ancient Eight. The defense has a lot to improve upon, and the attack has to stop wasting crucial opportunities.
Most importantly, leaders have to emerge. All the talent in the world doesn’t matter if there isn’t a true leader who can rally the troops in good and bad times.
During the entire season, one could sense that the void left by the departure of Christian Barreiro, Thomas Brandt and Jake Levin was never completely filled. Cantrell certainly did a good job at assuming the role of a leader, but it still seemed like the ghost of the much-hailed Class of 2012 was still hanging over Fuller’s squad.
For the returning players, a great deal can be learned from this painful campaign. Overcoming adversity is not easy for anyone, but sometimes it’s going through the worst that yields the strongest results.
With only one game left — this Saturday against Harvard — there’s no point in mulling over the what-ifs. Indeed, from a statistical point of view, the Quakers’ season is dead, but they don’t have to quit. It also doesn’t mean this season has no value.
“You learn from every experience — good, bad or otherwise,” Fuller said.
The game against the Crimson represents another opportunity for his young squad to acquire some experience and, maybe, for a leader to emerge.
“There’s no question we have talent in the program, but I think that leadership, experience and maturity are going to be what really pushes us forward,” Fuller said.
If the Quakers manage to stay healthy, their hungry and talented players may very well take the Ivy League by storm next year.
For now, though, the team’s attention is directed toward Saturday’s season finale. And, considering the few opportunities the Quakers have to play meaningful matches, that might be the right mentality.
KARL BAGHERZADEH is a sophomore international studies and business major from Paris, France. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.