The Penn women’s soccer squad is nearly 10 months from its next season. But there is reason to believe we caught a glimpse of the future Saturday night in its title bout with Princeton.
While the 4-2 loss may not offer consolation in the short term, if the tea leaves of the team’s final match are read closely, they may reveal the challenges facing next year’s group.
Saturday evening, Penn uncharacteristically conceded four goals to Princeton’s sizzling offense. Throughout the season, the Quakers have relied on their defense to keep games close long enough for their offense to ignite, but they will need to change their habits next year.
The importance of the current senior class to Penn’s defense cannot be overstated. Though she made a few costly mistakes this season, Sarah Banks remained one of the premier goalkeepers in the Ivy League. On top of her, the Red and Blue will lose senior defenders Alex Dayneka and Erin Thayer, who fortified the middle of Penn’s backline.
The remnants of the defense that led the nation in shutout percentage in 2011 are rapidly diminishing. In fact, Brianna Rano will be the only remaining defensive starter from that squad next season.
So for the first time in several years, the dominance of Penn’s defense is not a given. The Princeton match may represent the kinds of challenges the Quakers will face in the future. The Red and Blue will be called upon to win even when their defense breaks down. They cannot play with the expectation that an inexperienced goalkeeper and newly formed backline will hold teams to shutouts night in and night out.
Though next season’s ‘D’ will be in a state of transition, precisely the opposite could be said of Penn’s offensive reserves. The Quakers will return every goal scorer from this year, including veteran dynamos Kerry Scalora and Kathryn Barth as well as younger threats Erin Mikolai and Elissa Berdini.
Yet, Penn learned this season that potential doesn’t necessarily translate into production. Throughout the current campaign, the Quakers struggled mightily to close in the offensive third, scoring just 22 times in 16 games. By comparison, first-place Princeton tallied 49 goals.
While the Red and Blue need not match Princeton’s offense, they likely will have to boost their production in order to remain competitive for an Ivy League title next year — especially in anticipation of a young and inexperienced defense.
It’s not obvious what changes Penn should make on offense, but Clara Midgley hinted at the possibilities Saturday night. The sophomore forward scored twice in nine minutes against Princeton, redirecting two crosses into the back of the net and nearly connecting on a third.
But it wasn’t merely that Midgley positioned herself well and finished — it was the manner in which she did it. After going the entire season without a score, Midgley was possessed in the second half— a veritable menace in the middle, relentlessly attacking on every cross.
She played with the type of bloodlust and reckless abandon that was this team’s missing intangible on offense. This is not to say that Penn did not play hard — one need not look any further than Megan York battling for a ball on the sideline or Erin Beck taking a brutal foul in the air to confirm that. But the Red and Blue rarely assaulted the middle of the goal box with the energy and determination Midgley had against the Tigers.
Following their loss, the Quakers looked on as Princeton accepted the Ivy League championship and the trophy that could have been theirs. The Tigers cheered, hugged and smiled at midfield while Penn packed its bags before heading home.
Perhaps that memory will spark the Quakers to play an entire season with the same conviction Midgley and crew showed in the second half of their final match.
And if that’s true, maybe next year the roles will be reversed, and Princeton will have to watch the Quakers celebrate an Ivy League crown.
KENNY KASPER is a sophomore philosophy major from Santa Rosa, Calif., and is an associate sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.