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In the final season of coach Al Bagnoli’s run at the helm of the program, Penn football was one of several Red and Blue teams to struggle this fall season. However, the squad did gain valuable experience that should serve it well next season.

Photo: Ilana Wurman

T he fall season was not kind to Penn Athletics.

Football entered coach Al Bagnoli’s final campaign with high hopes but quickly plummeted back to earth. Men’s soccer had title aspirations slip away with one too many late goals allowed. Women’s soccer fought through youth and injuries in a lost season.

The Quakers as a whole finished Ivy play without a single championship — excluding Thomas Awad’s individual Heptagonals victory.

But say what you want about the lack of titles — Penn Athletics has plenty to learn from and build off of the fall that was.

As always, the focus will be on football next fall. Even more so next year, as defensive coordinator Ray Priore takes over as head coach — the first new face at the helm in over 20 years.

Despite what many longtime fans think, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Penn football can’t be expected to win a title every season. While many, myself included, thought Penn would be a better team this year, issues across all phases of the game limited the Red and Blue.

Yet the Quakers started to show clear signs of improvement down the stretch (take the Harvard game for example), and it started with the younger members of the team.

Returning Alek Torgersen, Justin Watson, Ryan Kelly and the vast majority of the offensive line will help mitigate the losses of key playmakers on the offensive side. It’s tough to win when your quarterback is committing turnovers at Torgersen’s early season clip, but it’s clear that he’s not the same quarterback now as the one who took the season-opening snaps against Jacksonville.

Regardless, Penn football can only go up, and while Bagnoli will be sorely missed on the sidelines, change had to come eventually.

Across South Street at Rhodes Field, men’s soccer now faces its future without one of its all-time top scorers in graduating senior Duke Lacroix. The Quakers put up another strong season on the pitch, but timely goals tripped them up in their pursuit of a repeat.

As coach Rudy Fuller said during the season, soccer is a game won inside the boxes. If you turn around a few plays here or there, a defensive misstep or a shot off the cross bar and suddenly it’s a different year.

It’s a lesson the team can take moving forward, and one that the returning players certainly won’t forget. And it’s that returning core that will be key to the team’s success.

Throughout the season, junior Forrest Clancy emerged as a tertiary scorer for Penn, while freshmen midfielders and backs impressed from their opening game. Sophomore forward Alec Neumann continued to impress and gives the Quakers that all-important scoring punch up at the top of the field.

The Red and Blue will bring in one of their strongest recruiting classes next year and should contend once again, keeping this season’s lessons in mind.

On the women’s side of the pitch, it was a perfect storm of injuries, inexperience and, as coach Darren Ambrose said after a loss to Dartmouth, players not “perform[ing] at the level they’re expected to.”

But out of all that comes one clear bright spot: the experience garnered by younger players.

Freshman Juliana Provini ended the year as the team’s leader in points, as the freshman class combined for 28 starts.

In spite of the injuries and, at one point, the benching of key players, the Quakers finished in the middle of the conference and aren’t too many steps from contending for a title.

So yes, it may have seemed like a lost season for some fall programs, but the Quakers have plenty of lessons to take away.

Don’t look at this past season for its (lack of) titles. Look at it for its promise.

It may not have been quite the fall to remember that Grace Calhoun had hoped for, but across the program seeds were sown for future success.

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