Only four members of the current Penn women’s soccer squad remember what it feels like to beat Harvard.
During those four players’ freshman season playing for the Red and Blue in 2012, Penn knocked off a menacing Harvard team, 1-0, with a clutch header from 2014 captain Kaitlyn Moore with just 3.9 seconds remaining in regulation.
Harvard entered the game sitting pretty as the defending Ivy champions. The Crimson’s loss to Penn set the tone for their season, as the team finished fourth in the Ancient Eight, the only time since 2010 that Harvard has not won the conference title.
This year, the story is quite similar. Heading into the Ivy opener, the Crimson (2-5-1) look to defend their Ivy title from 2014, and, based on preseason scouting, they appear to be the team to beat, a sentiment which Penn (4-1-2) is fully aware.
“We all know it’s a big game,” coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “We all know we want to compete for an Ivy League championship, so that all starts on Saturday.”
Penn enters the weekend coming off of two consecutive double-overtime draws against VCU and Towson last week. In those games, the Quakers proved they can battle through a full 90 minutes of game play — and then some. Although the scoreboard may not show it, Penn’s offense has been dominant lately, as the Quakers outshot their opponents last week, 17-12 and 13-10, respectively. The team’s trouble revolves around converting those offensive efforts into tangible points and landing their shots in the back of the net.
While Penn’s offensive attack does not revolve exclusively around any one player, the same cannot be said of Harvard. A big factor behind the team’s status as Ivy favorites falls on the shoulders of Midge Purce. In 2015, the junior forward was the only player from the Ivy League to be named to the MAC-Herman Award Watch List, women’s soccer’s equivalent of the Heisman trophy.
While Purce will certainly test the Quakers’ backfield come Saturday, Van Dyke is confident in her team’s abilities.
“[Midge] is an incredible player, but we also have an All-American outside back in Caroline Dwyer,” she said. In 2014, Dwyer was also named to the watch list for the MAC-Herman Award, but her season was cut short due to injury. This season, however, Dwyer is fully recovered and has anchored Penn’s defense.
“We’ve got a defense that has not given up that many goals,” said Van Dyke. “I think we’ve done a great job of keeping the ball out of the back of the net, and that’s the ultimate goal for our back four, it’s to continue to get shutouts.”
On Saturday, however, the Quakers will not be able to rely on senior goalkeeper Kalijah Terilli, who sustained an injury during Penn’s road trip through South Carolina two weekends ago.
Even though she hasn’t been in the net in recent practices, Van Dyke has noticed that Terilli is omnipresent. “She’s done an incredible job of maintaining her impact on the team,” Van Dyke said.
With that being said, the Harvard tilt provides some of Penn’s less experienced goalies the perfect opportunity to step up and prove themselves on the pitch. Indeed, with Saturday’s game being the first conference game for the Quakers against what will likely be their toughest Ancient Eight rival of the year, the stakes could not be higher.
It’s not just the goalies on the team that understand just how difficult pulling off a win on Saturday will be. It’s the freshmen that get butterflies in their stomachs when they read the Crimson’s scouting reports. It’s the sophomores and juniors whose memories of Harvard games past burn with disappointment. It’s the seniors who ache to get back to the feeling of victory they tasted briefly in 2012.
“We’re just going to get ourselves completely prepared, get ourselves in the mentality that we need to go 120 percent into every single tackle, win everything around the game,” senior captain Erin Mikolai said.
As one of the few players who has beaten Harvard in her collegiate soccer career, Mikolai knows that while an undefeated start to conference play isn’t impossible, it certainly is close. Because getting a win against the Crimson isn’t like other victories; it’s the kind upon which legacies are built.
To Mikolai and the rest of the Class of 2016, beating Harvard would be the perfect start to a senior Ivy League campaign. “It would mean the world, honestly,” she said.
“That would be the greatest feeling, to walk out as a senior and just crush all of our opponents like that.”
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