Halloween is the time for instilling fear in others, and Penn women’s soccer looks set to terrify all who stand in its way.
Its first victim? A less-than-menacing Brown team on the road.
The Red and Blue (6-3-5, 1-1-3 Ivy) travel to Providence on Saturday to visit the Bears (5-7-1, 1-3-1) in its penultimate Ivy matchup of the season. Coming off a strong victory against Yale, the high-flying Penn squad feels confident of their chances against Brown.
A simple glance at the results this season explains why the team is feeling so sure of itself at the moment. After a long streak of goalless games and draws, the Quakers have burst to life with several impressive results in succession, aside from a bizarre aberration against Dartmouth two weeks ago.
“Our style of play is good,” coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “We’re out-shooting people, we’re getting tons of opportunities, we’re scoring goals and now we’ve got the Ivy win. You know, we’ve only lost to Harvard.”
Indeed, the team is looking to build upon those mid-season draws by collecting some late-season wins — the Red and Blue are now eyeing a late surge up to third place in the Ivy League. Heading into this weekend’s tilt with Brown, Penn sits only one point and a couple goals away from the bronze spot, currently occupied jointly by Cornell and Columbia.
“That’s the goal,” Van Dyke said of finishing third. “We’re trying to control what we can control. Between third and fourth, it’s going to be pretty tight.”
But with things seeming to click at long last for her team, Van Dyke remains confident that her squad can do what it takes to achieve its goal.
“We’re continuing to build on our identity and the style that we want to play,” she continued. “Now I think we’re starting to fire on all cylinders, and now everyone has the idea of what it’s supposed to look like.”
This process is normal with new coaches: She will bring in her new philosophy, and it will take time for her players to adapt to the new way of playing. Sometimes it takes as long as a season or two, but Van Dyke’s women, especially on the attacking side, are now getting the message.
The first-year coach’s instructions to her forwards are relatively straightforward: press the defense high up, and win the ball quickly. However, her directions took a while to be fully realized.
“The high pressure has changed our game completely,” senior back Caroline Dwyer said. “Me, [freshman] Sasha [Stephens], and [junior Olivia] Blaber up top have tried to just press the defense. It’s so much easier to score if you are already in the final third when you win the ball.”
Indeed, Dwyer scored her first-ever collegiate goal in her fourth and final season playing for the Red and Blue against Yale last weekend after pressing the defense and winning the ball. After a strong showing against the Elis, Dwyer and the whole team feel confident that they could now beat any team in the division.
“If you talk to anybody on the team, we’re disappointed we only have two games left,” Van Dyke said. “If you’re not competing for the championship, some kids usually start to check out. But that’s a testament to this group and this year that they’ll linger on the field [after practice] if we don’t kick them off.”
That dedication and ambition is the hallmark of all championship-winning sides. And while it may not be in contention for the Ivy title this season, the squad will certainly carry its current form through the final matches and into next year.
And if current form is anything to go by, it should be a frightening weekend for the Bears’ defense.
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