On Tuesday night under the lights at Rhodes Field, something clicked for Penn’s embattled women’s soccer squad.
Heading into Tuesday’s tilt with American, the Quakers (5-3-4) had only scored one goal in their previous six matches. In every one of those games, except their 2-0 loss to Harvard on Sept. 26, Penn outshot their opponents.
Clearly the offensive spark was there. It just wasn’t quite igniting the fuse, failing to translate into fireworks — or goals on the scoreboard. All that pent up offense and frustration poured out in a flurry of goals as the Red and Blue routed the Eagles (4-8-2), 5-0.
“I think in California they got some rain, so the drought’s over,” joked coach Nicole Van Dyke of her team’s blow-out win. “There’s times when you feel like you’re not good, and you know, we can’t score a goal. But we turned around and had a growth mindset.”
In the first 26 minutes of play, Penn buried four goals in American’s net. The Red and Blue wasted no time with their goal-scoring barrage, as senior back Paige Lombard headed the ball past American’s Courtney Bembenek in the second minute after a well-placed corner kick from freshman forward Sasha Stephens.
Stephens would go on to add two more points to the stat sheet of her own just minutes later, scoring off the crossbar in the 10th minute and again in the 22nd minute, heading the ball past a throng of Eagles defenders.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m finally back in the groove, we’re finally back in the groove!’” said Stephens of her performance. Despite scoring two goals in her first collegiate game against Seton Hall, the freshman had been dormant on offense ever since.
“It is a great confidence booster,” Stephens said. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for so many games, and finally it’s back.”
Just four minutes after Stephens’ second goal, junior midfield Lauren Petite channeled her inner Carli Lloyd and put a shot from a distance above Bembenek’s outstretched fingers for Penn’s fourth goal of the first half.
Given the team’s comfortable lead, Van Dyke opted to substitute goalkeepers in the 37th minute, giving freshman Kiera Towell a chance in goal. The rookie keeper made one save in the second half for a solid collegiate debut.
When the referee’s whistle blew to sound off the start of the second half, the 11 Penn players on the field were completely different than the 11 women who started the game. Such an extensive substitute shakeup might give some coaches pause, but Van Dyke trusted in her team’s depth.
“Usually when you sub on a group of eleven players you worry, what’s it going to be like? But those kids play together every single day so you could tell they have cohesion and the style of what we’re looking for,” she said. “A lot of kids played tonight that have been working really hard, and they came on and the level didn’t change.”
In the second half, Penn would score a fifth and final goal, as junior midfield Lindsay Sawczuk skipped a free kick past a pack of American defenders for an unassisted goal in the 62nd minute.
Saying that this Penn team looked fundamentally different than the team that stormed onto the field in its past six nearly scoreless games would be misleading. For every one of those games with disappointing results, the Quakers looked rock solid on offense. Tuesday’s match was more of the same. The only thing that looked different was the scoreboard — gone were the gaping zeros on Penn’s side.
“The thing is the final third is the hardest part of the game,” Van Dyke said. “We’ve been doing some really good things in the defensive third and the middle third, and we kind of needed that to click.”
The timing could not be better for the Red and Blue, as their conference slate continues on Saturday against Dartmouth. Although the Big Green has yet to tally an Ivy win in 2015, they boast one of the most productive offense in the league with 29 goals for in 12 games, second only to Princeton, who is currently tied with Harvard for first place.
The drought is over. Now it’s just a waiting game until Saturday to see if the goals will continue to rain down.
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