Country roads are taking Penn men's soccer away from home down to West Virginia.
Having gone a month since their last victory on Oct. 3, the Quakers hit the road again to face off against the Mountaineers for their final mid-week, non-Ivy match of the season. The Red and Blue (2-9-2) take on West Virginia (6-10-0) having just returned from Providence after falling to Brown, 2-1, on Saturday.
Despite the extensive travel over the past several days, there is little time for the team to dwell on its disappointing weekend loss to the Bears.
Coach Rudy Fuller noted that he is “glad [for] a quick turnaround.”
Though the Mountaineers are seemingly out of place among the Red and Blue's Ivy-dominated schedule since the end of September, the Quakers are no strangers to competing against a tough out-of-conference opponent at this stage in the season.
“The intention of the game in the schedule was it being against a quality opponent,” Fuller said. “Over the past two years, West Virginia has been a good team with a good RPI.”
Last year Penn hosted the Mountaineers at a similar juncture, but fell in a match at Rhodes Field, 1-0. Like most of the Quakers' non-conference opponents, West Virginia is no easy foe.
“They dropped a couple of games here recently,” Fuller said, noting that the Mountaineers are on a four-game losing skid. “But they are a very similar team to who we played last year at home and ended up losing [to] on the restart, so we expect a good game and a good environment.”
West Virginia comes into the game with only distant memories of what victory tastes like — similar to Penn, the Mountaineers have not won since a 3-0 victory over Penn State on Oct. 13.
For both squads, a win means little in their respective league rankings. But in looking to their ends of season, a win could be a significant morale booster, especially leading into each team’s final matches of the season.
But for the Red and Blue to end their slide, they need to be able to convert game control into more balls in the back of the net, something they were unable to do against Brown.
“We were in a really good spot against Brown and a good performance overall,” Fuller said. “But we were not able to put the game away with some opportunities after we got the first goal and were up 1-0.
“We had one or two goal opportunities early in the second half and really could have put the game to bed at that point. [But] we weren’t able to take advantage of those chances so it’s a learning experience for a lot of our younger guys.”
The Quakers' youth certainly factors into their experience this season, with so many players fresh to collegiate action nonetheless playing major minutes due to a plethora of injuries.
In 2014, Penn's matchup with West Virginia took a very different form — a dominant senior class accompanied by experienced younger members took the field for the Red and Blue. The current reality of Penn’s squad indicates that the players on the field make up a very different demographic while the Mountaineers have several returning players.
“Hopefully we are able to get off to a good start,” Fuller said. “[We need to] give ourselves an opportunity to get a goal on the board and look to finish the game off a little bit better than we did against Brown.”
Perhaps only then will West Virginia seem like almost heaven.
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