The women’s soccer program just released their schedule for the 2016 season, but you’d be forgiven if you thought they posted the wrong one.
This season’s list of fixtures looks remarkably similar to last season’s, head coach Nicole Van Dyke’s first in charge of the Red and Blue.
And while the reasons for that are mainly contractual and logistical, there are a few new faces on slate for the Quakers that should give a fresh look to the season, though in the comfort of mostly familiar foes.
The team’s first match of the year will be against Maryland, who they haven’t played since the 20th century, on Aug. 28. The Terps may not be a Big Ten powerhouse, but in a competitive conference, even a mid-level team like Maryland can be extremely dangerous against non-conference opposition.
One game to watch out for will be the Quakers’ final game before Ancient Eight play begins in September. A University City duel against Drexel on Sept. 18 should be a very entertaining clash. When the neighbors and local rivals last met in 2013, Penn won 1-0 in a double-overtime thriller. The rematch of that game will set the Red and Blue off to their Ivy League schedule, which begins with a tough fixture at home to Harvard on Sept. 24.
Of the 15 games to be played this season, eight will occur on Rhodes Field in Penn Park, giving the Quakers a slight home field advantage for the season. Their first three games will be at home, but four of their last five will be played out on the road in a tough series of away matches.
The team will finish the regular season with a potential title-decider at Princeton on Nov. 5. If Penn can find itself in the mix for the title by then, as the Tigers likely will be, then it should be a high-stakes match worth watching.
Last season’s conference play was slightly disappointing for Van Dyke’s team, which let in only five goals in seven games, yet scored just three.
“Last year was a whole lot of learning our players, and establishing a style of play,” Van Dyke said. “Now we’re able to focus a little bit more on fine-tuning players’ roles. We’ll need to create more chances in the final third. That’s our goal — being more patient in front of goal.”
The team routinely outshot opponents in 2015, but the chances were never quite perfect — somewhat rushed, in Van Dyke’s opinion. But despite outshooting their opposition, the Quakers endured three nil-nil draws from seven Ivy League matches.
Those three ‘nil-nillers’ were emblematic of their season, in which they finished fifth despite recording just a single win. A rock solid defense, which ranked 19th in all of NCAA Division I in goals conceded for the season, could not provide the platform for a high-calibre attack needed to win games.
It often takes coaches a year to settle into a new program, because it takes time for the players to get to know the system and also for the coaches to get to know the players. Van Dyke acknowledged this when reflecting on her first year in charge.
“Defensively, we did a very good job — 19th in the country — and that had not only to do with our press, but we were able to limit the time of possession that our opponents had the ball,” Van Dyke said. “We’re gonna try to take a little bit more risks this season in order to create more chances and score more goals.”
By sending more numbers forward in possession, taking risks to create chances, and trusting their rock-solid defense, the women’s soccer team could have quite the successful season as Van Dyke completes the construction of her new system.
Fans will have to wait until Aug. 28 to get their first glimpse of the team’s progress. Over the course of the season, many will hope those results come in time for a better finish in Ivy play.
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