A season of tempests and droughts.
That was the volatile nature of Penn women’s soccer’s often-electrifying, often-frustrating 2015 campaign.
When preseason practices began, Quakers' coach Nicole Van Dyke knew she had a challenge on her hands. In addition to the nine new freshmen joining the squad, several other players were returning from injury and lacked the sharpness typically expected of a returning player.
These worries seemed to be groundless over the opening handful of games. Wins over Seton Hall, Temple, and Mt. Saint Mary’s gave the Quakers a 3-0 start for the first time since 2011. Despite the early success, there were still areas that needed improving for the Quakers to challenge in the Ivy League.
“Any time you get off to a quick start it’s exciting,” Van Dyke admitted. “But there’s always room for improvement. We learned a lot from those first few games.”
Paige Lombard would be a name that resurfaced countless times in 2015 when highlighting Penn’s top performers. The experienced defender anchored a unit that finished in the top 20 in the country in goals allowed.
“Paige is really good at challenging herself,” Van Dyke said. “But what I really think Paige does well is lead by example. She fires people up and gets the most out of her teammates.”
Stellar performances against USC-Upstate and VCU resulting in a win and a draw followed, and the Red and Blue appeared to be well on their way to a successful season.
But, as always, just when everything was going right, something went wrong. Namely, the Quakers stopped scoring.
Five consecutive games without a goal handed Penn three ties and two losses and rounded out a six-game winless streak that started with the VCU stalemate. Even worse, three of these games came against Ivy League opponents, putting the Quakers in a hole to start conference play. The scoreless streak demoralized a confident Red and Blue squad, as coaches and players alike scrambled to find an answer for the drought.
“With a short preseason, it’s hard to find that chemistry right away,” Van Dyke said. “We outshot almost everyone we played. It was all there; we were just waiting for the tipping point.”
“Even though it was midseason, we were still mixing things up a bit and trying to find our groove,” current sophomore forward and Penn’s 2015 leading scorer Sasha Stephens added.
After the painful stretch of goalless games that stretched over the better part of three weeks, respite finally came to the Quakers in the form of a 5-0 thrashing of American at home.
“Our performance that day was great,” then-freshman Allie Trzaska said. “We did a great job of keeping our heads up during our bad patch and American was the result of that.”
With the Red and Blue out of contention for the Ivy League crown, the last four conference games of the season were played out for pride and confidence heading into 2016, with a particularly enticing season finale against rivals and eventual conference champions Princeton.
Penn looked to be back in form against Dartmouth and Yale; the goals were flying in again, and the results were coming around as well in the form of a tie and win.
A loss to Brown put a damper on the Quakers’ undefeated streak and sent the Red and Blue into the last game against Princeton with one goal in mind – to end the season on a positive note.
Ninety minutes of blood, sweat and tears produced possibly the most impressive result of the season, a 0-0 tie against a team in Princeton that was fighting for a perfect Ivy League season and had won 11 games in a row.
With a positive end to 2015, the Quakers (6-4-6, 1-2-4) will be looking to build on the many successes of the season and produce a more consistently effective performance in 2016.
“We did a lot of things right last year,” Van Dyke said. “Take away that midseason scoring drought and we might be looking at this very differently. This year we feel even more confident that our offense will produce.
“The whole team buys into what we’re doing, and I think this year you’ll see it really start paying off.”
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