It’s hard not to draw parallels.
In 2015, Penn women’s soccer started out 4-1-2 in non-conference play, scoring at a torrid pace thanks to a strong showing from a freshman forward. Then Ivy play hit, opening with a shutout loss to Harvard.
Here we are in 2016. After going 4-1-1 in non-conference contests — with freshmen Emily Sands and Emma Loving outpacing defenses left and right — the Crimson shut the Red and Blue out, scoring on a suspect penalty and swiping three points at Rhodes Field.
The Quakers (4-2-1, 0-1 Ivy) outshot Harvard (6-3, 1-0), 13-9, much as they were wont to do a year ago.
Statistically, on paper, it seems as though events are repeating themselves. Penn coach Nicole Van Dyke, understandably, feels differently.
“Last year, we’d outshoot 20 teams, we never looked like we were going to score a goal,” she said. “This year, even if we score two goals, we still have three, four, five opportunities that look like great opportunities.”
At the start of conference play, the Red and Blue found themselves in an awkward spot. Because of NSO and the logistics of scheduling, they played their first Ivy contest with two fewer games than almost every other team in the league.
Nonetheless, Penn now has two options. Either the Quakers can let themselves stay in the treads of 2015, or they can grow beyond last year’s foundation.
“We want to have a known identity,” senior defender Paige Lombard said. “When people watch us play, we want them all to say the same thing, ‘This is the kind of team they are.’”
This weekend offers the chance to pick the path for the rest of the year. Cornell awaits, a nice, low-hanging fruit for Van Dyke’s squad. The Big Red (3-5-1, 0-1) haven’t finished in the top half of the Ivy League since 1995. They’ve finished last 13 times in that span, including nine straight times from 2005-13.
“It’s almost like we finished the [Harvard] game like, ‘OK, I feel bad for Cornell,’ because we want to take it against Cornell,” Van Dyke said. “We don’t care who we’re playing. We just want to win games.”
In short, this game is entirely about Penn. If the Red and Blue are going to define the season instead of letting it define them, it will have to start this week.
That said, there’s plenty of confidence to go around.
“We’re gritty, but it’s more than that,” senior forward Olivia Blaber said. “We play good soccer.”
The Quakers have built internal faith on their growth from a year ago. They’ve changed, the Ivy League has changed and Van Dyke has had time to more fully implement her system.
A significant portion of that has revolved around the offense. Van Dyke alluded to the squad getting better at converting opportunities. Thus far, that has spelt out a more balanced spread of scoring.
Seven different players have found the net, and two more have added assists to the scoresheet, including defenders like Lombard and senior Riann Winget and midfielders like Sands and junior Erica Higa, and it has taken pressure off of the forwards.
“I can’t imagine what teams are saying about us, ‘Their whole team are goal scorers, watch out for everyone.’ I think it’s just awesome and is a testament to what we want our identity to be as such an all-around team,” Lombard said.
Perhaps it’s just internal facing, perhaps it reflects the truth. The Quakers say they’re more confident. The stats say they’re at risk of repeating what happened a year ago. Penn has six more Ivy games to reveal the answer. That starts with Cornell.
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