Welcome to the big league.
That’s what this weekend looks like for Penn women’s soccer as they begin the Ivy season by hosting Harvard.
The red-hot Quakers (4-1-1) have had a phenomenal non-conference season, picking up impressive wins and a head full of steam as the Ancient Eight season gets underway. Notable victories include a dominant 5-0 victory over Robert Morris, a comfortable 2-0 win over Towson and a 2-1 upset over a previously undefeated Lafayette.
Goals have been in abundance for Penn coach Nicole Van Dyke’s squad, as they outscored opponents 11-2 in the past five games, with their only loss coming back in late August against Maryland. After picking up 13 points from an available 18, she attributed the successes to her players’ work ethics.
“I think we have a group that just come out, and work and train hard. They are students of the game with video and analyzing themselves, and they really enjoy being challenged,” she said.
One of the most noticeable similarities in those wins is the production of the freshman class. Collectively, they have made quite an impact, tallying five goals together and all but 12 minutes of goalkeeping. In particular, freshman Emily Sands, now a mainstay in the lineup, has routinely found herself on the scorecard.
Her play was worthy of the Ivy League Rookie of the Week award this past week, after the forward played a role in three of the four Penn goals against Lafayette and Delaware.
“I think it just motivates me more to keep working for my team and trying to play the best that I can to bring an Ivy League championship back to this team,” Sands said.
At present, she sits tied for first on the team with points at six, coming from two goals and two assists. Coincidentally, the other player with six is fellow freshman Emma Loving.
Regarding Sands, Van Dyke certainly recognizes the raw ability of her new forward, also crediting the team’s interplay with the front line.
“She is a very talented player obviously. She is right and left footed, she can score goals and is very good on the dribble,” Van Dyke said. “What makes her even more effective is that she has a full cast behind her. She is an attacking-minded player. We needed that last year.”
It’s not always the case that a new player can gel with an older system of tactics and players, but Sands believes her teammates have had her back from day one.
“I think just all the love I’ve felt from the team has made me feel like a part of the team since I first got here. Everyone is really encouraging and it just helps me play really well,” Sands said. “It was definitely weird at first because I’ve been playing with the same team for the past 10 years, but everyone has been really welcoming. The team is something special, and I’ve never felt out of place.”
Senior Paige Lombard, who netted against Towson last Friday, echoed her new teammate’s sentiments.
“They’re all great girls — just outgoing and really skilled soccer players. It’s been a really smooth transition welcoming them into the team. They’ve made some pretty big impacts already so I’m excited to see where they’ll take the program,” Lombard said.
With non-conference warmups a relic of the past, Penn will have to prepare themselves for new daunting challenges, like an imposing Crimson (5-3) who are coming off of three consecutive wins over the likes of Villanova and Providence.
Regarding the intensity of Ivy League play, Lombard is assured that her team is ready for what’s ahead.
“I think we’re confident coming into it, we’ve had some great games and have been playing really well together,” the senior said. “Obviously it’s conference play, so it means a little bit more but we’re just taking it as any other game. We’re still improving in practice and focusing on ourselves and our play.”
When they are only seven conference games, each seems to carry a little extra weight for a team looking at lofty goals such as tournament play down the road.
“We recognize that in order to get to the [NCAA] Tournament, you have to win an Ivy League championship, and that is our objective. We want to come out, get a fast start and do what we’ve been doing by scoring early on teams,” Van Dyke said.
With their first real test coming to Rhodes Field on Saturday afternoon, the Quakers will hope to find a way to turn all their momentum into three big points.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.