The moment the whistle blew, it was off to the races for Penn women’s soccer.
The Quakers managed to put up three goals in the first seven minutes while paying a visit to American on Tuesday in their 4-0 win over the Eagles.
Getting things started was senior Tahirih Nesmith, who banged in a corner kick after only a minute and a half of play, grabbing an early lead for the Quakers (6-2-1, 1-1 Ivy). It was then sophomore Sasha Stephens’ turn, as she contributed two of her own, via a long-range screamer in the second minute and precision strike in the seventh. Penn coasted past the Eagles (1-12-1) from this point, only pausing for freshman Emma Loving to knock home her classmate Emily Sands’ cross in 56th.
This scoring spree is not new to the Quakers, as they left Ithaca, N.Y., after blanking Cornell to the tune of 5-0 on Friday. Coach Nicole Van Dyke has put an emphasis on the importance of a quick start, and her team has delivered, with 16 of their 21 goals scored in the first half.
“I think that’s really been one of our goals every game, and we talk about it a lot. We have to start out strong and put our stamp on the game, that way we dictate how we want to play and not adapting to the other teams,” Van Dyke said. “And it’s been with different people in different games, so that makes us even more dangerous.”
Stephens, who served in the ball for the first goal and now sits in first for points with 11, echoed her coach’s sentiment.
“I think that we come into the game with a lot of confidence and energy, so that allows us to create a lot of opportunities in the beginning which leads to more goals. Our confidence from past games, our coaches, and teammates helps to create a lot of excitement for each game and gets us scoring often and early,” Stephens said.
Part of the new striking corps is actually the defense, as Van Dyke has implemented a highly successful wingback system where they play a crucial role in springing the team into offense.
“We attack a lot with our outside backs, and encourage them to get forward, which in turn pins teams in and provides a lot of freedom for other players. We want our players to have an attacking mindset, but to be tough and gritty defensively,” she said. “I think that’s a testament to our team that there’s not just one person who can score, so from a scouting standpoint it makes it tough to know what we’re doing.”
The potential drawback to that method of getting forward is one can be exposed to a quick counterattack by a well-organized team. However, Stephens dismissed this concern as her back line is more than capable of regaining shape.
“Our outside backs have a lot of pace and are very fit, so if they do lose the ball they get back or we cover for them, so that’s not really an issue for us.”
One of the most impressive stat lines of the game was that every player dressed on the sidelines saw game time, a testament to the dominating performance. As mid-week games pop up in the schedule, coach explained the importance of tactical subbing.
“Whenever we can put away a game that early, it allows us to rest some of the starters, just because they play the most minutes, and will be the group starting Saturday against Columbia. But it also allows us to get real game time for players who do contribute a lot but might not necessarily get the amount of minute that equate in game fitness,” Van Dyke said. “The last two games we’ve been able to do that and I think that will really help us throughout in conference play.”
The story line this season has been the sheer dominance of the freshman class, as the second and third spots on the points ladder belong to rookies. Loving, who now leads the team with five goals to her name, asserted that everyone is fully integrated and ready for any challenge.
“I think we fit in pretty well, the atmosphere of the team is great, and everyone just sees us as team players at this point,” she said. “We have a lot of positive energy going for us right now, so we’re taking all the things we’re doing in practice and they’re really working and paying off in the games.”
Looking ahead, the team will have loads of positives to take with them from this blowout when they invite Columbia to Rhodes Field this weekend for an Ivy League showdown.
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