There’s something in the psyche of the athlete that’s unleashed when the rain starts falling, the sun disappears, the temperature plummets, and the field lights illuminate puffs of breath from red-faced players.
As fans bundled up and goalies hopped about for warmth, perhaps it was this air of intensity that fueled the tenacity for Penn women’s soccer to put the cap on a close match versus Army on Monday night.
A stubborn Army (4-11-2, 2-4-2 Patriot League)) defense held off six first-half attacks on goal by Penn (9-3-2, 2-2-1 Ivy), while the Black Knights’ only offensive threat during the first half came from a single shot. The Quakers’ domination of possession was clear; decisive midfield passes, careful and calculated plays, and vigorous offensive drive kept the ball in Penn’s control for much of the first half.
“We did a good job keeping possession tonight — we capitalized on some good transition moments between defense and offense,” coach Nicole Van Dyke said of her team’s overall control of the game. A strong finish off of the shot, however, was what the exhaustive back-and-forth field play was missing.
With nearly a third of the match behind them, the Quakers found the back of the net with a goal from senior captain and forward Olivia Blaber, who took advantage of a poor defensive clearance by Army.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to get to play at West Point. We got after it early to maintain the shutout on the road,” Blaber said.
This win adds to a season-long streak of away victories for Penn, further confirming their ability to adapt and run an energetic offense even after a stiffening two and a half hours on the road was greeted with torrents of unpredicted foul weather.
“We’re not really phased by stuff like that,” Van Dyke said. “When it’s this cold, you put an undershirt on and gloves on and you get out there.”
It was clear that Blaber and sophomore forward Cameo Hazelwood were far from fazed.
A beautiful run down the right sideline by Blaber morphed into a cross to find Hazelwood, who stuck the finish for Penn’s second and last goal with 21 minutes to play in the second half.
“The cool thing about our team is that our energy never comes from just one person,” Blaber said. “On any given day, different people are stepping up. For a captain, that’s amazing, and that’s the kind of team you want to be a part of.”
Van Dyke testified to this diversity of energy by not hesitating to empty the entire bench during the second half, subbing often to allow breaks for starters and playing time for those who had been participating from the sideline.
“We were able to get everybody that’s able to play in. It’s a good opportunity to get some game experience for some players that maybe don’t start. It keeps everybody sharp ... and it’s always such an honor to play at West Point,” she said.
The Quakers commanded the pace throughout the remainder of the match, slowly eroding the energy and intensity of West Point’s military-grade athletic squad. The final score read 2-0 — evidence of the composure the entire team maintained under the pressure of a late-season road game coupled with far less-than-ideal playing weather.
“The rain seems to follow us,” Van Dyke commented.
If the nasty weather has anything to do with Penn’s recent successes, fans and fellow Quakers should be doing the rain dance before the women’s last two Ivy matches against Brown and Princeton.
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