On a day when everything else in the Ivy League went right for Penn women’s soccer, one moment was enough to break the spirits of the Red and Blue.
After battling league-leading Columbia for 99 scoreless minutes on a rainy night at Rhodes Field, Penn let the game slip through its fingers by conceding a goal late in overtime, squandering an opportunity to rise to the top of the conference.
With both Harvard and Princeton dropping valuable points this weekend, the Columbia (6-4-2, 3-0-0 Ivy) contest took on even greater significance for the Red and Blue (6-3-1, 1-2-0), as a win against the Lions would put them in solid title contention.
In the first half, however, neither team could do more than rattle the post. In the 10th minute, sophomore midfielder Allie Trzaska’s shot from 30 yards out caught Columbia’s senior keeper Allison Spencer wrong-footed, but the strike caromed of the crossbar and out of play.
And after an early miscue that almost put Columbia on the board, freshman keeper Kitty Qu made two spectacular saves in quick succession, denying forward Emma Anderson and parrying her shot off the post and away.
The first half also featured something that has become increasingly uncommon in recent games; a team outshooting Penn. Columbia tallied five shots on goal to Penn’s two and was able to maintain positive possession, preventing the early attacking onslaught that has become a staple of Penn’s playing style.
“Unfortunately we gave them 45 minutes, and we just can’t do that in conference play,” Penn coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “This is the part of the season where we have to play our game, and we are a team that starts fast and we didn’t do that tonight.”
In the second half though, Penn seemed to shrug off some of the rust clinging to its offense, beginning to press the Lions more effectively. Penn’s outside backs sophomore Cami Nwokedi and senior Tahirih Nesmith in particular both began to get involved higher up the field as Columbia’s wide players began to tire, helping contribute to a 5-0 shot differential in Penn’s favor in the second half.
However, none of these attempts on net troubled the Lions, and as the rain began to fall with greater intensity, it seemed clear the game would need overtime to reach a resolution.
A Penn corner kick and subsequent scramble in the box with less than 30 seconds left in the half almost changed that, but a decisive block and a few desperate headers were enough for the Columbia defense to clear the danger and send the game to extra time.
The first overtime period was unremarkable for eight minutes, as both teams seemed worn down and neither did anything to truly trouble their opponent’s defense.
Then, with less than a minute left in the first overtime, Penn conceded a corner, which Lions’ junior forward Natalie Neshat won a free header on. Qu managed to get a hand to it, but the pace was too much, and the Columbia bench stormed the field, having started Ivy League play 3-0 for the first time in program history.
“We paid the price,” Van Dyke said. “I felt like we got better as the game went on and we outplayed them in the second half, but we made a mistake. We were going at them but in that key moment we made a mistake, but that was no way indicative of the way we played tonight.”
Despite the heartbreaking ending, Penn will have to get back on the field quickly. Following a home game on Tuesday against Delaware, the Red and Blue will take a trip up to Hanover next weekend in what has become a must win game if the Quakers hope to continue to challenge for an Ivy title.
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