paigelombard

Senior Paige Lombard helps anchor a defense for Penn women's soccer that has allowed only seven goals on 74 shots this season.

Photo: Ananya Chandra / The Daily Pennsylvanian

If you’re going to a Penn women’s soccer game this year, don’t expect a high-scoring affair. The defense just won’t allow it.

A strong back end has been crucial in the Quakers’ success thus far this season, and it will surely play a big factor in this weekend’s key conference matchup against Dartmouth (6-5-0, 0-3-0 Ivy).

Coming off their sixth shutout of the season against Delaware State on Tuesday, the Red and Blue (7-3-1, 1-2-0) have compiled some impressive defensive stats so far. The squad is outscoring their opponents, 25-7, outshooting opponents, 156-74, and have only allowed more than one goal in just one game this season — the first of the year against Maryland. The defense has also helped out on the score sheet, accounting for four goals and three assists.

While some of this is certainly due to the offensive surge this year, the defense has certainly done more than their fair share. In both preventing goals and stimulating offensive attacks, the defensive unit has proven successful this season.

I think [the defense] has been really important,” Penn coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “It’s something that we built last season, it was kind of the foundation of just who we are. ... We’re aggressive, we’re really organized, we’re disciplined and I think we have a defending mentality that we’ve got to get the ball back as soon as we can because we want to keep the ball and we want to be in possession of it, just to limit the opposition’s opportunities.”

The progress from last season is certainly paying dividends this year, as several key pieces in this year’s unit got significant playing time last year. The Quakers retained three starting defenders from last year in captain Paige Lombard and now-sophomores Romie Boyd and Cami Nwokedi, as well as several seniors with plenty of experience in the program in Riann Winget and Tahirh Nesmith. While a few new pieces have been added this year, the core remains the same, which has certainly contributed to the unit’s overall success.

“I mean, it’s obvious that the more you play with people, the better chemistry you have, the more you know what their strengths are, what your strengths are, what their tendencies are,” Lombard said. “I think that just with time that only becomes clearer and clearer, you kind of get that second sense where you know what they’re going to do, so it always helps.”

Even more than just helping out the returning players, the continuity at the back line has provided Van Dyke with a unit that she knows she can trust.

“I think that whenever you have consistency and you add on top of that experience, I think they gain experiences from every game,” she said. “The leadership’s there, one of them is our captain. It’s nice that they’re older and we have a lot of returners who have played in the system. Consistency always helps.”

Despite the success so far, there is always room for improvement, and Van Dyke wants to see her team work on a few key aspects this weekend.

“I think we’ve done a really good job of not conceding a goal in a run of play, but we also need improvement when it comes to set pieces,” she said. “The games now are so tight and so challenging that you have to be super focused and super organized, and that’s an area of improvement we know we need to work on.”

On Saturday, the Quakers will travel up to Hanover to face a Dartmouth team that finds themselves in a rut. The Big Green started off their season well enough in non-conference play, but the squad has lost three straight conference games in which they have been shut out despite outshooting opponents, 26-23. With the Dartmouth offense struggling, this game presents yet another opportunity for the Penn defense to put together a solid effort.

The common adage goes that the best defense is a good offense, but the Quakers have done well to prove the reverse is just as true, and they look to continue to do so this weekend.

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