Forget about home-field advantage. On the road is where Penn women’s soccer thrives, as the Quakers extended their unbeaten stretch to 4-0-1 while traveling.
The Quakers narrowly pulled off a 1-0 victory up at Yale in New Haven on Saturday afternoon. Out in the wind and rain, the teams battled back and forth, with the Bulldogs (5-6-3, 1-3-1 Ivy) forcing freshman goalkeeper Kitty Qu into action five times amidst their 11 shots.
Penn (8-3-2, 2-2-1) weathered the storm, and the deadlock was finally broken in the 79th minute, courtesy of freshman Emily Sands' precise finish on a well-orchestrated corner from junior Erica Higa. With the clock ticking down, Yale’s freshman Aerial Chavarin appeared to have scored, but the goal was disallowed because of a foul, allowing Penn to wrap up all three points.
A win is a win, and Penn coach Nicole Van Dyke was certainly impressed with how her team managed to find a way through the heavy opposition, especially considering their far-fewer goals in the second half of matches this year.
“The reality of it is we didn’t play our best possession of the year. It was wet and a bit sloppy, and Yale was a bit chippy and physical, which sometimes takes away the beauty of the game,” she said. “We made sure to match that and capitalize on any chances we had. There was no special formula, we just needed to do better with the ball.”
The goal came off one of Penn’s four corner kicks, and the team took advantage of the dead ball to employ a little trickery to set the striker up for the shot.
“We talked all week about how any corner kick or set piece opportunity would be to our advantage, so we did something we’ve run a bunch of times, and Sands put it away,” Van Dyke said.
Sands had plenty of training for that attack plan but credited the setup to give her the open look.
“We practice that one a lot. It was a great pass by Higa, and I was just happy to finish it,” she said.
This was the Quakers’ seventh shutout this season, an indication of the success of the back line and shot-stopper thus far, and the trip to Yale was no exception.
“Kitty Qu made some exceptional saves tonight, keeping us in the game, and that’s what a good goalkeeper is supposed to do,” Van Dyke said.
One particular heart-stopping moment came when Yale’s freshman midfielder Geneva Decker sent a rocker destined for the top shelf from 25 yards out, but Qu soared to get fingertips on the ball and send it over the bar and into safety.
In discussing her increased workload in net, she emphasized the importance of not getting caught up thinking about any particular moment.
“[That save] really gave me a lot of confidence, but at the same time I need to refocus and think about the next play," she said. "For example the next play was a corner, so I was trying to focus on organizing everyone so we could preserve the shutout."
Some may have expected Penn to park the bus towards the end and settle with a point on the road, but coach ensured fans that will not be the case.
“I don’t think our mentality for the rest of the year is going to be that [taking a draw]. We know we’re capable of being one of the top teams in the conference,” Van Dyke said. “We made a few changes in the second half when Yale was having some success, but ultimately the last thing this team will do is settle for a tie at this point in the year. If we’re not gonna win conference, we’re gonna finish as high as we can. We’re not gonna stop fighting till the end.”
The end is coming near for the Red and Blue, who have only two Ivy league games left and a trip to Army on Monday for the rest of their 2016 campaign.
“We’re undefeated on the road and it builds on itself," Sands said. "We are gaining a lot of confidence now, going into Army, we’re really close as a team and we just wanna get back out there.”
With the form they're in on the road, Penn may not want to get off the bus anytime soon.
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