football

Penn football is one of three Penn teams seeking to defend an Ivy League title this year — in fact, Tre Solomon's Quakers will chase their third in a row. 

Photo: Ilana Wurman

Welcome back to school! You may just be getting back, totally unprepared for the semester to start, but athletes from seven of Penn's varsity programs have been training for the fall for months. 

Some are chasing their first title in years; others are defending their hard-won hardware. For Penn's teams like men's cross country, football and sprint football, the next few months are all about matching last year's glory. Meanwhile, upstarts like volleyball and soccer will seek to break the mold of recent seasons and rise to top-tier status.

There's a lot to catch up on, but here's an overview of the seven Penn Athletics programs in competition this fall:


Cross Country

It's hard to follow up a season like last year's. The men won their first Ivy League title since 1973, while the women made their first-ever appearance at the NCAA Championships, placing 24th in the nation. It was, in no uncertain terms, historic.

The biggest problem facing the program is the inevitable one: graduation. 2017 graduates Nick Tuck and Brendan Shearn featured in the Quakers' top three at every meet in their final season, while the women lost all three of their top trio in Ashley Montgomery — who finished 13th at the NCAA Championships — and the Whiting twins, Cleo and Clarissa.

It isn't all bad news for the Red and Blue, though. Rising sophomore Erin Feeney should continue to improve after a breakout freshman season, while senior Abby Hong will provide the women steady leadership from the front. The men will also have a seasoned senior to lead the pack in Patrick Hally. 

All eyes will be on the teams in the first few weeks to see if 2017 will be a rebuilding season, but both the men and women have shown capacity to surpass expectations before. They've tended to finish races stronger than they start them — see the Ivy Championships in 2016 for reference — so time will tell whether they find a similar approach to the season as a whole. 

Football

In many ways, the build-up to the 2017 season is similar to that of the last two campaigns. Ranked third in the preseason poll for the third time in a row, the Quakers managed to upset expectations to win shares of back-to-back championships in 2015 and 2016. But can Penn beat the odds again?

So much will depend on the quarterback situation. It's unclear who is expected to fill the position vacated by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Alek Torgersen, and it's unclear if anyone will be able to fill Torgersen's shoes. Preseason All-American Justin Watson has the top receiver slot locked down to provide the next quarterback as much stability as he can. 

But other areas of the team enjoy continuity from 2016's triumphs. The Quakers return more All-Ivy honorees on defense than any other rival. Seniors Louis Vecchio and Colton Moskal, alongside junior Sam Philippi, will form the core of what should be a league-leading defense. 

Penn's one Ivy League loss last year came in a lame 28-0 shutout at Princeton. If a third straight title is to be had, the Quakers will have to rely on solid defense if the offense takes time to gel, meaning that they'll likely need something like a 28-0 scoreline themselves over their biggest rivals, the Tigers and the Crimson of Harvard. 

Field Hockey

Fresh off a 6-1 blowout at rival Princeton to conclude the 2016 season, this team will have no shortage of motivation as it seeks to snap a 13-year Ivy championship drought. It’s no secret that if the Quakers are to improve upon last season’s third-place finish, those efforts will start with first team all-everything senior forward Alexa Hoover, who already holds program records with 56 career goals and 131 assists. 

But fortunately for the Red and Blue, Hoover will have plenty of help returning from last year’s squad. All three of Penn’s reigning All-Ivy selections are back, with junior defender Paige Meily and sophomore midfielder Alexa Schneck joining Hoover, as nine of 11 starters return. Though Penn’s non-conference schedule includes the two most recent NCAA champions (Delaware and Syracuse), the goal is clearly Ivy title or bust for a squad that, on paper, looks ready to finally break that threshold.

Men's Soccer

Last season ended on a very odd note, with the Quakers' Senior Night being cancelled following the termination of Harvard's season due to a sexist scandal. Penn instead had to play Columbia in a match at a neutral site to make up for the cancelled seventh Ivy League contest. 

The Quakers lost, falling to fifth in the conference table, when just two games earlier, a league title was still a possibility. 

But in many ways, there is cause for optimism in Penn's ranks this fall. Having only graduated two seniors, both of whom have capable replacements, the team should only improve with time. A huge freshman class should also add a good deal of depth to the squad in the event of any injuries.

Strong play on the flanks from Jerel Blades, Dami Omitaomu and Sam Wancowicz boosted by a wall in between the sticks in goalie Etan Mabourakh could drive the Quakers to newfound heights in 2017.

Women's Soccer

Nicole Van Dyke's team has a remarkably stingy defense. At points last year, the Quakers were near the top of the entire NCAA in the goals-allowed ranking. 

But this season will be about building attack on top of their sturdy defense. In 2016, Penn scored one or no goals in six of its seven Ivy League games. Conceding just five goals in seven conference matches was good enough to secure fourth in the league, but the Red and Blue will need more to rise up the table again in 2017. 

Junior Sasha Stephens and sophomore Emily Sands will lead the attack, with an extra year under their belts to develop their chemistry due to pay off when Ancient Eight play kicks off in a month. A 1-0 win over West Chester to start their season last week suggests things are looking good for the Red and Blue.

Sprint Football

After winning the national championship last year, expectations are very high for Penn sprint football this season, but it's not clear if they're the odds-on favorites to repeat. Army and Navy are always solid and both nearly took the Quakers down last year. Of course, it also doesn't help that Mike McCurdy, the back-to-back Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL) MVP, has graduated, but sophomore Eddie Jenkins showed a lot of promise as a dual-threat in his limited snaps last season, so there is reason to hope there won't be a huge drop-off. 

Barring any major surprises, this year should be another three-headed race between Penn, Army and Navy, and the addition of the CSFL’s first ever playoff should only make things more exciting.

Volleyball

New season, same team. Penn volleyball didn't have a single senior on last year's squad, so the entire group returns for 2017 (with a freshman class added to boot). The real change comes at the top, where longtime coach Kerry Carr has been replaced by the new hire, Katie Schumacher-Cawley. 

The six seniors, including 2016 captains Kendall Covington and Sydney Morton, will be complimented by younger players such as junior Courtney Quinn and sophomore Caroline Furrer, who both starred on last year's team. The 10-16 mark (5-9 in Ivy play) a year ago was a disappointment, but the players always referred to the squad as a 'two-year team," and now they'll have a chance to make good in their second act following a very extended halftime.

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