This time, they’re ready.
Out of all the seasons in Penn men’s soccer coach Rudy Fuller’s recent memory, no squad has arrived at preseason training in such good shape as this year’s.
It’s no surprise why — everyone was playing this summer. From sophomore winger Dami Omitaomu scoring for and assisting Nashville SC in the South all the way up to junior fullback Erumuse Momoh protecting the goal for Seacoast United in New Hampshire, the players got real experience this summer.
“It was a really good summer for us,” Fuller remarked. “It was the first time I think I can remember where everybody was placed with a team, getting good minutes, good experience and staying sharp over the summer....from a fitness perspective, and from a sharpness perspective, we were in a really good place on day one.”
Now with a couple of weeks of practice under its belt, the team will kick off its season on Friday night with a trip to Monmouth in New Jersey, before they come home to open things up at Rhodes Field on Sunday against Bowling Green.
If last season was a step forward for the Quakers, 2017 looks to feature lunges forward on their part. Besides the players’ physical improvements, Fuller cited intangibles, such as chemistry, as one of the biggest differences from 2016’s team.
A 2-0 exhibition win over West Chester last week already showcased their potential for the season.
“We controlled the momentum of the game and dominated from the get-go,” senior captain Sam Wancowicz said. “We worked the ball around really well, but we were just a little shady in the final third...we could have been sharper in the final third, but we scored a couple of good goals.”
The promising start indicated that maybe the team won’t miss the departed first-team All-Ivy striker Alec Neumann, who graduated in the spring. Along with the also-graduated midfield anchor and vocal leader Matt Poplawski, Penn lost a couple of key pieces that will need to be replaced.
The two departed starters are more than counterbalanced, however, by the improvement of the returning core of the team, and a giant freshman class of 11, which will add depth — and potentially more — to the mix.
“I have to give our older guys credit,” Fuller said. “They’ve worked really hard to set an example, explain the standards and expectations, and the freshmen have come in humble and hungry. They’ve hit the ground running, and they fit in seamlessly with the group.”
Playing Monmouth and Bowling Green won’t be a new experience just for the rookies of the roster — the Quakers have faced neither side in the past four years. And though they may be unfamiliar opponents, Wancowicz says he isn’t really worrying about them.
“We know they’re two good opponents, but we’re more focusing on ourselves this week. We’re just gonna work hard, and if we do what we need to do, we’re gonna get the job done and get two results.”
In 2016, Penn needed until its fifth game to record a win. And the year before that, the team needed until its seventh. While the Quakers will likely look for quality play more than just a win, they can rest assured that this year brings more promise for it than any other in recent memory.
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