wsoccerSashaStephens

This weekend represents a homecoming for 13 members of Penn women's soccer, including junior forward Sasha Stephens, as the team travels across the country to California

Photo: Alex Fisher

After suffering two shutout losses to start the season, Penn women’s soccer is hoping that flipping coasts will mean flipping game outcomes.

The Red and Blue (0-2) will head to Southern California for a pair of non-conference games this weekend, as the Quakers will take on UC Irvine (1-1-1) on Friday before facing UC Riverside (1-2-1) Sunday night.

“Taking the trip is huge,” Penn coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “There’s so much to be said for travelling — making it a business trip that you learn from.”

“If you have great team chemistry, it will translate to the field,” junior forward Sasha Stephens added. “They go hand in hand.”

Stephens, like a whopping 13 members of the team’s roster, calls California home. Thus, the trip will present the team’s West Coast natives a rare chance to play in front of friends and family.

“My parents can now easily come see me play a game,” Stephens said. “There’s a lot of good soccer out in California.”

The game also provides a crucial chance to show off the Red and Blue to the next batch of possible California-bred Quakers.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for recruiting, getting the Penn brand in California,” Van Dyke said, noting that six other Ivy teams are making similar trips this fall. “We wanna do it every year, is possible.”

The Red and Blue have yet to score a goal in 2017, having dropped a pair of 1-0 decisions to La Salle and Lehigh. The team’s slow scoring start is largely attributable to the youth of the squad — three freshmen (as well as a pair of new transfers) started the season opener.

The Ivy League also starts its season significantly later than mostother Division 1 programs — many of whom played their season openers as early as Aug. 18, a setback which Van Dyke admits exacerbates the growing pains of having a such a young roster.

“Game fitness — you can’t replicate that in training. It doesn’t matter how much you run during the summer. The only way to get game-fit is to play games.”

As the team’s leading returning goalscorer, Stephens finds herself as a veteran leader in her penultimate college year, though she doesn’t see her tutelage as a one way street.

“They’ve helped me more than I helped them, almost. They’ve created a nice competitive atmosphere for everyone,” Stephens said. “We really push us to be better, and we push them to be better.

And while the trip will bring plenty of off-the-field benefits — a chance to reconnect with seldom-seen faces while getting plenty of relationship-building facetime with teammates, Van Dyke is quick to remind that the venture is, at the end of the day, business first.

“One of the things that our kids are learning right now is that every game, you have to be prepared,” the third-year coach said, dispelling the notion that the team’s approach differs for non-conference games. “You need to get enough rest, you need to have eaten well. That’s what we’re working on right now.

“So again, this will be a great learning tool.”

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