All teams here at Penn have seniors who are tasked to both lead the team and set the groundwork for future success through their mentorship of the younger players. In most cases, this responsibility falls upon the shoulders of many. On this year's men’s soccer team, there are only three.
Captains Joe Swenson, Austin Kuhn and Sam Wancowicz are the team’s three elder statesmen, and while having this few seniors on a roster seems unusual, the Quakers are no stranger to having a youth-saturated team—you need only look to the 2016 roster to find the last time there were only three seniors.
On the surface, their graduation greatly impacts the team’s dynamic. Matt Poplawski and the prolific Alec Neumann scored nearly half of the team’s 25 total goals and tallied 30% of the shots on goal last year. The third 2016 senior, Nick Savino, played an important role as a backup and mentor to the burgeoning now-junior goalkeeper Etan Mabourakh.
Wancowicz, however, is not concerned by the shoes those three left to fill.
“The culture has definitely changed over the past twelve months,” the captain said. “We’ve lost a couple players, but we’re a stronger group now. The camaraderie has been better than ever, and we feel more like a team than in the past three years that I’ve been here.”
This year’s triumvirate of seniors all have a unique and important role to play on the new-look squad.
Wancowicz figures to play an essential role on the offense side of the ball. Last season, he was responsible for the second most goals on the team, scoring four himself and assisting on three. However, perhaps a just as important role on the team lies off the pitch — as a leader.
“Being captain, you have to set an example for the younger kids coming in — doing the right things on and off the field,” he said.
He also recognized that it was not his responsibility alone, as his two fellow seniors also will need to be role models for the 11 freshmen and seven sophomores on the team.
“It doesn’t just lie on my shoulders,” he said. “The older guys — we have to set the tone… for how our season’s going to look.”
Joe Swenson is potentially the team’s strongest presence in the midfield, and is a true facilitator. His four assists last season, the most on the team, demonstrate his vision in the middle of the pitch, and filling the void created by Neumann’s graduation will start with him.
Last season, Austin Kuhn was the impact substitute that is essential to any soccer team’s success. He appeared in 16 matches, starting six of them, and made his impact felt most when he scored a late equalizer against Lehigh in the 86th minute to secure a crucial point for the team. As a senior now, his experience and game-changing presence figures to be even more involved.
Despite what was a difficult group of seniors to lose, the Red and Blue are in good hands with Wancowicz, Swenson, and Kuhn leading the charge.
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