In the 16th century, explorer Juan Ponce De Leon went searching for the fountain of youth. In 1999, the Penn men's soccer team seems to have found it. In a 2-0 loss to Cornell over the weekend, Penn coach Rudy Fuller started four freshmen, with three others receiving significant playing time. Although this youth movement has not yet led to a win for the Quakers, the play of the freshmen gives Penn much to look forward to this season and in those to come. After struggling to finish with a 4-11-1 record in 1998, Fuller and the rest of the coaching staff went out and recruited a class to fill many different positions. What the Quakers ended up with was 12 freshmen on the 27-player roster. "There's a large number of freshmen," Fuller said. "There's six seniors and so it's a bottom-heavy team." This young blood brings both positives and negatives. Along with the new talent and new attitude comes inexperience in game situations from almost half of the team. In fact, many of the team's early struggles have been due to mental errors rather than physical ones. In many games, for example, teams have caught the Quakers flat-footed at the outset and have scored early. Often, Penn has not been able to recover. "Mentally, we felt better about ourselves in the beginning of the year than we do now and that's what we're working on," Fuller said. To cure these mental lapses, teams usually look to their senior leaders. The freshmen, however, believe everybody must play a role in picking up the team when it is down by a goal or gets a bad call from a referee. "The seniors have been great, and have really made us feel part of the team," Penn freshman Eric Mandel said. "But I think it's the responsibility of everyone on the team to stop the mental lapses and we're just as at fault as anyone. [The seniors have] been playing longer but there's no reason why we can't pick up our game or get the guys going around us." One reason why the freshmen are so willing to take responsibility for the team despite playing just five collegiate games is that they expected this situation. After last season's difficulties, the freshmen knew they had to come into the Penn program and make an immediate difference. "One of the main reasons I decided to come here was so I could have an impact on the team right away," freshman William Libby said. "Coach Fuller really allows that if we play well in practice we can show what we can do during a game." Libby has made a strong impression on the team already as he recorded his first goal in the loss to St. Francis last week. Freshman Nathan Kennedy has also scored a goal this season. "This situation of playing in games is what I hoped for coming into the season," Kennedy said. "We knew we had a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility. We're trying to do our best and fill the positions that need to be filled." Despite the large influx of new and younger players, team chemistry is good. "The freshmen class is very strong," Penn junior Austin Deng said. "They can play all different positions and are helping the team out a lot." In addition, while the Quakers have yet to win a game, the freshmen, who are accustomed to winning in high school, have remained confident. "The freshmen have to keep a positive attitude," Penn freshman William Lee said. "If the freshmen get a negative attitude, it can only make things worse." Lee and the rest of the Quakers take this positive attitude across Philadelphia to face Soccer 7 rival Temple tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. The Owls are also off to a slow start at 0-3-1, but everyone on the Red and Blue is taking them seriously. "You know what you're going to get with Temple," Fuller said. "They have some players who can win the game on their own, but we know the whole team is going to fight for the full 90 minutes." Fuller said that he expects the starting lineup for the Temple game to be very similar to the one he used in the Cornell game, meaning his reliance in the freshmen will continue. "The difference between this year and last year is depth," Fuller said. "We have the luxury of closely watching guys throughout the week and picking who we feel [is the] sharpest to start." Therefore, if the freshmen continue to practice hard and play hard, four freshman or more starting may become the norm. A win at Temple would certainly be a first step in that direction.Comments powered by Disqus
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