College athletics is not a stable business. With constant turnover due to graduation, players must adjust to new teammates every season. Bonds must be constantly formed and connections constantly made, only to have the process repeat itself when the next season rolls around. Ask the members of any team at Penn, they'll tell you what it's like. Ask the members of the Quakers women's soccer squad, you'll see how much more difficult it's been for them. What makes the adjustment even harder for these Quakers is that this season marks the third straight year in which a new head coach will patrol the sidelines at Rhodes Field. Darren Ambrose takes the reins of the program this fall, filling the role formerly occupied by Andy Nelson and Patrick Baker -- both of whom left Penn for other coaching positions. "It's hard for obvious reasons," senior co-captain Ashley Kjar said. "It's our senior year, and we want to have a very successful year. It makes you nervous because you don't know the coach very well." But Kjar, like her teammates, is quick to credit Ambrose for the work he has done in the preseason, noting that his knowledge of the game and coaching skills have made it a smooth transition. His players also remark that Ambrose's coaching style is similar to that of fellow Englishman Nelson. But still it makes you wonder. The women's soccer program at Penn enters its 10th season of existence as a varsity sport tonight. Ten years. Four coaches. They are not numbers that suggest a stable program. Despite this, the Quakers have improved continually over that decade. Last season saw the program advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in its history. With an overtime loss to Harvard as their only blemish within the league, the Quakers established themselves as a force within the Ivies in 1999. This is a credit to the men who have preceded Ambrose, and he will be expected to keep the Quakers near the top of the standings and on the road to the NCAAs. But a program cannot build a solid foundation if the people in charge of building it keep bolting for better positions. Now that Darren Ambrose is here, let's hope he is here to stay. Over the summer, he relocated his family from Florida to Philadelphia in order to take the first collegiate head coaching position of his career. It's not likely that he'll make this season a one-and-done like Nelson did last year. Not that I blame Nelson for moving on to Stanford or Baker for taking off for Florida State the year before that. A position at a higher-profile school in a power conference is tough for any Ivy coach to turn down, just as Peter Traber could not resist the temptations of the millions he could make at GlaxoSmithKline a mere five months after promising to rescue the sinking ship that is the Penn Health System. But for Penn women's soccer to continue on the successful road it has been traveling, Rhodes Field needs to be more than a launching pad to greener pastures. A stable force at the helm is what this program needs more than anything, and Ambrose could be the man to fulfill that role. It will only make the yearly transition for returning players easier and Penn itself more attractive to recruits. Ambrose played for three different coaches when he was a star goalie at Division II national power USC-Spartanburg, so he knows the emotional difficulties his players have endured by getting used to a new coach each year. He also knows that Penn's program has improved continually over the past several seasons. This season should see it take yet another step in that direction. Darren Ambrose brings a wealth of knowledge and skill to Penn. We should see that this season. It will take several more years, however, to see if he can deliver what Penn women's soccer needs more than anything else. StabilityComments powered by Disqus
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