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WSoccer Vs. Princeton; won 1-0 Despite Princeton's Bernie Da Costa's effort, junior midfielder Natalie Capuano manages to fire off a shot. Credit: Felipe Matsunaga

With the Ivy League trophy already on its mantle, the Penn women's soccer team is ready for its close-up on the national stage.

The Quakers' second season begins this afternoon in Morgantown, W. Va., where the Red and Blue will take on James Madison of the Colonial Athletic Association in the first round of the NCAA College Cup.

"I think it's more excitement than nerves," Penn's leading scorer, Jessica Fuccello, said yesterday of her team's attitude. "This is a big opportunity for us, and it's definitely a game we can win."

By earning the automatic tournament bid as the Ancient Eight champion, Penn (13-3-1, 6-1 Ivy) removed some suspense from Monday night's Cup selection show. For JMU (16-4-1, 8-2-1 CAA), the third-place finisher in its conference, earning an invitation was a trickier proposition.

"I wasn't surprised that we got in," said Dukes coach Dave Lombardo. "I was just hoping that we would get a good pairing and a good draw for the first weekend, and I'm happy with both."

The nature of the Cup selection process puts all tournament teams in a challenging predicament, pitting them against squads they've likely never seen before and giving them just a few days of preparation before the first round begins.

Still, both coaches seem unconcerned with their teams' relative unfamiliarity with their opponent.

"You can only put so much emphasis on scouting reports," Quakers coach Darren Ambrose said. "Every day brings something different from kids."

"Somebody can describe what a player is like to you," Lombardo explained, "but you don't know what it's gonna be until you're actually on the field."

Based on the scouting he has done, Ambrose has found some key differences in the offensive styles of each squad. While much of the Quakers' attack is run through their talented midfield, JMU employs a highly aggressive, "kick-and-chase" approach that features its forwards as the offensive focal points.

"For the forwards especially, [coach Ambrose] told us to make sure we're always moving," Penn sophomore forward Mara Fintzi said. "We do a good job of working off each other and making off-the-ball runs."

"Both teams are athletic," Ambrose said. "It's going to be important to try to establish the style we play."

Lombardo's preparation has centered more on the individual players his team will need to contain.

"Any time you're playing somebody, the first thing you look at is the stat sheet," he said. "Fuccello has scored 11 goals for them this season against some pretty stiff competition.

"That's somebody we need to make sure we're matched up well with and paying attention to."

The coaches are also familiar with a handful of opposing players from the high-school recruitment process. Penn midfielders Natalie Capuano and Jess Rothenheber were both on Lombardo's recruiting radar a few years back, while Ambrose had his eye on Dukes freshman Teresa Rynier, who led her team in assists this season.

The Quakers enter the Cup as winners of eight of their last nine contests. The Dukes, meanwhile, are looking to shake off a conference tournament loss to Hofstra in the CAA semifinals.

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