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Penn Men's Soccer Faces Hartford Credit: Patrick Hulce , Patrick Hulce, Patrick Hulce

On paper, Penn men’s soccer doesn’t look too different from the team that finished a disappointing 3-13 last season. But according to the players and coaches, the changes in the team can’t really be put down on paper.

“A lot of the improvement that we’re looking for is going to come from experience,” senior forward Stephen Baker said.

The Quakers only graduated two seniors from last year’s team, which means this year the team can rely on a line-up loaded with juniors and seniors with significant playing experience under their belts.

“We played a lot of freshmen and sophomores who hadn’t played a whole lot last year,” Baker said. “So they got some experience of what the college game is like and getting used to the speed of play, physicality and level of skill needed to compete.”

Following the unsatisfactory results of 2013, head coach Rudy Fuller put together a demanding spring training schedule in order to teach his players what it takes to grind out results at the highest levels in college soccer.

Morning lifts and constant fitness workouts became routine during the spring semester, strengthening the team both mentally and physically.

“It was extremely intense and we had to make a lot of sacrifices, so it made us want to come out and be successful even more this season because we have worked so hard all spring,” Baker said. “We don’t want to have made those sacrifices to not get results.”

This season, Baker will lead the attack for the Quakers, partnering with the lightning-quick junior Duke Lacroix to form a dynamic duo up top.

Senior captain Jonny Dolezal has started games in each of his three seasons and Penn and will use that experience to anchor the Red and Blue in defense.

All three of those key players chose to spend this past summer playing with semi-pro teams in order to raise their games, which is sure to benefit Penn this fall.

Dolezal and Baker played with Reading United AC in Pennsylvania, while Lacroix spent his summer with the Ocean City Nor’easters in New Jersey.

“With that team I was playing with some of the best college players in the country,” Baker said. “Playing with the best players in the country forces you to either stand out as someone who doesn’t belong there or to raise your level and match their intensity.

“So it definitely benefitted Jonny and I to be around guys who are pushing us on a daily basis all summer.”

Sophomore midfielder Alex Murphy was also busy this summer, as he won the U.S. Youth Soccer Under-19 Championship with his club team, Lehigh Valley United ’93.

Coming off a 2012 season to forget, Penn men’s soccer has a lot to prove this year. But that just gives the players more motivation to reach the high expectations the team has set for itself.

“Hopefully it will make us that much more hungry to get after the Ivy League Championship and make a run in the NCAA Tournament,” Baker said.

The Red and Blue will open their season at home against Stony Brook on Sept. 6, the first of nine nonconference opponents before the Quakers host Cornell to open Ivy League play on Oct. 5.

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