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WSoccervCornell Credit: Ben Brodie , Ben Brodie

In 2011, the Penn women’s soccer team led the nation in shutout percentage, holding opponents scoreless in 13 of 17 appearances. The squad conceded just seven goals on the year, a school record.

Senior captain Brianna Rano is the only remaining defender from that team’s back line, so she was a natural choice as a leader of the defense — or so it would appear.

Instead of returning to her position at right back, this season Rano has taken her talents to Penn’s front line to play as a wing and help spark the Quakers’ offense, which logged just 22 goals in 2012 after scoring 39 times in 2011.

Placing Rano up front adds “a little craft and a little guile” to the Quakers’ attack, according to coach Darren Ambrose. Additionally, it bolsters the offense’s experience level by giving the Red and Blue three seniors starting on its frontline: Rano, Kathryn Barth and Kerry Scalora.

After last season’s lackluster offensive performance, Ambrose felt compelled to give the offense all the chemistry and firepower it requires.

“Why not start with three seniors — all of whom were part of three teams that played together — and see what they can do?” Ambrose said.

The move is made possible by Rano’s skill set and versatility, which Ambrose recognized in the Branchburg, N.J. native early in her Penn career. But Rano was not always as open to playing in spots other than outside back and worked tirelessly to earn a spot at that position.

When defender Alex Dayneka suffered an injury in 2011, Rano seized the opportunity and played the rest of her sophomore season at left back. Her performance helped the Quakers to one of its best seasons in program history, especially on defense.

As a junior, Rano was a mainstay in the Penn defense, starting all 16 games at right back. But by the season’s close, Rano’s outlook on her senior year had shifted. In an end-of-season questionnaire, Rano indicated she wanted to play wherever she was needed, opening the door to shift to a different position.

“This year is about just helping my teammates out and being more of a supporting role for them and just playing where I’m needed,” Rano said.

Every sport has its own versions of “utility players.” Often, they are gritty players with unusually comprehensive knowledge about their sports. In an era of specialization, there is occasionally a stigma against these multi-tool players. But if anything, Ambrose seeks out players with the soccer I.Q. and technical skills to play at a variety of positions.

“If you’re a soccer player, you understand the game. You understand movement. You understand rhythm. You’re technically sound. It’s just the basic principles of the game,” Ambrose said. “If you understand that, you can generally fit in anywhere.”

In many ways, Rano is a perfect example of Ambrose’s philosophy. Rather than seeing how her positions on defense and offense are different, she can’t help but recognize their similarities and how her style of play translates between the spots.

“[At outside back] you do get chances to run up the field and take players on occasionally, and it messes up the other team’s defense, having an extra player in the attack,” Rano said.

Rano certainly provided glimpses of her offensive skill set on defense, including her speed, strategic positioning and skill as a free kick specialist. As a result, Rano finished last season — from her position at right back — tied for third on the team in points.

The Penn offense wasted no time in scoring this season, opening up with two 4-0 blowouts of St. Peter’s and Mount St. Mary’s. The Quakers followed those performances by squeaking out 1-0 victories against City 6 opponents Drexel and Saint Joseph’s. In that four-game span, Rano has recorded a goal and an assist.

Meanwhile, the Red and Blue’s defense has maintained its traditional stinginess and remains the only squad in Division I that has not given up a goal. That said, if the defense suffers an injury or some other calamity, Ambrose won’t hesitate to put Rano in place to stop the bleeding.

“She may still have to play in the back this year. We don’t know,” Ambrose said. “The beauty of it is, if she has to, it’s a no-brainer.”


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