With Penn’s fall sports nearing or passing the halfway point of their seasons, we check in with cross country, sprint football, volleyball and field hockey in part one of our “State of the union for Penn’s fall sports.” Part two will feature football, women’s and men’s soccer on Thursday.
MVP: Freshman Cleo Whiting
Whiting has been on fire this year for the Quakers, placing first for Penn in its first two scored meets of the year. The freshman has proved that she can perform on a big stage, placing 45th overall at the 40th Annual Paul Short Invitational at Lehigh. Last week she was named Ivy Rookie of the Week by HepsTrack.com.
Strengths: Penn’s cross country team is unique for its youth, as the Quakers have a combined 11 freshmen. Though the team is young, the Red and Blue have demonstrated immense poise in their races this year. Not even traffic and a scheduling snafu could stop the Quakers’ women from having an exceptional Main Line Invitational — four runners finished in the top 11.
Weaknesses: The men’s team is lucky to have a couple of standout performers in sophomore Thomas Awad and senior Conor Nickel but suffers a drop-off in talent after that. If Penn wants to start winning invitationals, it will have to bring the level of competition of the whole team up to the standard that Awad and Nickel have set.
Coming Up: The Quakers will look to build upon the early successes of their young stars as they head into the big meets of the season — NCAA Regionals on Nov. 15 and NCAA Nationals on Nov. 23. Before Penn competes in its biggest meets, it will look for a dominating performance at the Princeton Invitational this weekend on Oct. 19.
MVP: Sophomore defensive back Stu Helgeson
Helgeson has turned around the defensive momentum for the Quakers on the field, recording 38 tackles — 27 solo — through Penn’s four games to lead the team. He was also named CSFL Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Mansfield.
Strengths: As evidenced by the unique bond shared by the offensive linemen, team chemistry plays a huge role for the Quakers. Despite Penn’s recent string of injuries, the Red and Blue have stuck together.
Weaknesses: The Quakers’ failure to find a consistent returner on special teams can be chalked up to youth and inexperience. In last week’s game against Franklin Pierce, Penn averaged only three yards per punt return. Once the Red and Blue can find a player who can consistently produce in the return game, the offense will be in a much better position to drive down the field and score.
Coming Up: Due to the government shutdown, the Quakers’ matchup with Navy has been rescheduled for Friday, Nov. 1, at 7:00 p.m. Penn’s home game against Princeton on Oct. 25 should prove significantly more entertaining, though, as Penn is expected to trounce the winless Tigers.
MVP: Senior middle blocker Susan Stuecheli
Stuecheli had a huge weekend for the Quakers against Yale and Brown. The senior has been a solid player for Penn all year, and her presence on the court has only become stronger over the past few weeks. Last weekend, Stuecheli had 25 kills and maintained a .575 hitting percentage, both team highs.
Strengths: The Red and Blue have not held back on offense this year, averaging 12.2 kills per set. This new scheme has allowed the Quakers to amp up their scoring presence, and they have put more points on the board per set. The strategy is paying off, as Penn just narrowly lost to defending Ivy champ Yale last weekend.
Weaknesses: Penn has struggled to keep its defense together in the absence of senior libero Dani Shepherd, who was injured for the first month of the season. With her return, Penn should be able to fortify its shaky defense and reduce its number of errors.
Coming Up: Penn will take on more conference opponents in the weeks to come, facing Harvard and Dartmouth at the Palestra on Oct. 18 and 19, respectively. Now that Dani Shepherd is back in action, Penn should be able to improve its 2-3 record against fellow Ivies and finish the season with a winning record.
MVP: Freshman attack Jasmine Cole
Cole not only leads the Quakers in goals scored this year but reigns atop the Ivy League as well. By the time she started her fourth game for Penn, Cole had already recorded two hat tricks. Cole earned All-Ivy honors just three weeks into her freshman season.
Strengths: The Quakers have netted the ball at an uncanny rate this season, setting the Quakers off to their most successful start since 1988, the same year that the Quakers made it to the NCAA Final Four. If Cole can keep the Red and Blue’s momentum going, Penn might have another shot at greatness on the national stage.
Weaknesses: Penn has gone into overtime in two of its last three games, a sign that maybe its dominance on the field is waning. That being said, Penn’s most recent overtime win was its first ever against Rider. Given the Red and Blue’s hot streak this season, it is difficult to find anything negative to say about the way they are dominating their opponents on the field.
Coming Up: Penn will face Columbia in New York on Oct. 18. The Lions are only 1-2 in Ivy play and should have their hands full with a Quakers team that is undefeated in conference play.
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