Six hundred, twenty-one minutes and forty-eight seconds. It’s been nearly half a day of gameplay since Penn women’s soccer has allowed a goal.
On Saturday night at Rhodes Field, the Quakers (10-1-3, 3-1 Ivy), will look to show off their dominant defense against Yale (7-5, 2-2). Penn enters play in sole possession of second place in the Ivy League, one game behind first-place Harvard.
Both teams have quite a bit on the line in this matchup. Penn cannot afford to fall further behind Harvard with only two games remaining in the season if it hopes to win the Ivy League title. Yale faces a similar pressure, desperately needing a win to remain in the hunt for the regular season crown as well and to also avoid slipping from its fourth-place perch.
Sophomore Caroline Dwyer, one of Penn’s stars on defense this year, chimed in on the team’s mindset going into this showdown.
“We can’t let up,” she said. “We’ve been holding our own in the back and with the shutouts. And if we can keep that going, [coach] Darren [Ambrose] keeps telling us we’re in a great place.”
If this game were a matchup of just momentum, then Penn would certainly be the favorite. The Red and Blue are scorching hot, winning their previous six games by a combined score of 10-0 — including wins over three Ivy League opponents — to propel them to just one game out of first place.
It’s not enough to predict this game based on momentum, however. Yale comes to Rhodes Field having also posted shutouts in its previous two games against Marist and Cornell and looks to build a solid run until the end of the season.
But Penn’s defense stands in the way, holding opposing offenses to a paltry 95 shot attempts on the 2013 campaign.
“We just have a solid back line no matter who we put in and it never really changes,” Dwyer said. “I can count on people to play me the ball and then just get forward and get it to our forwards to finish it off.”
With the Quakers’ shutdown defense a given, the next important ingredient for a successful Ivy stretch run is team leadership. Senior captain Kerry Scalora will surely be an important piece of the puzzle if the Quakers hope to earn a victory.
“[The captains] just hit home that we’re in the best position that we can be so far,” Scalora said. “Ivy games can go either way, you leave everything out on the field that you have.”
And yet, with all of Penn’s experience, the X-factor for Saturday’s game may be the play of the freshmen on either squad. Penn freshman midfielder Tahirih Nesmith has been a steady contributor all season long, scoring four of the Quakers’ goals on the year.
“We’re in a good spot. We’ve been playing well these past couple games,” Scalora said. “And I think that offensively and defensively we have the confidence to put a good foot forward.”
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