Wedding season may have just ended, but Penn men’s soccer put a ring on it Saturday night in Boston.
In a matchup that would determine the Ivy League title, the Quakers topped Harvard, 2-0, to crown themselves Ivy champs.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the boys,” coach Rudy Fuller said. “They made it through a difficult stretch, and their belief never wavered. Tonight they were crowned champions and so I’m really proud and happy for them.”
It didn’t take long for the Red and Blue (8-8-1, 5-1-1 Ivy) to make its stamp on the game, as senior midfielder Nicky Yin picked a great time to score his first collegiate goal.
The Crimson (7-8-2, 5-2) defenders partially cleared a cross, but the ball fell to Yin, who smashed the ball in to the net to give the visiting side a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute.
“I think we were a little surprised — at least in the first 30 minutes — that Harvard was a little flat,” Yin said. “Every person on our team gave 110 percent, and even if they were playing at their best, I don’t think they would have been able to stop us.”
Things got even better for the Quakers just seven minutes later. Junior captain Duke Lacroix got the ball in the box, dribbled past a defender and beat the Harvard goalkeeper to double Penn’s advantage.
“It felt like a release of pressure to put another goal on top of the first one,” Lacroix said. “At that point, you could see the belief emanating from every player on the field.”
As the half grew on, Harvard started to gain momentum and created a few dangerous half chances. But the home side was unable to generate much from the run of play, so the Crimson had to rely heavily on set pieces.
“Our guys knew that they had to be very good on defensive restarts on the night because Harvard is quite possibly the best restart team we’ve faced all year,” Fuller said.
Harvard caused chaos in the box with every long throw, corner kick and even a trick free kick, but the Penn defense stood firm and rebuffed everyone in the first half.
It was much of the same in the second half, with the Quakers playing more defensively to protect their two-goal lead and the Crimson pushing forward with more long throws and hopeful crosses.
Yet time after time, the Red and Blue made the necessary clearances, and sophomore goalkeeper Max Polkinhorne — starting in place of the injured Tyler Kinn — asserted himself in the air to limit Harvard’s chances.
“They were absolute warriors tonight, all four of them,” Fuller said of his defenders.
“Our game plan this week was a real focus on restarts defensively,” Lacroix said. “I thought we executed it well, and our defense played an outstanding game.”
The Crimson’s best chance of the game didn’t even come until the final minute of the game, when Penn junior midfielder Louis Schott was called for an intentional handball inside the box.
Schott was shown a red card for stopping a clear goal-scoring opportunity, and Harvard was rewarded with a penalty kick. But Harvard senior Kevin Harrington’s shot hit the post and deflected out to keep the Crimson scoreless.
The final seconds ticked away, and the Quakers players stormed the field to celebrate the program’s first Ivy League title since the 2008 season and its first outright championship in 41 years.
“To win it outright is really special,” Fuller said. “It’s something that this team, and this group of seniors in particular, should be very proud of.”
Penn will find out its draw in the NCAA tournament when the selection show is held at 12:30 p.m. on Monday.
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