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Penn Woman's Soccer Vs. Harvard at Rhodes Field Credit: Henry Lin , Henry Lin

A young and depleted Penn women’s soccer team held off Harvard and the defending Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Midge Purce for the first 54 minutes and 46 seconds of play Friday night.

But it wouldn’t last.

Behind two unassisted goals from Purce, the Crimson downed the Quakers, 3-0, in the season’s conference opener, and the Red and Blue suffered their first loss to an Ivy foe at home since Oct. 8, 2010.

Penn (3-2-2, 0-1 Ivy) came out of the gate with some jitters and struggled to control the ball early. For many Quakers, it was the first Ivy League match of their young careers, competing against the defending Ancient Eight champions, no less.

“When you get into battles like that, youth and inexperience show,” coach Darren Ambrose said.

But the Quakers seemed to settle as the first half wore on and narrowly missed an opportunity to take a 1-0 lead when Harvard defender Alika Keene cleared the ball off the line after a Penn corner kick.

Throughout the first half, Purce — who led the Ancient Eight in goals a year ago — threatened to break free with the ball, but physical play from the returning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Caroline Dwyer and the rest of the Penn defense temporarily kept Purce contained.

The tide turned sharply in the second half, however, when Purce blew past three Quakers and an attempted clearance ricocheted off the foot of Purce over Penn goalkeeper Kalijah Terilli and into the back of the net in the 55th minute.

The Crimson (6-2, 1-0) added to their lead in the 70th minute when senior midfielder Meg Casscells-Hamby laced a cross from the left side that Harvard’s Emily Mosbacher expertly headed into the goal to boost the Crimson’s lead to 2-0.

Just three minutes and 11 seconds later, Purce struck again, stealing the ball away from a Penn defender in the goal box and drilling a shot cleanly through a seam for her second goal of the night.

“It’s hard when there’s one player who has a lot of speed ... because if you get one missed bounce, then that player’s gone,” senior midfielder Kaitlyn Moore said.

The collapse of the Penn defense in the second half can largely be attributed to the squad’s inexperience and lack of depth in the backline and midfield. Injuries to upperclassmen Tahirih Nesmith, Paige Lombard and others have left the Quakers with few reserves and many chinks in the armor, particularly for a squad perennially known for its defensive prowess. Adding to their troubles, junior outside back Shannon Hennessy suffered an injury in the second half against the Crimson.

“We’re just taking too many other injuries in the course of the game on top of the kids that are done for the year that are affecting depth,” Ambrose said. “So in the second half, when you get tired, you can’t make those changes.”

In the offensive third of the field, the Red and Blue looked equally youthful, at times playing three freshmen up front. Penn struggled to create opportunities, getting off just three shots on the night.

The loss snapped several streaks for the Quakers. It was their first loss at home in Ivy League play since 2010, and it was also their worst loss against a conference opponent since a 4-1 defeat against Princeton on Nov. 6, 2004. Notably , the home team had emerged victorious from the previous six matchups between Penn and Harvard, and the winner of this game has continued on to win the Ivy title in five of the last seven years.

If history is any indication, the Crimson seem well-positioned to contend for a second consecutive conference championship. Meanwhile, the Quakers will need to regroup quickly in order to compete with the Ancient Eight’s best.

“We got beaten. That’s the standard — they won it last year,” Ambrose said. “They’re a good team. If we want to be there, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

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