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Men's soccer plays Harvard for the Ivy League title and comes out victorious. A wet Rudy Fuller congratulates his Ivy championship team Credit: Jonathan de Jong , Jonathan de Jong

It wasn’t the ending anyone had hoped for.

Three games into the Ivy League season last year, everything was looking up for Penn men’s soccer. The team was coming off a 2-1 victory over Dartmouth — the Big Green’s only Ancient Eight loss of the year — and sat in a tie for second place.

The Quakers would play to draws in their next two Ivy matches and lose the final two, slipping to a disappointing fifth place finish. It was an unfortunate finish for the defending Ivy League champions, but not a reason to panic.

“A lot of people come in and say ‘Oh is this a rebuilding year, you have so many first-year guys,'" coach Rudy Fuller said. But I don’t look at it that way at all.

“We have a roster of talented individuals. It’s going to be how quickly they get up to speed and start playing for each other.”

Coming into 2015, Fuller knows the team has the potential to take back the Ivy crown. It’s just a matter of putting everything together. All the pieces are there.

The team is young, only returning 12 players, while bringing in one of the largest recruiting classes in Fuller’s tenure. In the early season, the focus has been getting the new players up to speed.

“No disrespect to the returning guys, but when you only have 12 [players], you’re going to need minutes from the first-year guys,” Fuller said.

“So as a staff and in talking with some of the returning guys, [our goal is getting the new players] to understand what it means to be a high-level college soccer player.”

While the coaching staff is focused on integrating their young roster, the team is focused on ‘go mode,' the mantra they’ve adopted in early season practices.

“It came from Nigel [Blackwood]. He’s a pretty intense guy, always up for every game, every practice. It’s a good central mantra that gets everyone focused,” junior forward Alec Neumann said.

“We know we have the technical quality, we have good players, just every game is being up for it and matching the intensity.”

Maintaining that mantra has helped the team focus and get onto the same page mentally, but the early results have been mixed. A scoreless draw against No. 7 Washington was encouraging, but the team followed it up with a blowout loss to American, which Fuller attributed to a poor turnaround after the game against the Huskies.

Moving forward, the team will continue its tough non-conference slate before progressing into Ivy League season. It’s the sort of trial by fire that forces players to adapt and grow, particularly the young ones.

Even more so, the non-Ivy challenges offer great opportunities for the Quakers to prove themselves against top-tier opponents, something they’ll need to do to position themselves for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

“[We’re looking for] an Ivy League championship and an NCAA Tournament birth,” Fuller said of the team’s goals for the season.

“We may fall short on the Ivy League championship, but if we’ve done what we’ve already discussed, we should be in contention for an at-large bid.”

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