Three games into Nicole Van Dyke’s tenure, Penn women’s soccer is firing on all cylinders. And to hear her players tell it, most of the credit should go to the first-year coach.
After their 3-0 victory over Mount St. Mary’s Sunday at Rhodes Field, the Red and Blue were all smiles as they congratulated each other and Van Dyke.
“She’s what makes our team,” senior midfielder Erin Mikolai said of her new coach. “Our wins are accredited to her. She constantly pushes us every game and every practice.”
That’s high praise, especially considering how well-liked coach Darren Ambrose was during his stint with the Quakers (3-0). But given the undeniably positive atmosphere surrounding Sunday’s matchup with Mount St. Mary’s (0-6), it isn’t necessarily surprising.
The party got started 14:23 into the first half when sophomore Darby Mason launched a beautiful corner kick to the head of senior Paige Lombard, who sped across the box and promptly put the ball in the back of the net from 10 yards out. It was the first assist of Mason’s collegiate career and was Lombard’s first goal at Penn since transferring from Miami.
After the goal, Lombard was jumping with joy. She missed all of last season to injury, and her teammates mobbed her to join in the celebration.
It would become an entire afternoon of firsts for the Quakers. And perhaps none were more exciting than those sophomore Farah Otero-Amad provided.
The forward was clearly the player of the game. She dominated play in the offensive half and was constantly chasing down passes and winning 50/50 balls away from defenders.
Her play wouldn’t go unnoticed or unrewarded. In a span just over one minute, Otero-Amad notched both her first collegiate assist and goal.
Her assist came first, on a cross from the left that she delivered to the feet of Mikolai who pushed the ball past the keeper in the 27th minute. Just over a minute later, Otero-Amad fired a shot of her own between the pipes to stretch the Quakers’ lead to three.
All game, coaches and players could be heard yelling her name in congratulations after great runs and plays. Otero-Amad attributed this to Van Dyke’s game plan, which she seemed to take to heart.
“We had a lot of time and space on the field,” she said. “Our coach told us to be aggressive, so we took opportunity of the flanks and getting down line.”
Of course, no one was more proud of the youngsters than Van Dyke herself.
“Everything we’ve asked of them, they’ve done,” she said of the group. “They continually try to lean and grow. Very, very coachable.
“They’ve definitely been impacting the game on the field,” she added. “And it’s equated in some tremendous game-winning goals.”
Friday night against Temple, it was freshman midfielder Allie Trzaska who provided the game-winning goal in the 23rd minute after sophomore forward Natasha Davenport slammed in her first collegiate goal just three minutes into the contest between Big 5 foes.
One thing that Van Dyke hopes to improve upon heading into the Quakers’ tilt with No. 10 Clemson on Friday in South Carolina is capitalizing on more of their scoring chances. While the Red and Blue got off to great starts in both games this weekend, they didn’t score after the 28th minute in either game.
Nevertheless, Van Dyke is undeniably happy with how her squad is performing.
“I think the results are awesome,” she said. “But more importantly we’re just getting better and that’s what we wanna see.”
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