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In order to contend for the Ivy League championship in 2015, Penn women's soccer will need senior back Caroline Dwyer to remain healthy in her final season.

Credit: Khristian Monterroso , Khristian Monterroso

After a tough 2014 campaign, one that featured the loss of All-American defender Caroline Dwyer to injury before Ivy League play and ended with the departure of longtime coach Darren Ambrose, Penn women’s soccer looks to rebound this season.

But a daunting schedule lies in the Quakers’ path.

The Red and Blue begin their year with seven straight out-of-conference games. While 10 of their 16 games will be within the familiar confines of Rhodes Field in 2015, Penn’s early season matchups are highlighted by a trip down south to face No. 13 Clemson in South Carolina.

The Tigers — who are fresh off an inspiring 2-1 victory over then-eighth-ranked South Carolina — appear to be the toughest matchup on the Quakers’ horizon. Junior midfielder Catrina Atanda was named ACC Offensive Player of the Week after her game-winning goal in the contest, and she — along with and the rest of the Clemson offense — figures to be one of the toughest foes ahead for Dwyer and her fellow backs.

Of course, what really matters for the Red and Blue is the seven games on their slate in which they will take on their Ancient Eight rivals.

Last season, after closing out 2014 with three consecutive wins, the Quakers salvaged their conference record by finishing 3-3-1 for a share of third place in the league. The two teams that finished ahead of them, Harvard and Dartmouth, both return key players and will be tough matchups for this year’s Penn squad.

Still, it should only get easier for the Quakers after the first Ivy contest.

On Sept. 26, first-year coach Nicole Van Dyke will lead her team to Cambridge for her inaugural Ivy League game against defending champion Harvard. Hopefully for Van Dyke, it won’t be a rude welcoming to the Ancient Eight.

The Crimson return junior forward Margaret Purce, who has punished conference opponents in her first two seasons. For the second straight season, she was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list. She has also competed for the U.S. Under-20 National Team and was the first freshman to win Ivy League Player of the Year, doing so in 2013.

If the Red and Blue can get past Purce and the Crimson, they may have the inside track to the Ivy League title.

Of course, the Big Green won’t let anyone run away with the championship belt. Dartmouth returns nine starters from last season’s crew, so it should again be relevant throughout the season.

Penn hosts Dartmouth on Oct. 17 in its fourth conference tilt of the season. The game could have large implications considering its timing at the climax of the Ivy season.

Following their game with the Big Green, the Quakers’ final three contests all come against Ivy foes. The first, which comes against Yale, is a rematch of the Red and Blue’s only draw from the 2014 season. Though it comes at home, the matchup won’t be easy for Penn and could be influential in shaping the final Ivy League standings.

Afterwards, it might be tempting for the squad and its fans to look ahead to the final game of the season when Penn hosts archrival Princeton over Homecoming on Nov. 7.

But sandwiched between it and the Yale matchup is a potential trap game up in Providence, where the Quakers have a Halloween contest against lowly Brown. 2014’s cellar dwellers may not look too intimidating now, but anything can happen in New England during the fall, especially if weather becomes a factor.

Despite the obstacles on its schedule, Penn lost only four starters from last season’s group. With a new coach and a healthy Dwyer manning the back line, no matter who the Red and Blue face in 2015, there’s no telling what they can accomplish.

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