Everyone knows the first win is the hardest one to get.
Nobody knows this better than Penn women’s soccer, who had to wait six games before securing its first victory over visiting Delaware, 1-0.
After merely 45 seconds, the Quakers (1-3-2) put themselves on the scoreboard through senior Erica Higa’s skillful finish off a rebound. After scoring just its second goal of the season, Penn managed to outlast the Blue Hens (2-3-2) for the remaining 89 minutes despite facing a barrage of shots and a few gasp-inducing moments. A handful of explosive runs down the touchlines gave the Quakers quality opportunities to extend their lead, but strong goalkeeping from Delaware's Kailyn Rekos and last-ditch defending by the visitors kept the game on a knife’s edge.
Coach Nicole Van Dyke was relieved to secure a win, noting that the result was a long time coming for her squad.
“We’re starting to figure out what we’re good at, being really defensively solid as a whole, and finding those moments to counter-attack. We did it right off the get-go today, but I don’t think that was the only chance we created. I know, we should be finishing more, but sometimes that’s soccer,” she said. “We don’t give up a lot of goals, so we only need to score one, and we got it early and stayed organized the rest of the match.”
Regarding the score line, Penn is no stranger to close-fought games, although the results have not always gone its way. All three of the Quakers' losses have been at one goal to nil, and moreover, one of the draws was a 1-0 lead that slipped away. However, under the lights at Rhodes Field, a strong performance from the back line and flawless goalkeeping from sophomore Kitty Qu ensured an exciting victory to snap Delaware’s four game win streak.
A talking point of this season so far has been the youth factor that Van Dyke has brought into the starting eleven as underclassmen are already seeing significant minutes. In fact, the Red and Blue came out tonight with four freshmen, a real testament to Van Dyke’s confidence in her newest recruiting class.
Freshman Katherine Larson, who spent much of the game torching the visitors down the right wing, feels this win will do wonders for the team’s confidence going forward.
“I think our team could not deserve this more, our poor record does not reflect our quality. Winning tonight especially at Rhodes, the wins are gonna keep coming,” Larson said. “Late goals, other mistakes, and missed chances have cost us before. Now, I’m just really excited for the team.”
The lone goal scorer believes that despite only having a few games under their belt, the squad has already come a long way towards synchronization. Higa added that, as a senior, she feels this team rivals the competitiveness of any she’s played on before and is very optimistic for the season.
“I think the nice thing about this group is gelling came quickly for us. From day one or two of preseason we’ve had a great team culture and it’s been competitive from the start,” Higa said. “We’ll keep that with us and continue to grow every practice and game.”
Lauding her new finisher, Van Dyke noted that Higa will be taking on a fresh set of responsibilities this time around as the formation has been readjusted.
“I think I’ve been most excited for Erica Higa because she’s been a super sub her whole career and now she’s taken on a new role as the lone striker. She’s dynamic, she’s creating chances and works well with Emily Sands underneath her,” Van Dyke said.
While skeptics may be deterred by the team's two goals in six games, it should be noted that Penn has created myriad chances, including 10 shots tonight, even if the final touch has not always been there. To that end, Van Dyke said, “this whole team came out without the coaches on Sunday and just worked on finishing. Those are the moments where they’re going to improve when they take ownership.”
With a short trip to Drexel on Thursday, we’ll have to wait and see if the Red and Blue capitalize on their changed fortune and start finding the back of the net with regularity.