What do the Cheetah Girls, grandmothers and Disney princesses have in common? Answer: They all took the field on Tuesday afternoon for Penn women's soccer's practice in preparation for the team's final game of the season against rival Princeton.
This, of course, is atypical for the Quakers. But on this crisp autumn day — the 31st of October no less —exceptions are made. The players dressed up in their finest Halloween attire, as is tradition, with the caveat that the garb needed to remain functional for play.
This makes for a certainly unique practice experience, as tutus and wigs fluttered around during the drills. Thankful that the holiday fell on a Tuesday this year and not game day, coach Nicole Van Dyke emphasized the importance of balancing fun with competition and training.
“We always try to keep things lighthearted until it’s business time. We all want to smile and have fun and make sure the kids enjoy their time, especially in the last week for the seniors,” she said. “I think once we put the keepers in the goals and start playing, their competitiveness just shines through.”
With that in mind, the coaching staff also took part in the festivities, donning what can only be described as tacky camouflage animal shirts gifted to them by players at last year’s banquet. As the leader of the pack, Van Dyke’s own shirt poetically depicted a wolf howling at a full moon. The theme of the players, however, was kept under wraps until practice time, when they made quite an entrance.
First up was the cohort of senior-citizens, sporting baby-powdered hair, wireframe spectacles and knit-cable sweaters to complete the grandmother aesthetic. Spicing things up, the juniors opted for the mid 2000’s R&B/pop group vibe, honoring the Cheetahs with animal print leggings and neon zip-ups while blasting their hits all the way to Penn Park.
The sophomores wisely utilized their numbers to assemble the Seven Dwarfs, each with their own white beards and characteristic attire. Toppings things off, the freshman recreated their favorite Disney princesses from the big screen including Tiana, Rapunzel and Belle, each fully garbed in the requisite colors.
Noting that she’d need to ditch her glasses and bathrobe, senior midfielder Darby Mason laughed about instituting a costume-contest into the festivities.
“We haven’t done that yet, but that’s a really good idea,” Mason said. “We should solidify some more competition into our program for sure!”
In discussing the nature of their class’s costume, senior striker Erica Higa explained that they had really come full circle.
“The seniors, when we were freshmen, did it, and it’s a nice way to remember we’re going out with a bang and feel like the oldest girls out here,” Higa said. “Sometimes you do feel like a grandma yourself so it’s kind of funny.”
This has been a tradition for the team for quite a few years, and there’s no plan on stopping it any time soon. The enthusiasm was palpable as the team formed up outside the locker room to head over to Dunning-Cohen Field.
Stroking her sports-tape beard, sophomore Emily Sands explained how fun the whole day is for everyone and its ability to lift the team’s spirits, despite her playing the part of Grumpy the Dwarf. Additionally, she added that the dwarfs were hoping to steal Snow White from the freshmen to complete their ensemble.
As this eclectic group took the field in a sea of wacky colors and sparkly tiaras, with the unmistakable sound of “Amigas Cheetahs” echoing across the grounds, it was clear this would be a memorable practice.
However, none of this would detract from the gravity of the situation. Coming off a bitter 1-0 overtime loss at Brown this past weekend, Penn (5-7-3, 3-2-1 Ivy) is gearing up for one final, grueling battle against its archrival on Saturday to conclude this 2017 campaign.
The visiting Tigers (13-2, 5-1), coming in at No. 15 and top of the Ivies, will certainly put the Quakers’ formidable back line to the test once more. Having not fallen to Princeton since 2013, Penn looks to bid farewell to its seniors with one more celebration on Rhodes Field and finish on a high note.
In describing her most memorable moment of the Penn soccer experience, Mason recalled the last-second winner over Princeton in the final game of her freshman year, and ensuing pandemonium as that team banded together one last time.
With a renewed sense of spirit, now is the time for the seniors post one more “W” and truly come full-circle.