Penn is not short on successful athletic programs.
The baseball, football and field hockey teams (among many others) are consistently competing for Ivy League titles, the usual ebbs and flows of success aside.
But Penn’s most impressive team this semester is probably one you have not heard much about.
Penn women’s club soccer has achieved what any team dreams of: perfection. The Red and Blue are 8-0 in their regular season matches heading into the regional tournament later this month. Perhaps even more noteworthy than the record itself has been the manner in which the team has won. Each game has had at least a two goal margin, and emphatic wins against Rider (6-1), Princeton (7-1) and TCNJ (5-0) headline results from a dominant season that no one, not even the players themselves, saw coming.
“I came into the season thinking that we just need to be as good as we can be,” senior defender and team captain Jillian Sprong said. “You never expect to go undefeated, but the way we have played I certainly think we deserve it.”
Club sports inherently work far differently than varsity sports. Most poignantly for women’s club soccer, the coaching position in club sports is not only unpaid, but sometimes unfilled.
“We spent all of last year without a coach,” Sprong said. “But this year we have Luca [Martinovic], an undergrad, helping us out in that role.”
Even with a coach, the team operates relatively independently. They practice twice weekly, with the sessions planned and executed by both Martinovic and the captains. But don’t be fooled - despite not practicing as frequently as a varsity team, the games are far more packed together.
“We [had] to finish all of our league games before October 15,” Sprong said. “So that [meant] a lot of times we [had] to play twice in one weekend.”
The league opponents that Sprong mentions are teams from the most local breakdown in a much larger model that the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association puts together for club teams nationwide. The country is first split into regions, of which there are six. Penn resides in Region I, which incorporates teams from Maryland all the way up to Maine. The region further splits into 13 divisions, which is where the league games are played in. Penn’s division, fittingly called “Quaker City,” pits the Red and Blue against TCNJ, Rider, Temple, Villanova, Princeton, Drexel, Lehigh and St. Joseph’s. By going undefeated against these eight teams, Penn will compete in the Region I Regional Tournament against the other 12 division winners as well as some second-place teams.
Now this may all seem very organized and official — similar to varsity schedules. But one absent amenity that has not been mentioned so far makes playing eight games in a month in a half particularly difficult — a team bus. Or for these Quakers, a lack thereof. While the varsity teams are motoring down highways in Penn-sponsored buses, the club teams have to find whatever means necessary to get to their games.
“Two of us have cars and drive to the games,” junior defender and team travel chair Alayna Choo said. “But the majority of us actually have to use zipcars to get us to away games.”
Before the team drives off to New Castle, Delaware on October 28 for the 24-team regional tournament, they are eagerly waiting to see who their opponents will be.
“The schedule comes out Monday and we all absolutely cannot wait,” Sprong said. “We’re glad that people are recognizing what an amazing season this has been, and we’re all so excited to test ourselves against some of the big state schools that will be at this tournament.”
At the end of the regional tournament lies a special prize — if the Quakers can finish in the top-three, they will make the national tournament happening later this year.
But regardless of tournament outcome, this has been the most successful season for the women’s club soccer team in some time. The close-knit community that it has built for the players is something that any varsity team would be proud of. But there will still be plenty on the line at Regionals; a top-three finish would send Penn to Nationals.
“I think the fact that we’re close socially helps us on the field,” Sprong said.
“I love going to practices and games not just because I love soccer, but because I’m getting to play with my best friends.”