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Sophomore midfielder Emily Sands and the rest of Penn women's soccer's offense will look to turn things around against a weak Dartmouth defense.

Credit: Chase Sutton

It’s time to make up some ground. 

With three big points on the line, Penn women’s soccer will look to take care of business against visiting Dartmouth this weekend. 

After falling in overtime on the road in their last outing, the Red and Blue (3-6-3, 1-1-1 Ivy) have a key opportunity at Rhodes Field to gain traction in the Ivy League with a win over the struggling Big Green (6-7, 0-3). Despite playing 114 shut-out minutes at Columbia, Penn’s line was finally broken and the loss was accompanied by a fall to fourth in the table.

Building on that disappointing defeat, coach Nicole Van Dyke found the silver lining in her squad’s impeccable defense, which has yielded only once in three conference matches. 

“We recognized that we are really hard to score on. Defensively, we’ve played well and we’ve improved tremendously there,” Van Dyke said. “We have three new people in the back line in a really young group out there with ten underclassmen starting the majority of the time.”

Leading the team in minutes this season is freshman defender Jadyn Wilensky, with fellow classmates Katherine Larson and Chase Geffert following close behind. This talented class of 2021 has gelled together quite effectively, and should help to give the front lines the peace of mind to press forward. 

Having only managed six shots in its previous 120 minutes, Penn is still searching for answers on how to find the elusive back of the net. Last year’s breakout star, sophomore Emily Sands has benefitted from the play of freshman forward Paige Howard – the duo generated 25 shots in the past three matches. 

While noting the importance of improving finishing proficiency, Van Dyke emphasized that there’s much more to scoring than just the final shot.

“Players just have to continue to hone those skills. [Scoring is] not something that you can just fix week to week. You have to spend all that extra time in front of goal, find ways to make the final pass better,” she said. “If you only focus on goal scoring, it makes it a massively weighted issue. We try to focus on everything around it, and that’s going to make the opportunity better.” 

With regards to Dartmouth, the visitors' record may not be indicative of the threat they pose. To that end, two of their three conference losses have been overtime nail-biters against the number two and six squads in the Ivies, respectively. 

Fighting till the bitter end, the Big Green managed to put up 16 shots and 11 corners in its fall to Yale, so the resilient Penn defense will need to be at its best to keep another clean sheet.

On the other hand, this might be the golden chance for the Quakers to make their mark on the scoreboard. Given their success at formidable Harvard, the defensive tactical similarities between Dartmouth and the Crimson give Van Dyke optimism for her striking corps.

“We feel like we have some good tactics and patterns that we run where we can create some numbers-up situations and really go at their back line,” she said. “One of our strengths is getting in behind teams, and Kat Larson does a really good job of going to the end-line. So, we much rather be doing that against a back line of three instead of four.”

With the Ivy League season half gone, now is the time for the Quakers to come alive if they are to make a run at a coveted title.