This one is for all the marbles.
With a chance to take sole possession of third place in the Ivy table, Penn women’s soccer will look to take care of business at home on Saturday against a surging Yale team.
The Quakers (4-6-3, 2-1-1 Ivy) will be entering the match with serious momentum after a late overtime volley edged them atop Dartmouth last week at Rhodes Field. A similar task awaits them this time around, as both Penn and Yale (8-3-2, 2-1-1) are sitting on seven points and need three more to sustain their title hopes.
Despite the magnitude of the match, coach Nicole Van Dyke stressed the importance of keeping level heads in preparation and training for Saturday.
“We know that [the winner takes third place] but we’re not going to focus on that this week. It will just be on the back burner,” she said. “I think, up [until] this point, we’ve done fairly well just going game by game. We just want to get better this week and focus on the things we didn’t do well. And that’s been our mantra the whole season.”
One area of strength for Penn so far this season has been the defensive effort, with the team now having notched its third shutout in conference play and conceding just once. Moreover, the back line is made up almost entirely of underclassmen, so their achievements thus far may merely be indicators of what’s yet to come.
Praising the performance of the defense, junior midfielder Allie Trzaska, now having logged the third-most minutes on the squad, noted the upward trajectory she’s seen.
“We have a lot of young people back there, so communication has been key. We’ve improved tremendously since the beginning of the season in mid-August,” Trzaska said. “We just need to keep talking, making sure we’re on the same page, and not letting any attacks get through. I think we have a better handle on how each of us plays and read each other better, so that’s helped us a lot back there.”
Interestingly, the Bulldogs have the same knack themselves, only letting one goal by in their last three Ivy matches. On top of that, their results match those of Penn uncannily with a nil-nil draw to Cornell, a shutout victory over Harvard, and a one-goal overtime win hosting Dartmouth. Yale barely edges out Penn in shots per game, 14 to 12, so it will be a battle of who can strike first against two very resilient defenses.
While Penn still is having difficulty finding the back of the net, a new offensive approach may be its key to a big three points. Now fully utilizing senior Erica Higa, whose 98th-minute one-timer sealed the victory for Penn last week, the Quakers will be hoping to spread the field and then slip in behind defenses with their pacy players.
Discussing the tactics up top, Van Dyke noted that both Higa and classmate Kristen Miller, who assisted the former’s goal with a well-placed cross, will have significant roles in the final third.
“Looking at the different personalities of the players, like Erica Higa and Kristen Miller, that’s a little bit more their style of getting in behind. So not having Higa for a couple games changed the approach, and we started doing a little bit more in front of the defense,” Van Dyke said. “Now we’re able to mix it up and a little more creativity. Miller was exceptional coming off the bench because she has the pace to get in behind and then technically serve the ball and find players running in.”
A small question mark surrounding this matchup may be the fatigue factor, with Penn coming in on the heels of two intense overtime battles. However, echoing her coach’s sentiment about the training regiment, Higa dispelled any notion of tired legs.
“There may be, but there’s always that fire to get onto the next one. We have a great staff that makes sure we’re well recovered and gets our legs going, so huge credit to them for that,” she said.
With a make-or-break opportunity on the horizon, the Quakers will have to stand tall once more in what should be a marquee Ivy League battle.