From the moment he committed to Penn, Sam Wancowicz knew he had joined a family.
Wancowicz has been a rock for Penn men’s soccer since patriarch and coach Rudy Fuller welcomed him to the team. The senior captain has started nearly every game for which he has been healthy in his four years, providing much needed stability and consistency to the back four.
From the outset, Wancowicz’s rise to prominence was almost destined. As a freshman with no college soccer experience, Fuller trusted him enough to start him at center back in the season opener vs Drexel. Wancowicz would go on to start 13 games his rookie season, including two back-to-back games against ranked opponents – Nos. 10 Washington and 12 American.
“I was very fortunate to step into the center back role right away,” Wancowicz said. “My dad has been a good example of working hard. He’s always saying, ‘Be a leader not a follower’ so that’s something I’ve always had to live by.”
The younger Wancowicz’s leadership abilities became apparent last season, when he earned the captaincy as a junior. This year more than ever, the senior class, led by Wancowicz and co-captain Austin Kuhn, has placed a large emphasis on establishing a welcoming culture in the locker room.
“You have to set the example for the younger kids,” Wancowicz said. “We have to set the standard for the freshmen. I’ve been a captain in high school and my club team, and it’s not too different from that. Just wearing the armband for your school, representing the school, is something I take a lot of pride in.”
Wancowicz feels a duty as captain to ensure that the current crop of freshmen are welcomed to the family just as much as he was four years ago.
“My freshman year, [it was surprising] how accepting the seniors were. I was pretty close to guys like [fellow center back] Jason deFaria and [forward] Duke Lacroix. So I think that really helped me a lot in my transition from high school to college. That’s something I’ve tried to work on this year for the freshmen—to try to help them feel at home right away just like Jason and Duke did for myself.”
Continuing that family atmosphere hasn’t always been easy. Wancowicz stressed the importance of the off the field portion of the team’s season. Indeed, the preparation in the trainer’s room for the grind of the season and the day-to-day maintenance of injuries and especially team chemistry require effort.
“One thing I’ve been proud of recently is that our locker room wasn’t in the greatest situation a year ago, and now, it’s probably stronger than it’s ever been in my four years here. We kind of changed the culture here, and hopefully it will turn into wins. Both Kuhn and myself are trying to put the program in a better place than where we started.”
On the field, Wancowicz has been a key cog in the Quakers' back four. Now moved out to his natural position at right back, he has more of an opportunity to push forward in the attack. That has led to an increased presence on the stat sheet. Last season, Wancowicz notched a career high four goals and three assists, more than doubling his total production up to that point at center back. So far this season though, the offensive production of both the team and its right back have been slowed considerably.
The only blip in Wancowicz’s career was an injury in his sophomore year. He missed about half the season because of that injury, but says that it helped teach him not to take anything for granted.
“It makes you appreciate being on the field. It made me appreciative of the small things that you don’t appreciate when you’re in the grind of college soccer. Obviously, it sucks not being on the field.”
With his Penn career winding down, Wancowicz will relish his last four opportunities to take the field with his soccer family. His focus remains on the game ahead, just as it always has.