New year. New team.
Penn women’s soccer is off to its first 2-0 start in three years and is firing on all cylinders.
Through just two games, the Quakers (2-0) have already scored six goals and recorded two shutouts. Last season, in 16 games, the Red and Blue tallied a total of 10 goals and five shutouts. So far, they are on pace to shatter both of these marks.
“I think we all decided this year was going to be our year,” sophomore forward Paige Howard said. “I think we all worked really hard over the summer and the team bought into that.”
This Penn team has a different feel to it. Last season, the Quakers were 0-2 through two games and did not record their first victory until their sixth game. This season is different. In her fourth year, coach Nicole Van Dyke’s first recruits are now seniors, giving her a lineup entirely comprised of players that she coached to play in her system for all four of their years at Penn.
“This senior group came on when we started,” Van Dyke said. “We coached this group for four years. They know how we do things. They’re the leaders now. They all played at a really young age — since they were freshman. It’s a lot more familiarity.”
This Friday, Penn will put its unblemished record on the line against No. 13 North Carolina State (3-0-1). Fresh off a win against No. 10 South Carolina, the Wolfpack look to continue an unbeaten streak of their own behind junior Tziarra King, who was named to the 2018 MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List, which is awarded annually to college soccer's most outstanding player.
“I think that we have to protect the ball a little bit,” Howard said. “I think it’s being a little more comfortable, continuing to get fitter, and just coming sharper as the season goes on.”
Highlighted thus far by strong goalkeeping and great defensive play, the Quakers have only allowed eight shots on goals thus far through two games. But going up against a star-studded attack will require the Red and Blue to come out firing.
“I think we keep the energy high in the second half for sure. It’s definitely something that we want to bring in to the first half in the future. It’s an area we need to work on. I really expect for the rest of games to come out firing every half,” Howard said.
In order to beat NC State, Penn will have to get off to a better start offensively than it has to this point in a season. So far, all six of Penn’s goals have been scored in the second half of contests.
“I want to get a fresher start. We haven’t conceded any goals in the first half which is great. It would be nice to put some goals away in the first half against NC State,” Van Dyke said.
On the other side of the ball, NC State has scored six goals in four matches. The Wolfpack are currently out shooting their opponents 70 to 33 on the season, and will look to do much of the same this weekend.
“I know we team defend, but our back line is going to have to deal with a Hermann trophy nominee and that’s going to be a [test]. But we generally do quite well even with a top player on the team,” Van Dyke said.
If Penn can hang with a ranked opponent, it might just be the Quakers' year after all.