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Junior midfielder Emily Sands was the difference in the game against Army West Point, converting on a penalty kick in the second half.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Sand. It’s rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Including the back of the net. 

That’s how Army women’s soccer must have felt in the 62nd minute when Penn junior Emily Sands’ consistent pressure won her a penalty kick. 

She scored, and the Quakers secured the 1-0 victory a half hour later. 

Penn (2-0) opened their weekend — and their season — with a dominant 5-0 win over Mount St. Mary’s (0-3) on Friday night. That win followed a similar script to the Army (3-1-1) game: an evenly matched and defensive first half, followed by a second half Penn goal to break open the game. 

“I think we’re still trying to figure out how we start that game, and obviously we’ve been coming out very strong in the second [half] when we regroup,” coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “But, you know, the second half has worked out well for us.”

Penn’s back four limited the Mountaineers to just one shot in the first half, and it forced the only save junior goalkeeper Kitty Qu needed in the shutout. 

The action really didn’t start until the second half, when the Quakers exploded for 21 shots and five goals, the most scored since a 2016 matchup against Cornell. 

It was senior forward Sasha Stephens who opened the scoring with a blistering run down the right sideline, beating the defender on the dribble and the keeper with the shot. Her speed gave both Mount St. Mary’s and Army fits as they struggled to contain her runs in behind the back four. 

Senior midfielder Allie Trzaska had two assists in the opener, supplying the initial ball for Stephen’s goal and finding midfielder Paige Howard at the far post for Penn’s second tally. Howard finished with two goals and an assist to lead the team in scoring.

In her first game in a Penn uniform, sophomore transfer Breukelen Woodard tallied a goal and an assist while steadying the midfield for the Quakers. The former South Carolina player followed up that performance by playing the full 90 minutes against Army. While she didn’t appear on the stat sheet, her performance defensively and in possession helped the Quakers stabilize the midfield after a slow start against the Black Knights. 

Credit: Chase Sutton

Breukelen Woodard

In her fourth year at the helm, Van Dyke feels she finally has a veteran presence in the starting lineup. With her first recruits now seniors, the entire lineup is composed of players who were meant to be in her system and understand her mentality. 

She credits that veteran leadership with the strong start and the goal scoring boom. While Penn managed only 10 goals in 16 games last season, their total is now six after just 180 minutes played. 

“I don’t think, really, anything has changed,” Van Dyke said. “It’s just that the team has gotten better. We’re just better this year.” 

The veteran presence has certainly made itself known through two games. With senior Camillia Nwokedi anchoring the back four and Trzaska, Stephens, and Sands among others in attack, the team’s best players are no longer developing prospects. 

Trzaska in particular provided a calming veteran presence in midfield. It was her distribution that set up the majority of Penn’s chances, particularly her link up play with Sands and Stephens down the right side. 

Sands however, created the most dangerous Penn chances. In the first half, her turning effort blazed just wide, but her penchant for finding and creating time and space in dangerous areas caused havoc for the Black Knights. It was a similar scenario that led to the penalty. 

After receiving a cross at the far edge of the box, Sands managed to beat the defender and create some space inside the penalty area. The Army defender had no options — either allow Sands a free shot on net or attempt a risky last-ditch tackle. Ultimately, the tackle was mistimed, and Sands converted the ensuing penalty. 

“She’s obviously been a starter and she’s now coming off the bench, and she’s taken that role on in the last two games with a super positive energy,” Van Dyke said. “She’s been tremendous off the bench.”

Sands credited an atmosphere of excitement around the team for the fast start two games in. If the Quakers can continue to find the back of the net, and the veteran presence continues to be a stabilizing force, that excitement might just grow into something bigger.