For many Penn students, NSO is all about having fun. For the men’s soccer team, this year's return is all business.
The two weeks of official preseason is a quick turnaround to take a new team and prepare them be game-ready. Fortunately for Quakers, they bring back a lot of experience and talent.
The Red and Blue return all but two starters from last year. While the loss of captains Sam Wancowicz and Austin Kuhn are not to be taken lightly, their impact has already been replaced by a slew of sophomore talent.
Both defender RC Williams and midfielder Joey Bhangdia missed the 2017 season due to injuries, but have more training with the team than the average newcomer. The other nine veteran starters have played an average of 27.3 career games — more than a season and a half of experience.
Three returning Quakers have already proven themselves by winning All-Ivy accolades in 2017: senior midfielder Joe Swenson, sophomore forward Jake Kohlbrenner, and sophomore defender Alex Touche.
There are obvious advantages to the experience upperclassmen have that the newcomers lack. Being comfortable with the speed of higher level competition and knowing one’s own tendencies can give a returner an advantage.
“A lot of it has helped by knowing yourself as a player, and really as you play in more and more games you kind of figure out what works and what doesn’t,” junior captain Brandon Bartel said. “I know my strong suits, I’m not going to take someone on a dribble, so I’m kind of able to move myself away from that and find more things that I’m successful at.”
Knowing a teammate’s tendencies can help create opportunities with the ball as well. In the Marquette game, Bartel could reasonably predict that his placement of a corner kick to the middle of the 18-yard box would connect with the head of his 6’4” teammate Touche. The overtime goal put Penn over Marquette, launching the Quakers to an RPI of 6.
The Red and Blue veterans bring this chemistry off the field as well. With team culture a major emphasis this year, the upperclassmen have been setting an example for the new faces, even before the official season began.
“I think that we had the idea last year of making sure everyone was sharp during the summer but I think the mentality of guys was completely different this summer,” senior captain Gavin Barger said.
“From last year, I’ve noticed since preseason the level’s been higher, more competitive, I think we’re getting a lot more out of practices,” Kohlbrenner said.
While the experienced players are bringing everything they have to the table, the new talent won’t take long to make a name for themselves. Four freshmen have already gotten playing time, combining for ten shots over the first three games of the season.
“We try to bring these new guys in, understanding the program, understanding the history, understanding where we’re trying to go. We try to relay the message that the coaching staff gives us,” senior captain Jerel Blades said. “We try to have a unified message that hopefully, this can be a dedicated, united, winning program.”
Friday’s victory against a strong Marquette program embodies Blades's sentiment. With the win, the Quakers have started its season on a high note.
To continue their successful season, they need to maintain their momentum that started in the summer.
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