The Red and Blue bid their six seniors adieu with a cake, jerseys, and at least a share of a shiny Ivy League trophy.
An emphatic 2-0 win over Brown, Penn’s first over the Bears since 2014, gave the Quakers (13-1-1, 5-0-1 Ivy) their first Ivy title since 2010. Penn has the chance to be the outright champion with a tie or a win against Princeton next weekend.
“Obviously you need to celebrate what they’ve done, you know, they have a share of the title,” coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “But, we are at home, we are at Rhodes, and this is a testament to the seniors."
Once the opening whistle blew, Penn got right down to business and earned its first chance with senior midfielder Allie Trzaska’s shot on goal. By applying relentless pressure over the first 20 minutes, the Quakers earned five corners and took six shots. Penn’s best chance came in the form of a set-piece; Trzaska pounced on a corner taken by senior forward Sasha Stephens and headed the ball towards the net, but Brown’s keeper was able to punch the ball away.
With Stephens in the thick of the action, the midfield was brewing with constant activity until the Bears regrouped and changed their playing style to halt the Quakers’ momentum.
“Obviously Brown came into it knowing that they were playing a top team,” Van Dyke said. “There were moments where they made it hard on us by disrupting our game, and thankfully I felt that we responded really well in those moments.”
The half ended at 0-0 with Penn outshooting Brown (6-8-1, 2-4-0) by six shots to one.
As has often been the case this season, Penn started the second half stronger than the first. Junior forward Emily Sands gave the Quakers their first big chance of the half. She created space by outmaneuvering the defender and lobbed a ball into the box, but found no taker.
Sophomore midfielder Breukelen Woodard linked with Sands to create a second opportunity. Woodard played Sands into the box, but Sands’ first touch was too strong, and the ball rolled out of bounds for a goal kick.
Penn’s breakthrough came in the 52nd minute. Trzaska sliced Brown’s defense open by playing a lobbed through ball down the right wing to Stephens. One-on-one with the keeper, Stephens maintained her composure to strike the ball into the bottom-left corner of the goal.
“We came to play, and yeah it didn't happen in the way we wanted it to, but in the second half we came out and did exactly what we needed to,” Stephens said. “It didn’t matter who did it, it just mattered that it happened.”
With seven assists to her name and one game to spare, Trzaska moved into seventh all-time in assists registered in a season in program history.
Despite going down, Brown looked more settled in as a series of set-pieces and long throw-ins caught Penn’s defense by surprise a few times. The Quakers managed to recover each time, as the defense, led by senior captain Camillia Nwokedi, cleared each threat away.
Junior goalkeeper Kitty Qu took an active role in arranging the defense during the 20 minute period when the Bears appeared threatening with every touch. She recorded her 19th career shutout.
Penn found some breathing space through freshman forward Mia Shenk’s first collegiate goal in the 77th minute.
Sophomore forward Paige Howard, bearing down the right flank, scraped in a cross into the box while going down. Shenk cut across the box and hit a one-timer right over the Brown goalkeeper’s hand, off the crossbar, and into the back of the net.
“It’s been so amazing, just kind of coming in and joining this super special team and having this amazing season,” Shenk said. “It’s everything I could have wished for and more; it’s been perfect.”
The bench erupted in joy, and the players huddled up to celebrate their newfound legroom.
“It’s been a long four years and I’m glad to see that it amounted to something in the end,” Stephens said. “I can probably speak for everyone on our team that we are just really excited that this happened, and we really really worked hard for it.”
As the announcer counted down to full-time, Penn lifted their first Ivy League Championship since 2010. The team rejoiced, but quickly refocused on the task ahead: Princeton.
“One of the first things we talked about after we huddled up after the game was that first things first, we checked off this game and now we are onto the next one,” Nwokedi said.
“It's not done for us here; we are not looking to share a title, we want it all for ourselves.”
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