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Penn women’s soccer senior Camillia Nwokedi gave up her position as right back this summer, and so far the sacrifice has paid off in big ways for the Quakers’ defense.

Credit: Biruk Tibebe

Zero goals allowed in more than 580 minutes of play. First in the nation in shutout percentage. Second in the nation in goals against average.

All of that adds up to a current No. 1 standing in the Ivy League for Penn women’s soccer.  

“This ranking, as exciting as it is, doesn’t mean anything unless we protect it until the end. It’s something to be hungrier for, something to be more excited to protect,” senior defender Camillia Nwokedi said.

The Red and Blue (9-1-1, 2-0-1 Ivy) are back on top in the Ivy League thanks in large part to their dominating defense. Always a strength for Penn, this year's defensive unit has exceeded the already high expectations placed on them.

“Defense is our backbone. We pride ourselves on a whatever it takes attitude — defending from top to bottom and always having the understanding there is always a line to back each other up,” coach Nicole Van Dyke said. 

This Quakers squad is in the middle of a six-game shutout streak that dates back to their 1-0 victory over Towson on September 16th. The Quakers' defensive unit has put up numbers that are among the best in the nation, allowing only .262 goals per game and posting a .932 save percentage — both good for second in all of Division I women’s soccer. 

“We celebrate every [shutout],” Nwokedi said. “Looking at each other after the game and realizing again we accomplished our mission [is so rewarding].”

Nwokedi, one of the two senior defenders, has been leading by example on the field. This past summer leading up to her senior season, she gave up her position of right back, a position she had played for the team for three seasons for the improvement of the team. 

In just six months, Nwokedi transitioned to the other side of the defense and has quickly re-established herself as a top defender on the team.

“[Cami] gave up playing a comfortable position as a right back that she’s done for three years to learn a new position last spring and make a selfless decision to be ok doing that for her senior year,” Van Dyke said.  “She’s one of the top defenders in the conference hands down. Her ability to do that is incredible in itself.”

The stout Quaker defense has had a significant impact on the rest of the team as well. The sense of security on the back line has allowed the rest of the Red and Blue to take risks on the opposing third. This has resulted in a newfound success on the offensive side of the ball.

Penn has already scored 19 goals in just 11 games this season compared to 10 all of last season. 

“We’re dictating the tempo of the games that we’re in. We’re committed to the smallest details of the game, but also the smallest details off the field. We want to put ourselves in a situation to be successful every game,” Van Dyke said. 

No shots. No Crosses. No Corners. 

The Quakers defense have lived by this team motto all season and it has resulted in success in the Ivy League. The unit has yet to allow a goal in conference play this season. 

However, there have been some rough patches for the Quakers defense this season. 

In just the third game of the season, the Red and Blue had the responsibility of facing No. 13 NC State and award-winning junior Tziarra King. In the first three minutes of that contest, the Quakers conceded a goal and all signs indicated a blowout would ensue. However, the Red and Blue used this to reshape the rest of their season. 

“I think to be broken down by NC State was a great learning opportunity for us,” Nwokedi said. “Coming out against an award winning forward was a great moment for us because it pushed us to realize that we have a lot of great competition coming up, that we can’t be complacent.”

The next challenge for the Quakers is on Saturday against Dartmouth (7-3-2, 2-0-1), who is currently tied for first place in the Ivy League with both Penn and Harvard. Penn drew with Harvard to open Ivy League play this season. 

“We’re taking [the season game by game]. We know Dartmouth is playing well and that they’re a great team,” Van Dyke said. “Historically, the Ivy League has great defense, so we know that they’re going to be hard to score on. But, as a team, we know that we have to keep the ball out of the back of the net.”

This Saturday, on the 28th day of the Quakers’ shutout streak, the defense will once again be tested against Dartmouth — this time with first-place implications on the line.