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Credit: Son Nguyen

Eight goals, seven game-winners. 

Call it luck, skill, or clutch. Regardless, it is undeniable that junior forward Emily Sands has played a major role in Penn women’s soccer's turnaround this season.

Sands, the team's leading goal-scorer, has come up big in high-stakes situations this year. All but one of her goals this season have been game-winners, enough for the second-most game-winning goals in the nation. 

“I don’t know [if I consider myself clutch],” Sands said. “I think I’m just in the right spots at the right time.”

Sands' most recent game-winners have been the most dramatic of any of her goals this season. With just 52 seconds remaining in a double-overtime game against Lehigh, Sands found the back of the net off an assist from freshman forward Abbey Duncan to give the Quakers a 1-0 lead. This goal extended the Quakers' win streak to three games, and their unbeaten streak to eight games.

Two weeks later, Sands scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Yale. The winner didn't come quite as late as it did against Lehigh, but the 81st-minute goal did put the Quakers alone in first place in the Ivy League. Sands was named Ivy League Player of the Week for the performance.

However, to her, neither was her most memorable game-winner of the season.

“The [most memorable game-winners] have been two in the Ivy League — the Columbia and Cornell [goals]. But, the Columbia goal was the most memorable just because it was a total team goal,” Sands said. 

Prior to the contest, the Quakers had not beaten Columbia in Sands' time at Penn. Then, in the second half of a tightly contested game, Sands struck. Senior forward Sasha Stephens played a perfect ball in to senior midfielder Allie Trzaska. After the ball deflected off the goalkeeper, Sands was in the right place at the right time to put away the goal and get her first win against Columbia. 

“Every goal is important," Sands said. "The mindset of our team is, we know we’re not going to give up a goal so we just need to get that first goal and that will give us momentum."

This offseason, Sands took on the daunting task of switching positions. In her first two years on campus, Sands played center midfield, but coach Nicole Van Dyke decided to move her up to forward. After the positional change, Sands has tallied eight goals compared to just one goal all of last season. 

In addition to the positional change, Sands credits many of her opportunities to Penn’s defense, currently allowing the least goals per game in the country with just .241 goals per game allowed.

“Having such a good defense behind us gives us the confidence to close out games,” Sands said. “My goals wouldn’t be game-winners if we were giving up goals also.”

Sands' spike in goal-scoring has helped the Quakers to a current 11-game unbeaten streak and a six-game winning streak. During this stretch, Sands has scored four of the team's six game-winning goals. 

With the Quakers in sole possession of first place in the Ivy League, Sands will only find herself in increasingly higher-pressure situations. If she can continue her clutch scoring, the Quakers could find themselves playing in November NCAA Tournament games.