By now, we've seen enough from each of Penn Athletics' fall teams to judge how they compare to what was expected of them at the beginning of the season.
Several teams' performances have been quite surprising so far — both positively and negatively — so in this roundtable, our writers debate which team has been the biggest surprise.
Marc Margolis, Sports Editor — field hockey
Whenever a team is tasked with replacing a legend, it is reasonable to expect some early-season struggles the following season.
That was the case for Penn field hockey, forced to replace the program’s all-time leader in goals and points following the graduation of Alexa Hoover. Even though no individual on the roster has come close to matching Hoover’s gaudy statistics, as a team, the Quakers have had a strong start to the season despite facing six ranked opponents in their first 12 games.
With a tough early season slate, it would not have been surprising to see a less experienced Penn (6-6, 2-1 Ivy) squad struggle out of the gates.
The Quakers did the opposite.
In one of its toughest games of the season, the Red and Blue upset then-No. 14 Wake Forest in double overtime in its first match of the season. Senior forward Rachel Mirkin, who has more goals halfway though this season (three) than she had all of last season (two), provided the heroics off an assist from junior midfielder Alexa Schneck.
Despite losing all of its games to ranked opponents since, Penn only lost by one goal to then-No. 12 Syracuse in penalty strokes on Sept. 23, followed by a 2-1 loss to the new No. 12, Harvard, the following week.
Penn has the same overall record and and a better Ivy League record compared to this point last season.
Though not many would have called it, this season has a chance to not only exceed expectations but improve upon last season despite the loss of the best player in school history.
Yosef Weitzman, Sports Editor — women's soccer
Is this even a question? No other team has exceeded expectations as much as Penn women’s soccer this season. And that shouldn’t be taken as a slight toward other teams — it’s really just a reflection of how much the women’s soccer squad has improved this season.
Last year, the Quakers scored 10 goals all season and finished with more than twice as many ties and losses (three and eight, respectively) as wins (five). After Monday's Lehigh game, the team has already amassed 19 goals in just 11 games. And perhaps its defense has been even more impressive: The Red and Blue, who are 9-1-1, have allowed only three goals and have pitched six consecutive shutouts behind the stellar goalie play of junior Kitty Qu.
Penn still has six games left — including four Ivy League match-ups — so a lot can still change, but the team should be the leading contender to win the Ivy championship this season. Not too shabby for a team that finished fifth in the Ancient Eight last year.
Sam Mitchell, Associate Sports Editor — volleyball
A surprise can come in many forms, but often what’s most shocking isn’t when we’re pleasantly surprised — it’s when we’re jolted by disappointment. That’s exactly what’s happening this season for Penn volleyball, and it’s why they’re the biggest surprise in Penn Athletics.
Volleyball wasn’t expected to run the table in the Ivy League this season, but, like in past years, most Quakers fans probably thought they’d be in the mix. They’ve suffered tough losses to Princeton in recent years, but have always played well and brought a lot of talent to bear. The team earned a 7-7 record in the conference last season, including a number of close losses.
That’s why the rough start to this season feels like it came out of left field — this team has always been good, and may even have been a good long shot to contend for the conference title. To start with five straight conference losses, including sweeps at the hands of Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and Dartmouth, is not something even the most pessimistic of Red and Blue fans could have predicted.