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Junior linebacker Aaron Johnson is one of the Penn athletes poised for a breakout season this fall.

Credit: Chase Sutton

The fall sports season is just around the corner — the first kickoff features women's soccer on Aug. 30, when the group takes on Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif. With last year's senior leaders gone from campus, the Daily Pennsylvanian Sports editors took a look at which underrated underclassmen are poised for breakout seasons. Here are the three little known players most poised to fill the shoes of departing seniors. 

Aaron Johnson, sprint football

The junior linebacker made his debut for the Quakers last year, and his first season with the team was an extremely successful one. Johnson was one of Penn’s best defensive players, totaling 27 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks in only six games. He also caused some game-changing plays, blocking two punts and forcing a fumble during the season. Against Army, one of the Red and Blue’s toughest opponents, Johnson posted a career-high eight tackles, anchoring the Penn defense in a losing effort.

With several key players graduating, the Columbia, Md. native will have to take an even bigger role for the Quakers this season. Four of the team’s top six tacklers from last year are no longer with the team, leaving Johnson as the central part of the defense. A new captain, he will be tasked with leading the team both on and off the field, and the Red and Blue will need him to be extremely productive if they want to compete for a Collegiate Sprint Football League title. Johnson seems primed to develop and improve, helping the Penn defense hold up against difficult opponents like Army in the team’s season opener at Franklin Field on Sept. 13. 

Credit: Son Nguyen

Sophomore forward Mia Shenk

Mia Shenk, women's soccer

With the graduation of forward Sasha Stephens and midfielder Allie Trzaska, Penn has lost a significant amount of offensive firepower. Stephens' four goals were second most on the team and Trzaska's seven assists were more than twice the next highest total on the team. In short, a substantial amount of offensive production was lost. 

Shenk, who played in 14 of 16 games last season, showed flashes of promise in that time, including scoring a goal against Brown. At 5-foot-11, Shenk is one of the tallest players on the roster, making her a potent arial threat on set pieces. While she plays a different position and style than both Stephen and Trzaska, Shenk displayed strength and ability as a center forward capable of holding the ball. Shenk could play an important role in maintaining possession and starting the offense.

Shenk had a limited role last season in the presence of her more experienced teammates, but has the tools to take advantage of an increase in playing time left behind by the seniors. 

Credit: Kelsey Warren

Sophomore forward Madison Jiranek

Madison Jiranek, field hockey

If there's any player from Penn field hockey poised for a breakout year, it's Madison Jiranek. The two-sport sophomore is all too familiar with the world of college sports, having played 16 of field hockey's 17 games last season and 15 contests for Penn women's lacrosse in the spring. Jiranek only tallied one goal in her rookie campaign with field hockey, coming in a 2-0 win over Ivy League rival Columbia on Oct. 12. She totaled nine shots — five of which were on goal — in her 384 minutes of action last season. With the departure of several key offensive players from last season, the forward will look to make a bigger splash to fill the gap.

Also helpful for the Richmond, Va. native is the strong first year she had with lacrosse. Racking up four goals and three assists for the Quakers on the season, Jiranek's campaign could provide the kickstart she might need for a standout season this fall. When the Red and Blue head down to Chapel Hill, N.C. to open their season against Wake Forest on Sept. 6, you'll want to watch out for number 18.

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