Some players are irreplaceable. And this season, Penn women’s soccer has to figure out how to bounce back from losing the talents and creativity of forward Sasha Stephens and midfielder Allie Trzaska.
Last season was a breakthrough for the Quakers, who finished 13-2-1 overall and 5-1-1 in the Ivy League. Their total of 12 shutouts was good enough to tie for second-most in program history.
Much of this success was due to the Quakers’ elite defense. However, perhaps the biggest improvement Penn made last season was in its scoring. The Quakers finished the season having scored 30 goals with only five against, whereas the season before had only seen the Red and Blue put 10 balls in the net. Compared to the 2017 season, the Quakers' shooting percentage last season more than doubled.
The departure of two of Penn’s most important forwards has left questions about the future of the team's offense. Last season, Stephens scored four of Penn’s 30 total goals, adding an assist on another. Her speed was a huge asset to the team, allowing her to surpass opposing defenders. Trzaska assisted on seven goals, the most of anyone on the team.
The Red and Blue were effective on both sides of the ball last season. Though it remains to be seen how the Quakers will fare this year, they don’t feel discouraged about the loss of last year's seniors.
“We just have a great incoming freshman class, and everyone’s improved from the spring, so just putting that all together, it’s not so much about filling the holes. We’re a different team now,” senior midfielder Kelsey Andrews said. “We’re not focused on ‘Oh, we need to recreate what we had last season,’ we’re focused on what we have now, how can we build that into where we want to be.”
“It’s not really about replacing because you can’t replace Ally, Cami [Nwokedi], [and] Sasha,” senior forward Emily Sands said.
With Andrews having taken on a bigger role last season, nine of the Quakers’ 11 starters will return this year. It’s likely that Penn’s style of play won’t change much, though different players will be filling new roles.
“The root of our team has always been in defense. We always build ourselves around a strong back line, and through the middle we just always put the strongest players we can,” Sands said. “We like to defend and win the ball higher up the field, and that will allow us to play higher up and score goals higher up the field.”
“We haven’t changed the way we play. We’ve always had the same style of play. We like to be strategic about it, we don’t just like to whack the ball,” Andrews said. “We don’t change any of those tactics. It’s just with certain players it might look different. We don’t change our core, fundamental values.”
Returners like junior Breukelen Woodard — who transferred to Penn last season — and senior Emma Loving remain important members of the team. Sands will undoubtedly continue to contribute by way of goals, having scored eight last season, the most on the team. The new group of freshmen have proven to be talented and very eager throughout preseason, especially the pair of midfielders Sara Readinger and Sizzy Lawton.
“I think [Sara’s] going to be a player that shines a lot, gets a significant amount of playing time,” coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “Sizzy is a Kelsey Andrews-type player, they’re two peas in a pod. She’s spry, she’s energetic, she’s quick. She plays attacking center mid, she can play outside back, she can play wide forward. She’s someone who has come on and puts her stamp on the game.”
Though new faces may be taking the pitch, Van Dyke is confident that the freshmen will fit in well with the team.
“We focus on the roles and finding the strengths of all the players. I think we recruit players for our style,” Van Dyke said. “We’ve brought in some players that have really pushed the envelope and are able to contribute right away.”
The Quakers open their season this Friday in California with a tough test against No. 3 Stanford.