After finishing last season 13-2-1 with a share of the Ivy League title, Penn women’s soccer is being thrown right back into the fire to start the new season.
The Quakers — ranked second in the Ivy League preseason poll behind Princeton — will travel to Stanford, Calif. to face off against the No. 3 Cardinal in their season opener on Friday.
While a No. 2 ranking in the preseason poll could be disappointing for the defending Ivy League champions, the team isn’t looking at its ranking as a major motivating factor.
“The preseason poll doesn’t really mean that much to us,” senior forward Emily Sands said. “You could pick us to finish sixth and we’ll finish first.”
“The reality is we don’t pay attention to that stuff,” senior midfielder Kelsey Andrews said. “You can’t focus on a result. It is about our process.”
This game could end up being the biggest challenge the Quakers have to face all year.
A season opener against the No. 3 team in the country is the opposite of easing one's way back into the new season. The Red and Blue are going in with the belief that win or lose, facing such a tough opponent to open the season can only make them stronger.
“That’s what going out to Stanford prepares you to do in the long run,” coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “They’re going to be an exceptional team, and we’re just using that to prepare us for the big games later on in the year.”
Even with the loss of some key players from last year’s team on offense, the Quakers are confident in their group of returnees and new players.
“We have a great incoming freshman class, and also everyone has improved from the spring,” Andrews said. “It’s not so much about filling a hole. It’s about [how] we’re a different team now.”
“The entire [freshman] class has come in and made an impact,” Sands said. “They’ve done a good job of pushing us to be stronger, faster, and the best version of ourselves.”
Sophomore forward Mia Shenk doesn’t believe the team necessarily needs to change its style against Stanford.
“The root of our team has always been in defense. We always build ourselves through a strong back line,” Shenk said. “We like to defend the ball higher up the field and allow us to score goals up the field.”
While the Quakers may come in as big underdogs in the opener against the Cardinal, they are comfortable being in that position.
“We like that because we can play with a chip on our shoulder,” Andrews said.
While Stanford will be a big early test for the Red and Blue, they hope to use the game as a stepping stone moving into the remainder of the season.