Even if it is not obvious from the final score, the Quakers can take away several positives from their season opener on Friday night.
In its first game of the 2019 season, Penn women’s soccer fell to No. 3 Stanford, 5-1, in front of a packed crowd at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium. The match was not only the Quakers' first of the season and the first time in history that the two sides have faced off, but the No. 3 Cardinal (1-0) were also the highest-ranked opponent the Red and Blue (0-1) have faced in program history.
“We have to be able to play those big games. It is a massive growing experience for us,” coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “We outnumbered their fans and it was a nice homecoming for a number of players. Our girls walked away just confident that we have so much room to improve, but we just ran 90 minutes with the top team in the country.”
Friday's contest was a homecoming of sorts for Van Dyke, who was an assistant coach for Stanford from 2011-2013 and the Cardinal's associate head coach in 2014.
After allowing just five goals all of last season, Penn gave up as many scores on Friday. Stanford is a team unlike any the Quakers have seen, and the Cardinal — led by star forward Catarina Macario — scored 2.54 goals per game last season.
“We were very disciplined in handling their offensive threats. They have one of the — if not the — best player in the nation and I thought that we did a great job wrapping her up,” senior goalkeeper Kitty Qu said. “Even though she scored two goals, she didn’t score until around the 70th minute range.”
The game could have been more lopsided if not for the excellent play of Qu.
The senior goalie set the tone early for the Quakers, making numerous saves in the opening moments of the contest, including a lunging save in the 9th minute off of a Stanford rifle from within the box. The game remained scoreless until the 19th minute when Stanford found the back of the net for the first time. The Cardinal then promptly extended the lead to 2-0 in the 27th minute of action.
“Kitty has been a big-game player since she arrived at Penn,” Van Dyke said. “I think that just shows a testament to her ability to make the small saves, but then she can also come up big. I think she came up in that first part of the game and made some humongous saves.”
Qu faced 35 shots and 18 shots on goal during the game. In a career where Qu has already set many Penn records, she set a career high with 13 saves in a single contest.
“I think that we were up against it for a little bit. I’m my biggest critic so I think there's some areas I could have done better on to prevent some of the goals,” Qu said. “Our coach told us before the game that we can’t expect perfection; after all, it is our first game. So I think that I made some good saves but [there are] definitely some areas to grow.”
On the offensive side, the Quakers struggled to generate many goal-scoring opportunities. The team finished with just five total shots and three on goal.
Despite falling behind, 5-0, in the 82nd minute, Penn kept trying to find scoring chances. The Quakers fought off a scoreless night behind the leg of sophomore forward Jackie Bruder, who was set up for her goal with a long cross from senior forward Emma Loving. The goal was the second of Bruder’s Penn career.
“One of the biggest takeaways is that we scored a goal,” Qu said. “I think that it shows that we can compete on the highest level.”
The Quakers have a quick turnaround after a long journey home. They will face off against Towson in their home opener on Monday night at Rhodes Field, which will be the beginning of a three-game home stand.