Some fresh faces are playing a big role for Penn women’s soccer this season.
Coming into the year, many wondered how the Quakers would replace forward Sasha Stephens and midfielder Allie Trzaska. Through the team's first four games, that question seems to be mostly answered, as coach Nicole Van Dyke has relied heavily on this year's freshman class.
Defender Peyton Raun, midfielders Sara Readinger and Sizzy Lawton, and forward Ella Wright have all made major contributions to the Red and Blue this season, each appearing in all four of the team's early season contests. When also counting the appearances made by freshman defenders Miranda Farman and Emily Pringle, first years have accounted for an impressive 1,077 of the Quakers' 4,181 minutes this season.
“They’ve adjusted great. They bring a lot of energy and positivity,” Van Dyke said. “We are excited about what they are bringing to the team.”
“It's a big test to know the trust the coaches have in me,” Readinger said. “I have a lot of big shoes to fill. There have been a lot of players in my spot before me, and I need to keep working hard and giving opportunities for my team and myself in the middle.”
The early success of the freshman class is especially impressive given all of the challenges facing the Quakers in the early going, as a later start date and shorter preseason means freshmen have much less time to get acclimated to college soccer.
“Because of the limited time between our start date and our first game, you have to immediately come in and adjust to the culture while also trying to create your own identity within a team,” Van Dyke said.
These challenges mean it is important for the players to not overwork or overprepare themselves and instead focus on just doing their job.
“[We want freshmen] focusing on the style of play and the expectations in their position and then executing game plans, which is a little bit different at the college level. There isn’t as much freedom. People are expecting you to do certain things,” Van Dyke said.
While coaching is one part of this transition, the upperclassmen on the team have also played a crucial role in helping the freshmen make a smooth transition.
“Everyone has been very encouraging and helpful with the transition.” Readinger said. “It's just a matter of us being able to match their intensity and their speed of play.”
With Lawton scoring a goal in the victory over Towson and Raun leading the team in minutes, the freshmen are not just playing but making major contributions while on the field. Despite this, expectations are still being tempered this early in the season.
“[Freshman year] is about the ebbs and flows, you see some people come in and they are hot right away and they make an impact and then they have lulls,” Van Dyke said. “The best players play whether they are a freshman or a senior.”
Despite these warnings, it is important to not discount the impressive early season performances of this year's freshman class.
“Peyton has done an insane job. She’s a leader back there. She's a gamer ... she stepped into the role and has just flourished in it,” Van Dyke said. “Sara Readinger is playing a little bit deeper than she did in club, so she has more adjustments in her position ... Sizzy has been the energizer bunny so far.”
By getting crucial game action so early in their college career, these freshmen can more quickly develop into long term starters for the Red and Blue.
“It's a really tight learning curve. The earlier you get in, the more comfortable you get in the game experience, but so much of what we do is everyday in training as well,” Van Dyke said.
As they continue to assert themselves within the team, the freshmen know that they can always count on each other for support.
“We're all friends [and] we all hang out all the time, so nobody is competing for a spot," Readinger said.
While every season will certainly come with ups and downs, for Penn women’s soccer, this year's freshman class seems poised to steady the ship after last season’s graduations and keep the team in the hunt for an Ivy League title.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.