Penn women’s soccer lost 5-1 to No. 3 Stanford in its opening game, but this match may have been the next big step toward national relevance for the program.
Going into the contest, there were several factors that raised major causes for concern.
While the Quakers were using this game as a warm-up for their season, Stanford’s season was well underway. For starters, Penn had just 10 days of training going into the opener. Meanwhile, the Cardinal, coming off of a Final Four appearance in the 2018 Women's College Cup, had already won two games before their home opener against the Quakers, with wins at No. 6 Penn State and No. 11 West Virginia.
Additionally, the traveling logistics of starting the season on the road, more than 2,500 miles away from home, is a daunting task for any team. This was the program's first road season opener in coach Nicole Van Dyke's five-year tenure. After this trip, the Quakers returned to Philadelphia on Saturday to play a home game Monday night against Towson. The outcome of the Stanford match was disappointing, but also exactly as was expected for Penn.
On the surface, the game seemed like a blowout — the Quakers, who let up just five goals in 2018, allowed five scores in this contest. But when thought about from a developmental standpoint, the game set the precedent for future competition against top-tier opponents.
Stanford is the highest-ranked team the Quakers have faced in program history, which sets the stage for Penn to play at an elite level. In recent years, the Red and Blue have consistently been raising their level of competition under Van Dyke, including a 2018 match against No. 13 North Carolina State.
Additionally, the Quakers even managed to score a goal against the Cardinal, a team that allowed just 0.5 goals per game last season. In Stanford's road games this season against Penn State and West Virginia, it also surrendered one goal in each of those games.
The game showcased the Quakers' talent on a national scale, as it was aired on the Pac-12 Network. This is the only game of Penn’s 2019 season slated to be nationally televised, and the only televised game not exclusively on ESPN+.
Specifically for Van Dyke, the game had special meaning. Before joining Penn as a head coach in March 2015, Van Dyke spent four seasons at Stanford, including three seasons as an assistant head coach and one as the associate head coach. During her time at Stanford, the team won the 2011 NCAA Tournament and went a combined 81-9-7. Since leaving for Penn, the Quakers have recruited heavily from California, especially from the Palo Alto area. Nearly half of the players on the Red and Blue's roster — 15 of 31 — are from the Golden State.
Despite the game coming at the cost of a lengthy journey for the team, the game was well received by the players, for many of whom it was a homecoming. The Quakers' fans and family of the players came out in support of the team in Palo Alto and outnumbered the Cardinal fans at a sold-out contest.
The Quakers may have lost their opener against Stanford, coming to many as an expected result. But the program as a whole grew significantly, setting the team up for success moving forward.
ZACK ROVNER is a College junior from Holland, Pa. and an Associate Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.