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Senior forward Emily Sands rattled off three shots against Harvard, but the Crimson kept Penn women's soccer scoreless on Saturday.

Credit: Gary Lin

You can’t win if you don’t have the ball. 

Expectations were high for Penn women’s soccer as the team began Ivy League play this weekend against Harvard. However, on a hot and windy afternoon in Cambridge, Mass., the Red and Blue struggled to get anything going offensively and dropped their Ivy League opener, 1-0. 

With strong winds blowing directly toward the Penn goal in the first half, the Quakers (5-3-1, 0-1 Ivy) struggled to move the ball into the Harvard half, as the Crimson (7-2, 1-0) dominated possessions and scoring chances. Harvard went into the halftime break outshooting Penn eight shots to one, including four attempts on goal. 

“The weather isn’t something that we have control of,” senior goalie Kitty Qu said. “The wind definitely affected the movement of the ball a little bit, but we really try to focus on ourselves and what we can control.”

“Your goal kicks don’t go as far, your clearances too,” coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “I think you could tell [the wind affected us]. They were in our defensive third most of the half; you don’t want the wind to affect how you play, but I think it had a significant impact.”

Despite the disparity in opportunities, Penn’s defense minimized dangerous chances, packing the box to limit Harvard to mostly long-distance shots. 

“A lot of our defensive success comes from always being organized,” Qu said. “I think from a back line standpoint we tried to emphasize that a lot in this game.”

After dominating the Red and Blue for much of the first half, Harvard continued its barrage after the break, putting in four shots to the Quakers' one in the first 25 minutes of the second half. While a breakthrough seemed inevitable, the Penn defense continued to hold after junior defender Chase Geffert cleared a Harvard shot off the line.

Finally, in the 72nd minute, a cross on a counterattack from Harvard’s junior forward Lauren Raimondo found its way to fellow forward Gabby DelPico, who calmly slotted her shot into the bottom-left corner for her fourth goal of the season. 

After the goal, the Quakers increased their sense of urgency on offense and started to rack up scoring opportunities. During this stretch, senior forward Emily Sands put her first two shots on goal, which were two of Penn's best scoring chances of the afternoon. Both shots, however, were handled by the Crimson’s senior goalie Kat Hess.

“We have been playing very well coming into the second half, so we figured that after we weathered the storm we would get some chances in the second,” Van Dyke said. “We had chances to win the game; that's the reality. We probably had more high quality chances than them.”

This late flurry by the Quakers actually led to them outshooting Harvard in the second half while also racking up five corner kicks, but after the slow offensive start, this proved to be too little too late. 

“Unfortunately, we just didn’t have that final push,” Van Dyke said. “We needed a little extra something … Even not playing our best we still had chances to win the game.”

Despite allowing the goal, Penn's defense was the star of the show for the team, as Qu provided six saves and the back line prevented numerous other scoring chances, which kept the Quakers in the game.

“One of our biggest strengths is obviously our defense. It has been the backbone of our identity for the last couple years now,” Qu said. “[By] sticking to our defensive principles, we believe that we are always in the game no matter what happens.”

While this early loss certainly puts a dent in the team’s hopes of defending last season’s Ivy League co-championship, the Red and Blue will have plenty of time to rebound — as evidenced last season when the team tied its first Ivy game against Harvard before winning five straight League contests. The Quakers will have a chance to get right back out and avenge their defeat as they prepare to take on Cornell at home next Saturday.