If you have been to a Penn men’s soccer game this season, the play of Ben Stitz has probably caught your eye one way or another.
Ever-present in the center of the field for Penn, the sophomore midfielder has impressed this season by dictating play in the attacking third, as well as providing a strong shielding presence in front of the defensive line.
Soccer has always been in Stitz's DNA. Both of his parents played soccer at the collegiate level, so he was exposed to the sport from a very early age.
“Soccer was something that came to me from my family,” Stitz said. “It was just something I grew up doing and liking. I eventually started to play club [soccer] at six and played all the way up to my senior year of high school.”
Last season, Stitz was not afforded significant game time amid tough competition in the middle of the field. However, Stitz seemed to have flipped a switch toward the end of the season, as he started in seven of Penn’s last eight matches, most of which were against Ivy League competition. In those games, he was a major contributor on the defensive end, helping the Red and Blue earn three shutouts.
This year, Stitz has already eclipsed his statistics from 2018. Having started in all of the Quakers’ 11 games so far alongside senior midfielder Brandon Bartel, Stitz has continued to shield his backline from opposing attackers, but he has also thrived in the attacking third of the pitch.
In particular, he has looked threatening when carrying the ball forward, as opposing defenders have failed to match up against his mix of both skill and power. Stitz’s marauding runs have put him in a lot of promising positions. His 20 shots taken, 10 of which were on target, rank second on the team.
Stitz believes his freshman year playing experience, as well as being deployed in a slightly more advanced role, has helped him further develop his attacking instincts.
“Last year I came in inexperienced [since] I didn’t really know what the coaches wanted from a systematic standpoint," Stitz said. "Now just having a year under my belt, knowing what the coaches want, and being able to know [my teammates better], I’ve been playing better as a result.”
In fact, Stitz’s improvements have already yielded tangible rewards on the scoresheet. His first assist for Penn came in the team's home opener — a 1-0 win over Marist — while he notched his first career goal and another assist in Penn's Ivy League opening win against Cornell.
Being on a team that is known for its stout defense, those offensive contributions are crucial. Stitz is one of only five Quakers who have scored this season. His two assists lead the team along with Bartel and junior forward Jake Kohlbrenner.
“It’s exciting,” Stitz said about his point tally. “Just being able to directly contribute to the scoresheet is something that obviously you want to do [when] playing as more of an attacking midfielder. Hopefully I will get a couple more goals and assists later on in the season.”
Even though his strong start to the season has been encouraging, Stitz is keeping his head down and vows to keep playing well for the team.
“Obviously we want to win the Ivy [title], and we want to have a winning record,” he said. “I think that with team success, the individual success starts coming out.”