Watch out whenever Penn scores first.
After a loss to Columbia where the Quakers managed only two shots on goal, Penn women’s soccer hoped to bounce back at Rhodes Field against Dartmouth, which still hasn’t won an Ivy League contest.
The home team did not disappoint. With a strong performance on both ends of the field, the Red and Blue (7-4-1, 2-2 Ivy) took an early lead and never looked back, defeating the Big Green (8-5, 0-4) by a 1-0 score for the third consecutive year.
Both teams went back and forth right from the start. The Big Green threatened in the eighth minute, when sophomore Izzy Glennon received the ball at the penalty spot, forcing senior goalkeeper Kitty Qu into action with a diving save. Penn was quick to respond less than three minutes later, when senior forward Emma Loving crossed to junior Paige Howard, who managed to keep the ball after a tackle and found freshman midfielder Sizzy Lawton. The young Quaker shot from the edge of the box, leaving no chance for Dartmouth’s goalie and scoring her third goal of the season.
“A lot of the time in practice, [coach Nicole Van Dyke] tells me to focus on opening up, because I tend to get back the way it came, so I'm trying to do that more during games,” Lawton said. “When I saw Paige winning that ball, I just made sure I opened up and hit it the best I could.”
Both teams were evenly matched from then on and didn't challenge the goalkeepers. In the last minutes of the half, the visitors tried pressuring the Red and Blue’s defensive line when midfielder Alyssa Neuberger went around Qu, but she failed to get a shot off quickly, allowing the defenders to recover. Thus, the Quakers took their lead into halftime — something they have done five times this season, resulting in five wins.
“The game in Columbia was too much transition, so we wanted to make sure we kept it here in our half as long as we could," Van Dyke said. “Today they focused on doing their roles and doing them really well. Our objective was to come out early and fast, because we know that when we score first, we win games.”
While the start of the second half could be described as quiet and even, the game grew one-sided. Dartmouth ramped up its aggressiveness, incessantly looking for the equalizer, but the Quakers were alert and ready to contain the attacks. In the 72nd minute, Big Green freshman Allie Winstanley left three defenders behind and took a strong shot. The attempt, however, was kept out by an impressive one-handed save from Qu.
Dartmouth’s most dangerous opportunity came only six minutes later, when a free kick hit the crossbar and bounced right on the goal line, tricking the visiting fans into celebrating. Nonetheless, the Red and Blue quickly pushed the ball away to secure their fifth shutout of the season.
“As a team, we executed the game plan really well. We were connecting more passes and playing them more physically,” Qu said. “We definitely learned from our previous losses and grew, especially because everyone has been very adaptable and very willing to change into any role the team needs.”
Despite Dartmouth’s dominance toward the end of the game, Van Dyke was not worried about the team’s performance.
“Whatever team is a goal down in this league, they are the better team in the final 20 minutes,” Van Dyke said. “I know Dartmouth is 0-4, but they are still a very good team and it’s hard to get wins, so I am very proud of the girls. They prepared, they played confidently, they believed in themselves and in each other. We just want to keep building on that.”
With a remarkable improvement from last week’s match, it is clear that the Quakers have a recipe for success: taking advantages of their chances in the first half in order to score first, and then playing a more defensive game, always remaining well organized under pressure.
The Red and Blue get back in action next Monday, when they travel to take on Delaware State for the last non-conference game of the season.