At the start of the season, there was an open spot in Penn women’s soccer’s back four. Freshman Peyton Raun has fit right in.
Raun has made her way into the starting lineup, playing almost every minute of every game so far this season. In front of senior goalkeeper Kitty Qu, Raun has joined the likes of seniors Megan Lloyd and Laura Hamilton, as well as junior Jadyn Wilensky, in the back.
Right off the bat, Raun showed promise. Her preseason performance indicated that she would be ready to compete for the Quakers come the start of the season.
“Peyton is just unbelievably athletic. She covers so much ground. She’s fast and she has an engine. Sometimes that allows you to get away with a few more mistakes because you have that athletic ability. But not only that, she’s a competitor,” coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “I think she’s done a great job of coming in, staying focused, but at the same time trying to learn and grow.”
Raun has helped fill the void left by defender Camillia Nwokedi, who graduated from Penn after last season.
Throughout her career, Nwokedi played in 57 games, starting in 50 of them. In 2018, she was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year. Along with the rest of the defense, notably Qu, Nwokedi helped the Quakers to only allow five goals all season. It’s safe to say she was a staple of the defense.
Not only was Nwokedi an integral member of the back four, but the Quakers also pride themselves on having a very strong defensive style.
“I think that defense has always been the backbone of our team. It’s been a large part of our identity over the past four years now that I’ve been here. In terms of style, it hasn’t really changed that much,” Qu said. “It’s amazing this year that we have so much depth. I think that [our defense] doesn’t change that much when we have new players stepping in because everybody understands their role and everybody plays together really nicely, no matter who it is.”
Fortunately, Raun has shown that she is capable of maintaining this style.
“I think she has a lot of similarities athletically to Cami. However, she’s a very good soccer player. She can connect passes; she’s very precise on her long balls,” Van Dyke said. “She probably would like to go forward way more than we allow her to, and that’s something that we can grow into the position as she becomes more experienced and continues to learn our style and when that would be appropriate.”
Like 14 of her teammates, Raun is from California. A native of Pleasanton, she played for Pleasanton Rage ECNL for seven years. She also competed for her high school team for three years after taking her freshman year off.
“I just needed a break [to] figure out that I wanted to come back and play,” Raun said.
After her freshman year, Raun returned to soccer with a newfound excitement. It was the allure of a closely-bonded team that drew her to Penn and has helped her succeed in her first few games.
“[The first few games] have been so much fun actually. I love the competitive environment, and everyone’s so uplifting,” Raun said. “During the game, you make a mistake and instantly someone to my right or left is saying, ‘it’s ok, you got it next time,’ as well as just being surrounded by a competitive environment where I know anyone could come on the field and compete just as well as anyone who was already on the field. I think it’s important to be part of a team like that.”
As for what she has learned, Raun cites learning how to be a good teammate as the most important lesson. It’s clear that she has had a positive impact on the backfield as well.
“She gives us a calming presence back there. I think that she is able to settle us in the back a little bit. If the other team starts coming at us a little bit, she’s able to provide that calming presence,” Qu said. “She’s very quick; I think that helps a lot [in] the back. She’s able to close down space very quickly; she’s able to recover if we get countered. I think all those abilities contribute to how well she’s been playing.”
Now that the Quakers have progressed into Ivy play, Raun’s performance will be as important as ever. The Red and Blue will next play Cornell this Saturday at home.
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