Penn women’s soccer’s loss to Princeton on Homecoming Saturday marked the end of the Quakers’ 2019 along with those of the seniors set to graduate in a matter of months. It also marked an important point of transition for those members of the Red and Blue who will be back in the fold for the 2020 season.
Among those players is junior forward Paige Howard, who now faces preparation for a senior season after having experienced equal parts elation and disappointment during her three year career at Penn.
Howard played a key role on the 2018 Ivy League-winning Quakers, contributing three goals and three assists in 15 games, five of which she started in. After recording one assist as a freshman, the uptick in production seemed both a sign of promising on-field growth and the product of playing on a team for whom everything seemed to go right.
The 2019 edition of the Red and Blue didn’t experience the same good fortune.
“We’ve had a lot of bad bounces and calls not go our way,” Howard said. “Working against that adversity has been a lot for me, personally.”
Coach Nicole Van Dyke echoed Howard’s view that Penn often found itself wishing for better luck in 2019, but she emphasized that soccer, like any sport, can be cruel sometimes.
Of course, Howard already knew that not all seasons would have championships waiting at their ends. Despite winning 13 games as a sophomore, she had also been through the struggle of only winning five games as a freshman. She feels as though those experiences prepared her well to work through the trying moments of this team’s eight-win year.
“I feel like I grew a lot from last year to this year, even though it was just a year’s difference,” Howard said. “I feel like when you become a junior, you get a new perspective as an older kid and definitely as a leader. I think growing into that role has been really exciting for me.”
Van Dyke agreed, saying that she has observed that natural maturation not only in Howard, but in others as well. As players get older and more ingrained in the program, they begin to see the different ways in which they provide value for the team.
“I think some of the best moments are when Paige has come off the bench and given this energy and unwavering commitment to work hard, and teams need those in moments,” Van Dyke said. “As your role changes as you get a little bit older, you contribute in different ways, and she’s found a way every single year to contribute in a different way.”
Howard sees herself as a catalyst who the Quakers can rely on to jumpstart the group from a lull. Beyond providing energy, though, she is a legitimate attacking option for the Red and Blue. While her production dipped in 2019 to just a goal and an assist in 14 games, Van Dyke stressed that Howard creates many opportunities for Penn. It can be frustrating not to score from those opportunities, but Van Dyke made clear that as a coach, she would be more worried if the opportunities were not appearing in the first place.
In addition to her play on the field, Howard has enjoyed the opportunity to take on a greater leadership role as she has become one of the team’s more senior members.
“I feel like I know these girls inside and out,” Howard said. “I love being around them. It definitely feels like you’re somebody the younger kids look up to, especially the freshmen. They’re looking for some kind of guidance. The older kids are who they turn to, and just being someone that they feel comfortable with is awesome.”
With her junior season now under her belt, Howard thinks that the underwhelming and unlucky nature of 2019 can be much more informative for her than her freshman year was. Her perspective makes her more capable of dealing with the inevitable obstacles that any season might present while also making sure to remain attentive to the small details that separate winning teams from middle-of-the-road ones.
Van Dyke sees Howard becoming a mainstay of the squad as a senior — it’s just a matter of stringing together some positive bounces.
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