The fall athletics season is well under way, and Penn sports have been in full swing, with many of the teams preparing to enter Ivy League play.
This season has marked the return of players forced to miss a year of competition following the Ivy League’s cancelation of the 2020 season. This year has also been the athletic debut for many Penn athletes. While the fall is always a time for new faces and members of the freshman class starting their careers in the Red and Blue, this fall has featured even more players experiencing college athletics for the first time.
Members of Penn’s Class of 2024 missed out on their freshman athletic season because of the pandemic and all of the ensuing cancelations. In the fall of 2020, when these athletes should have been on the field, they were instead experiencing life through a screen at home. Their only interactions with the teammates and coaches they had planned to spend every day with happened over Zoom, and they were left disconnected.
Last spring, many of these athletes were able to make the return to campus, and toward the end of the spring, conduct small practices and exhibition games. They were able to meet some of their teammates and coaches for the first time, and they got a small taste of what their experience should have been like all year long.
Unlike the athletes who had already donned the Red and Blue prior to the pandemic, this class had no idea what they were missing during their year off from sports. Now, with the return of Ancient Eight competition, they have not only been able to start competing on the field, but they have also been able to be a part of their team’s culture for the first time.
“It’s awesome. It’s a great atmosphere,” Drew Zimmer, a sophomore linebacker on Penn’s sprint football team, said. “I met a lot of the guys in my class because we had a few things in the spring… but this year it’s just been a whole different experience, being back in the locker room with these guys.”
Sprint football has one of the most notable cultures of Penn’s fall sports. The sport is smaller than the school’s others, with only nine schools across the country fielding teams. Their culture, however, runs deep among those involved in the program.
The team’s alumni are actively involved in the program, and each year the team hosts an alumni game where former players suit up against the year’s current squad. Events like these were the ones that current sophomores like Zimmer missed out on during the lost season, making the event’s return even more anticipated.
“It’s really cool to now be a true part of this family,” Zimmer said. “It’s been really cool getting to know those guys, and playing against them [in the alumni game] was a ton of fun. How many guys get to put on pads after they graduate college and go back and play on Franklin Field and have a good time with the current team?”
Last year, sophomores also missed out on being a part of the broader Penn athletics culture. Even when they came to campus in the spring, their interactions with other athletes were limited to members of their team. The return of sports has allowed athletes to interact with each other across sports and across classes.
“Penn Athletics is just a great community of people,” Zimmer said. “[Now] we know people from tons of different teams. They had a barbecue where the entire Penn Athletics family got together and had a good time. It’s definitely cool to just sit down, be with other athletes, and get to know other people on different teams — people who you might not have known, had you not been a part of this community.”
While the current sophomore class missed out on many things during the year off from sports, some athletes believe that the year also had several benefits.
“I think it was definitely an advantage to have had the time to build chemistry with my teammates and to also get to know my coaches,” Lauren Teuschl, a sophomore midfielder for Penn women’s soccer, said. “I think that gives us a leg up, in terms of team cohesion and making people feel a little bit more comfortable.”
For fall sports that normally only have a few weeks of preseason to integrate new players, a year full of team meetings and a spring practice schedule helped remove some of the uncertainty around the transition to college athletics. The practices not only gave players a new appreciation for being able to practice together, but it also gave players like Teuschl a chance to work on establishing on-field chemistry with the team.
“Especially since we got spring practices last year, we were able to really prepare for these games,” Teuschl said. “Every practice has great energy, and we have great coaches, and everyone’s been helping with the transition, especially the upperclassmen.”
With fall athletics fully underway, these sophomores are now finally experiencing everything they expected to have a season ago. The return to competition has been a favorite part of being back for many of Penn’s athletes, but there are other parts of being a college athlete that also make the experience that much sweeter for this sophomore class.
“I think, being able to go into the locker room again, you’re able to get more time with your teammates outside of being on the field,” Teuschl said. “Whether that’s chatting before the game or pre-game dance parties in the locker room to get excited and to get ready for the game, [being with the team] has definitely been a highlight.”
Now that they are back on the field, these athletes have wasted no time making an impact on the field. Zimmer logged several tackles, including a stop for a loss, in his sprint football debut last Friday. Teuschl was recently named Ivy League Player of the Week following her performance against city rival Villanova.
It may have taken longer to get started, but this sophomore class shows no signs of slowing down, and figures to make its presence felt throughout the season and the rest of their careers at Penn.