PHILADELPHIA - The University of Pennsylvania's head coach of women's soccer, Darren Ambrose, has repeatedly said that his goal for the program is to be playing a meaningful game on the final weekend of the regular season. By that, he means the Quakers are still in the hunt for the Ivy League championship as they take the field on that day.
Repeatedly, the Quakers have been in just such a position.
This year marked the third year in a row, that happened in fact, and the fourth time in six years. This time, Penn took the field at Princeton knowing that if they beat the Tigers they would earn a share of the Ivy title. As it turned out, Princeton gained the 4-2 victory, giving the Tigers the outright championship at 7-0-0. Dartmouth -- which had entered the day level with Penn, and was also hoping for a Quaker victory -- beat Cornell, putting them second at 6-1-0. With its loss to Princeton, Penn finished the season in third place at 5-2-0.
It was a tough way to see the season come to an end, but it did nothing to diminish another successful campaign for the Quakers in 2012. Penn went 9-6-1 overall, continuing its streak of having a winning record in every one of Ambrose's 13 years as head coach.
The schedule started with home wins against James Madison and Temple, pushing Penn's win streak on Rhodes Field to 15 dating back to the 2010 season. That streak ended a week later against Marist. One week after that, the Quakers trekked to California, giving the Cal Golden Bears (ranked 15th at the time) a battle in a 1-0 loss before sinking Sacramento State in overtime, 3-2.
Penn returned home to play its Ivy League opener and gained a dramatic, 1-0 win over defending champion Harvard when Kaitlyn Moore headed home Brianna Rano's corner kick with 3.9 seconds left in regulation. One week later, the Quakers defeated Cornell in their first Ivy road match, and followed that up with a 4-0 blanking of NJIT. The following Friday, Penn defeated Columbia, 1-0, on a rocket goal from Kerry Scalora. The win over the Lions completed a circuit of home wins against Ivy League competition, and at that point in the season Penn had won five of six.
The winning ways came to a brief halt at Dartmouth, as the Big Green took a 2-1 decision that ended Penn's program-record, nine-match unbeaten streak in Ivy play (8-0-1). The Quakers rebounded to defeat Yale in New Haven (2-0), then needed overtime but squeaked past Brown at Rhodes Field (1-0). That set the stage for the season finale at Princeton.
Penn will enter the 2013 season in August having won eight Ivy League home matches in a row dating back to 2010; every Ivy team has come to Rhodes Field since then and left with a loss. Penn is 16-4-3 in its last 23 Ivy matches going back to 2009. The four-year members of the Class of 2013 (Erin Beck, Alex Dayneka, Erin Thayer) graduate having been a part of 42 wins, fifth among classes at Penn, and they went 18-7-3 in Ivy play to become the winningest class in program history when it comes to conference matches. (The fourth senior on this year's team, Sarah Banks, joined the program as a sophomore after a year at Villanova and graduates as the program's all-time leader in career goals-against average.)
When the Ivy League awards came out at the end of the year, three Penn players were named first-team All-Ivy for the second year in row -- prior to 2011 that had never happened. Beck, a midfielder, was a first-team pick for the second straight season; she was joined by defender Dayneka and the junior, Scalora, at forward. Rano, a junior defender, received second-team honors from the Ancient Eight coaches. In addition, the program earned the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Team Academic Award for the 12th time in Ambrose's 13 seasons; this honor is given to teams that boast a combined GPA above 3.0.
Recently, Coach Ambrose sat down with the Penn Sports Network to recap the season.