Determined minds, passionate talent and experienced student-athletes are what the University of Pennsylvania women’s soccer team possesses as it returns 10 seniors to the lineup in 2004. Combine that with a group of juniors and sophomores who played quality minutes last year, and the Quakers will be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming Ivy League soccer campaign.
“We have a great blend of experience and leadership with our returnees, as well as talented incoming student-athletes,” Head Coach Darren Ambrose, who will field the first team composed entirely of his own recruiting classes in 2004, said. “We are in a position to make a serious run at the Ivy League title.”
With six talented freshmen all vying for coveted spots in the starting lineup, competition for playing time is expected to be fierce. But Ambrose believes that the team will use just that to motivate the best possible play from the entire squad, both at practice and during games.
“It will be as competitive as it has ever been to get on the field this year,” Ambrose said. “Our hope is that the competition among the players raises the level of our performance.”
With the loss of four-year letterwinner Vanessa Scotto to graduation, senior Anna Halse will be counted on as the go-to goalie. Halse, who made five starts and 11 total appearances between the pipes for the Quakers a year ago, has the experience to be Penn’s defensive stalwart, but must prove it early and often if Penn plans on going the distance in 2004.
“Anna is very capable of leading this team and she knows that she has to step up this year,” Ambrose said. “She has a good grasp of what is going to come at her and after posting a team-high 27 saves last season, has the ability to stop most of the shots that come her way. I am anxious to see what she can accomplish this season.”
The Quakers will also look to junior Jessica Keeley for strong minutes in goal who’s coming off a solid spring.
“Jess has really made a case for herself coming into the fall,” Ambrose said.
Rookie Jacquelyn McNaughton, who spent two years at the IMG Soccer Academy, will have to sit out her first season due to injury.
The Penn defense will once again be forceful as the Quakers return three out of the four backs from last year’s squad. Sophomore Cathy Roe, junior Robin Watson and senior Jessica Woodward started all 17 games a year ago and were essential in holding opponents to just 60 shots on goal. The trio also helped out on the offensive end as Watson tallied three goals and Roe added a goal and two assists. Woodward also connected for one assist.
“Defense is obviously one of the most important parts of the game, especially when the Ivy season comes around,” Ambrose said. “Our defense is arguably the strength of our team this year and I look forward to seeing the backs combine for a solid effort in front of the goal.”
Senior Lydia Bojcun is another piece to Ambrose’s puzzle as the back started all 17 games last season. But it was her offensive prowess that may have given her more recognition as she recorded two goals and four assists for the Red and Blue. Sophomore Megan Boys proved herself last season in a solid rookie campaign and will also see time in the back four, while senior Amy Salomon and freshman Ashley Hull will round out the defensive unit.
The only place that Penn may need to hold tryouts this season is the midfield, which is wide open with the possibility of many combinations. With the most positions up for grabs and a bevy of outstanding players, it may take a while to see who steps into what role once the regular season rolls around.
Senior Lauren Bome will bring her experience and leadership back to the midfield this season. Bome looks to return to form after coming off of injuries that forced her to miss the first five weeks of the season in 2003. The fourth year student-athlete had not missed a game in her entire career prior to last season. Healthy once again, Bome is expected to see significant playing time.
Junior honorable mention All-Ivy League honoree Jenna Linden will also be a major contributor to the midfield. Linden connected with her teammates five times to finish second on the team in assists and Ambrose feels that her talent is only at its beginning stages.
“Jenna is a creative player with the ball. She has a knack for finding players in dangerous places and is one of the best one-on-one players we have,” Ambrose said.
Also factoring into the central midfield will be junior Meg Pittman, who netted one goal in 16 games in 2003, while Salomon could also log minutes in the middle. Seeing time in the defensive midfield will be sophomores Katie Campbell and Tracy Bienenfeld. The duo played significant minutes as rookies last year and that experience is expected to payoff. Rounding out the defensive midfield will be rookie Jenna Mitby. The Madison, Wisc. native is a natural in the position and will challenge right away for time.
Nationally-recognized, both on the athletic and academic fronts, Katy Cross enters her final year with the Red and Blue in 2004. Cross led the team in scoring with 16 goals and six assists and finished with 38 points last season en route to Academic All-America, first-team All-Ivy League and honorable mention All-America accolades. With opponents trying to shutdown Cross, who finished the 2003 season at No. 11 in NCAA Division I in points per game (2.24) and 13th in goals per game (0.94), the Quakers will counter with a host of stellar scorers.
Second leading scorer Carolyn Cross will be ready for action in her third season with the Quakers. Last year, Cross tallied four goals and three assists, including three game-winners. Joining her on the scoring front will be senior Rachelle Snyder. Tied for third on the team in scoring with eight points last season, Snyder registered a goal and six assists in 14 games.
After being held back by injury the past two seasons, Ambrose is counting on the healthy Devon Sibole to close out her career much the way it started. As a rookie, she recorded five goals and five assists and has tallied two goals and six assists since. Campbell may also be used up front to give the offense a different look.
“Our offense is the deepest it has been in my tenure here at Penn,” Ambrose said. “We have depth and a variety of strengths within our forwards.”
The quickness and steady improvement of sophomore Erica Messina will also be a factor up front, while senior Libby Bersot and junior Jen Price will both be used on the wings.
The experience and success of the returnees do not factor in the added talent of incoming freshmen Alysha Hoven, Rachel Fletcher and Ashley Wallach. Hoven and Fletcher are both highly skilled student-athletes and have the potential to play quality minutes. Wallach, the potential sleeper of the class, is expected to develop quickly into a solid all-around player.
It will be a fitting homecoming for the six Quakers who hail from California as Penn travels west Sept. 17-19. The Red and Blue will take on California on Sept. 17 heading across the Bay to San Francisco for a Sept. 19 game.
“It’ll be a very nice trip for the student-athletes from California,” Ambrose said. “They’ve never had the opportunity to play in their home state, in front of their home crowd. It will be a great experience for our entire team to go up against highly competitive programs at the beginning of the season.”
With all the experience that the Quakers’ lineup possesses a chance at the Ivy League crown very likely. But the Red and Blue have set their sights on something even further down the road - the NCAA Tournament.
“We definitely have the schedule to get us there,” Ambrose said. “Hopefully we can pick up a few wins at the start of 2004.”
Penn will be tested right off the bat as its first six games come against perennially ranked opponents the College of Charleston, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Villanova, California and San Francisco.
“What we will learn from those games will set us up for the rest of the year, especially from the highly competitive Ivy League schedule.”
The team bond that this Penn squad has formed over the last three years is ready to be sealed on the field of battle from the first horn to the last. As the seniors begin their quest to bookend their careers with an Ivy League championship and the newcomers are looking to make their mark in the ever-competitive world of collegiate soccer, there is no telling just how far the Penn women’s soccer team will go in 2004.
Written by Kelly McCarthy, athletic communications assistant.