PHILADELPHIA - The Penn women's soccer team opens its season with Harvard for the second year in a row, and boy does a year make a difference with these teams.
When these teams met a year ago, the Quakers were coming off an Ivy League title while the Crimson finished a distant sixth. It was no surprise, then, when Penn took a 2-0 decision at Rhodes Field.
The surprise came after that -- Harvard didn't lose a league game again, and ended up tying for the Ivy title with Princeton. Penn, meanwhile, limped to the finish and placed fifth in the standings.
Both teams figure to contend for the championship again this year, making Saturday's 11 a.m. kickoff at Harvard's Ohiri Field extremely important.
The Series with Harvard: The Crimson have dominated this series, with a 12-3-3 advantage; however, the meetings have been much more even in the last eight years, as the Quakers hold a 3-2-3 advantage during that time including wins each of the last two years. Last season, at Rhodes Field, these teams opened Ivy play with each other, and Penn took a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Marin McDermott and Kristin Kaiser. The Quakers outshot the Crimson in that match, 12-4.
About Harvard: The defending Ivy League co-champions (with Princeton), the Crimson will be looking to avenge their only conference loss of 2008 on Saturday morning. Playing a difficult schedule to date, Harvard is 1-5-1 overall. Katherine Sheeleigh -- a first-team All-Ivy forward a year ago -- and Caroline Albanese have two goals apiece to lead the Crimson, while another 2008 first-team All-Ivy pick, Lizzy Nichols, has a goal and an assist. In goal, Lauren Mann has a 1.94 goals-against average and 34 saves.
*The Quakers (3-1-2) have played three straight overtime matches, including two straight ties. The last time Penn played three consecutive OT games was the last three games of last season (tie vs. Yale, losses to Brown and Princeton), and the last time they tied in back-to-back matches was the 2003 campaign, against UNC-Greensboro (3-3) and Saint Louis (1-1).
*Penn was ranked eighth in the Mid-Atlantic region this week by the National Soccer Coaches' Association of America (NSCAA). Among Ivy teams, only Dartmouth (receiving votes) was also in the poll.
*Penn entered the week leading the Ivy League in goals per game (2.33) and second in points per game (6.50) behind Yale.
*Senior Jessica Fuccello was named the Ivy League's Co-Player of the Week, the ECAC Player of the Week, and also earned a spot on the CollegeSoccer360.com Primetime Players of the Week list.
*Fuccello entered the season without a hat trick, but now has two in the last five matches (4 goals vs. La Salle, 3 vs. Georgetown).
*Fuccello leads the Ivy League in goals per game (1.33) and points per game (2.67).
*Despite playing essentially two seasons prior to 2009 -- she played just two matches in her junior campaign due to injury -- Fuccello now has 28 career goals, which ties her for second on Penn's all-time list with Andrea Callaghan (1996-99). Katy Cross (2001-04) is the program's all-time leader, with 50.
*In the Ivy League statistics, Michelle Drugan is tied for fifth in points per game (1.00) while Marin McDermott is eighth (0.67). Both are tied for fifth in goals per game (0.33). Sophomore Theresa Yankovich is tied for third in assists per game (0.50).
*Drugan has six points this season, with two goals and two assists. The senior entered this year with just four points for her college career (1g, 2a).
*Freshmen Erin Thayer and Laura Yu collected their first collegiate points Sunday vs. Georgetown, Thayer when she assisted Fuccello's second goal and Yu when she assisted Fuccello's third tally.
*Sophomore Caroline Williams has played every minute in goal this season, boasting a 1.37 goals-against average with 30 saves.
Quoting Head Coach Darren Ambrose
"I don't put a lot of stock in last year's result, because they are a much different team than a year ago and so are we. I think we have all the motivation we need because we want to make a run at the championship, but so do they. That will define this game."
"The Georgetown result provided us with a bit of confidence, especially if we go down a goal or two. We still feel like we'll be in the match and we won't quit."
"We spent a lot of time this week on defending corner kicks and set pieces. We need to be organized for those, much more disciplined. Offensively, we need to keep the ball, gain possession and generate good chances."
"The motivation comes from the players, it always has. We have a veteran group who has played in a lot of these matches and knows what to expect. Hopefully that will help us on Saturday."