PHILADELPHIA - The Penn women’s soccer team opens its 2008 campaign this weekend with a pair of matches, traveling to the western part of the state to face the University of Pittsburgh (Friday, 7 p.m.) and Robert Morris (Sunday, 1 p.m.).
The Quakers are the defending Ivy League champion and advanced to the NCAA College Cup first round last year, losing to James Madison 2-0. They return every player from last year’s team, and have added eight newcomers to the roster.
About Pitt: The Panthers have already played three regular-season matches this season, dropping a 6-2 decision to Akron to start the season on August 22. Last weekend, Pitt fell in double overtime to Dayton, 3-2, but rebounded with a 4-1 win over Iowa State. In that victory, junior Ashley Habbel scored twice. Pitt, out of the Big East Conference, went 6-10-2 last year.
The Series With Pitt: This is Penn’s second meeting with Pitt in women’s soccer. These teams also opened the 1999 season against each other, with the Panthers taking a 1-0 decision at the Maryland/FILA Classic in College Park, Md.
About Robert Morris: The Colonials opened their 2008 season last weekend with a pair of shutout wins, 2-0 over Youngstown State and 1-0 over Howard. RMU is 2-0 to start a season for just the second time in program history. Holly Sieradzki and Brenda Sasu scored in the win over YSU, while Jess Sharik provided the difference at Howard. Goalkeeper Caitlin Dilal was named the Northeast Conference Defensive Player of the Week with her clean sheets.
The Series With Robert Morris: This marks the third straight year the Quakers and Colonials have met, but the first time in Moon Township. In 2006, Penn slogged its way to a 6-0 win in a driving rainstorm that cut the match short. Last year, the Quakers won 4-1 at Rhodes Field.
Quoting Coach Ambrose...
A lot of our players still think they have a lot to prove, they know that if they are not ready to go that someone will come in and take their minutes. We have the depth this year that allows for that type of competition, which is a good thing.”
“The preseason has been a good reminder for them on some things. They have not played a competitive game since November, so we need to get them back to being match fit. I think they will agree that they are not ready to go a full 90 yet, and certainly not 180 minutes over a weekend at the level we would like. So we will use our added depth and get players minutes this weekend.”
Some other things to think about...
Penn returns every player from last year’s squad, which finished 13-4-1 overall and won the Ivy League title with a 6-1-0 mark.
The Quakers return six players who earned All-Ivy honors a year ago -- senior Natalie Capuano and junior Jessica Fuccello were unanimous first-team picks, juniors Jess Rothenheber and Mara Fintzi were second-team honorees, and senior Eileen Larkin and sophomore Sarah Friedman got honorable mention recognition.
A seventh All-Ivy player should also be in the mix for 2008; senior Nicki White was a second-team All-Ivy pick in 2006, but missed all of last season after suffering an ACL injury during a preseason practice.
Capuano -- who enjoyed two stints with the U.S. Under-21 National Team in the summer of 2007 -- and Fuccello were also second-team all-region selections by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), while Friedman was named to the NSCAA’s Mid-Atlantic All-Freshman Team.
At 13-4-1 overall, Penn matched the 1999 and 2001 teams for the second-most wins in program history (since 1991). Only the 1997 squad, which went 14-5-0, had more.
Penn finished 6-1-0 in the Ivy League, tying the best mark in program history, and won the outright Ivy League title for the first time; the Quakers tied for the championship in 2001.
Penn won eight of its last nine regular-season matches in 2007. Prior to a loss at Brown -- where the Bears scored with 18 seconds left in the second overtime -- the Quakers tied a school record for consecutive wins in a season with six.
With 35 goals, the 2007 team scored more than any other team in Penn history with two exceptions. Only the 1998 (42) and 2001 (39) teams scored more goals in a campaign.
Penn led the Ivy League in overall goals (35), assists (32) and points (102) in 2007.
At the other end, Penn allowed just 15 goals in 18 matches; that continued a trend from 2006, when the Quakers allowed 14 goals in 16 matches.
Penn’s +20 goal differential last season (35-15) was surpassed only by 1998 (42-15, +27) and 2001 (39-13, +26).
In Ivy play, Penn allowed just four goals in seven matches, giving the Quakers the lowest goals-against average in the League (0.55).
Penn had 10 different women score goals last season, and 12 record points.
Fuccello led the Ivy League in overall goals (11) and points (26) last season; both of those totals tied her for fifth on Penn’s all-time single-season list with Jill Callaghan in 1998.
Fuccello’s 11 goals came in 10 different games.
Fuccello has 20 goals for her short collegiate career; believe it or not, that already places her fifth on Penn’s all-time list.
Rothenheber tied for tops among Ivy players in assists (9) and was fourth in points (19).
With nine assists last season, Rothenheber tied for second on Penn’s single-season list (with Meg Kinney in 1994); the single-season record of 10 was set in 2001 by the program’s all-time leading scorer, Katy Cross.
Talk about a dynamic duo: six of Fuccello’s goals last season -- including five of her last six -- were directly off a Rothenheber pass.
Fintzi finished fourth among Ivy players in overall assists (6) and tied for seventh in overall points (14); her assist total was good for eighth on Penn’s all-time single-season list.
Senior Molly Weir was tied for seventh among Ivy players in overall assists (4) and tied for 10th in overall points (12).
Four different players had multi-goal games last season -- Fintzi (vs. Saint Joseph’s), Weir (vs. Saint Joseph’s), Fuccello (vs. Loyola-Chicago) and Rothenheber (vs. La Salle).
Sophomore Kristin Kaiser came off the bench in every match last year and scored three goals.
The defense again figures to be anchored by Larkin and sophomore Kaitlin Campbell, both of whom started all 18 matches in the middle. Junior Michelle Drugan started all 18 matches on the left side last year, while senior Ellen Gregory (13 starts in 2007) and sophomore Marisa Schoen (11) were usually called on for the right side.
The goal will once again be in solid hands -- junior Sara Rose started 11 matches in 2007 and had a 0.66 goals-against average, while classmate Cailly Carroll started the other seven and had a 1.10 GAA. Between them, both women also started every match and played every minute of the 2006 season.
A potential wild card to the lineup is junior Marisa Stock, who has played only two matches as a collegian due to knee injuries. She was the 2005 Gatorade Player of the Year in New Jersey.