PHILADELPHIA - When you lose a host of seniors who played a majority of the minutes from the previous year, and you are trying to implement a large group of newcomers, there is going to be a need for time to tinker and experiment.
Unfortunately for Penn women’s soccer coach Darren Ambrose, he does not have a whole lot of time for that.
The Quakers have been at practice for just about a week now, but preparations have already begun for the first weekend of regular-season play. Penn opens up the 2006 season Saturday at 7 p.m. by hosting Rider University, and follows that up Monday with a 1 p.m. Labor Day afternoon matchup against Rice University. Both matches will take place at Rhodes Field.
“We are trying to cram a lot into these first few days,” said Ambrose, who counts no fewer than 10 freshmen among his roster of 21 players. “We have a lot of players who are new and starting from scratch, essentially. Because of that I think we are physically and mentally tired, but we cannot use that as an excuse starting Saturday.”
Penn went 8-6-3 in 2005, including a 2-3-2 mark in the Ivy League. However, fans can expect to see plenty of new faces in the starting lineup this fall -- five players who started last year are gone, but they are being replaced by some highly decorated newcomers.
“I think we may actually be improving in some positions, but obviously time will tell in that department,” said Ambrose, who enters his eighth season at Penn. “We need games to see what our potential is.”
They want games? They’ll get games. Two this weekend, then two more next weekend, all at home, to start the 2006 campaign. With such a short preseason, Ambrose knows that results are only part of the deal.
“These first few matches, we are trying to find wins while we also fine-tune things and sort things out with our lineup,” he said. “We are still trying to get to where we want to be, but with matches starting it needs to arrive sooner rather than later.
“I would like us to perform well, and get a clearer idea of the abilities of our players in that situation,” he continued. “We want to win both games, and of course that is the goal, but we understand there is little room for error on our part. In addition, fitness plays a level at this point -- can our players go 180 minutes or more over the course of three days yet?”
Fitness will certainly be a factor heading into Monday’s game with Rice. The Owls come to the Northeast with wins over TCU and Mississippi State already in hand -- they play at Army Friday -- and they have made the NCAA Tournament each of the last two years under head coach Chris Huston.
On Saturday, for the second-straight year, Penn opens the season by hosting Rider -- last year, the Quakers emerged with a 2-1 victory. The Broncs will arrive in Philadelphia Saturday with a 0-2-0 mark, having lost last weekend to Towson and UMBC.
Penn Women's Soccer Notes Heading Into the 2006 Season...
Penn returns 10 letterwinners from a year ago, including six starters.
The Quakers had six All-Ivy players a year ago, second-most in the Ivy League. Of that group, three return -- sophomore Natalie Capuano (second team), senior Tracy Bienenfeld (honorable mention) and junior Rachel Fletcher (honorable mention).
Fletcher tied for team-high honors with 17 points last season, after moving from defense to midfield and then forward. She scored six goals and had a team-high five assists.
Capuano finished third on the team in scoring as a rookie, netting five goals -- including a team-leading three match-winners -- and dishing out three assists for 13 points. During the spring, she spent time in California training with the U.S. Under-20 National Team.
Bienenfeld scored her first collegiate goal last year and also had four assists for six points, which placed her fourth on the team in that category.
In all, five of Penn’s seven goalscorers from a year ago return for 2006.
Ellen Gregory had four points last year as a freshman, and will be counted on to shore up the forward spot, although White was a starter last year at an outside midfield spot.
Capuano and White were club teammates with the Pennsylvania Strikers prior to their arrival at Penn together.
Sophomore Tory Tripp is another returnee up front; she played in 11 matches last year.
Junior Ashley Hull-- who will join Bienenfeld and Capuano in captaining this year’s squad -- will also look to complement Capuano in the midfield.
The back line loses only one starter, but it is a big one -- Robin Watson was a three-time first-team All-Ivy honoree, just the second in the program’s 14-year history, and an NSCAA second-team all-region pick.
Bienenfeld figures to stay in her central defender spot, while last year senior Megan Boys and sophomore Eileen Larkin were in the outside roles.
Sophomore Nicki White had four points in the midfield last year, but is likely to move to the back four in 2006.
In goal, two freshmen will look to fill the void left by the graduated Jessica Keeley, Cailly Carroll (North Andover, Mass.) and Sara Rose (Ramapo, N.J.).
Head Coach Darren Ambrose stayed local to pick up one of his most highly touted freshmen. Midfielder Jess Rothenheber (Chalfont, Pa.) was a member of U.S. Under-17 National Team Pool, the 2005 Southeastern Pennsylvania Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year, and a 2005 NSCAA All-America. She led Central Bucks West to the state title this past spring.
A pair of women from New Jersey should help Penn up front this year, led by freshman forward Marisa Stock (Bernardsville, N.J.) who was the 2005 New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, Newark Star Ledger New Jersey Player of the Year, NSCAA Regional All-America and two-time Courier News Area Player of the Year.
Another player crossing the border into Philadelphia, freshman forward Jessica Fuccello (Bricktown, N.J.), was a two-time Ocean County Player of the Year and 2005 Shore Player of the Year. In July, just prior to her arrival at Penn, Fuccello’s club team (PDA Wildcats) finished as U-18 runner-up at the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships.
Freshman midfielder Mara Fintzi (Belmont, Calif.) was the San Jose Mercury News Central Coast Section regional Player of the Year as a senior after she broke her league’s records for goals and assists, and her former club team -- Mustang Trivalley Road Runners -- was 2005 state cup finalist in California.
Freshman midfielder Michelle Drugan (Altadena, Calif.) was the two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Rio Hondo League.