25 Aug Penn Athletics Fall preview: Soccer, field hockey, football season expectations
Going into the upcoming athletics season, Penn’s fall sports teams will see action for the first time since 2019.
Although they may be rusty, these teams will be going up primarily against schools that have also seen breaks in play since COVID-19 hit. Additionally, the Red and Blue will have a greater-than-usual influx of new talent, as each team will have two classes that have yet to see any game action.
Here’s a look at five Penn teams and their chances heading into the upcoming season.
On the men’s side, Penn will not only be joined by two new groups of recruits, but two new assistant coaches and a new director of operations as well.
The team announced this month that Matt Poplawski — a former two-time captain of the Penn men’s soccer team — and Ryan Sandell would be joining the coaching staff as assistant coaches, and Joshua West would become the team’s new director of operations.
The changes off the field come as Penn men’s soccer looks to improve on their 7-5-4 2019 outing. Specifically, in the Ivy League, the Quakers notched a 3-1-3 record, which was good enough for second place in the conference behind Yale.
Going into the season, the Red and Blue will be without former Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Alex Touche, who signed a professional contract with New Mexico United in January.
Filling Touche and the rest of the graduating classes’ shoes will be 16 new recruits — eight from both classes — as the team attempts to win its first Ivy title since 2013.
Similar to the men’s team, Penn women’s soccer will look significantly different off the field as they prepare for their first season in two years.
After former head coach Nicole Van Dyke resigned in January 2020 to take the same job at the University of Washington, the Quakers hired Casey Brown in March 2020 to lead the team.
Brown, who previously coached at Holy Cross, will be joined by new assistant coaches Becky Edwards and Rose Hull as the team looks to compete for its first Ivy League championship since 2018.
In the year after their Ivy title, which was the last season the team played, the Red and Blue finished with an 8-7-1 overall record, though they went a middling 2-5 in the Ancient Eight.
Whether or not the new coaching staff — not to mention 16 new recruits — can improve on the team’s 2019 Ivy struggles will be decided once the team begins conference play in late September.
Coming off of their weakest season since 2011, Penn field hockey had to wait longer than expected for their chance to bounce back.
The Red and Blue finished the 2019 season with a 7-10 overall record and went 4-3 in the Ivy League. The team especially struggled against high-level competition, losing all six of their games against ranked opponents.
During the team’s extended hiatus, senior Gracyn Banks was selected to compete in a pair of prestigious events, those being USA Field Hockey’s U-22 Junior Pan Am Training Squad and the 2021 Young Women’s National Championship.
As they prepare for the upcoming season, Banks and many of the other seniors will become veteran leaders on the team, despite having last played as sophomores. This change comes amid a year riddled with changes for the team, as they learned to alter the ways in which they operate.
“Back at the beginning of this [pandemic], we all had to shift gears so quickly, and adapt and adjust,” Penn field hockey head coach Colleen Fink said to The Daily Pennsylvanian last year. “And honestly, I thought our team did an incredible job navigating that transition both from a field hockey standpoint and an academic standpoint. I was really impressed with their character and their willingness to keep their eyes forward instead of dwelling on the past.”
If they want to win the Ivy title, though, Penn field hockey will have a tough road ahead, given that Princeton has dominated the Ancient Eight, having won eight of the last 11 Ivy League titles.
The Red and Blue have been a pillar of consistency in the ten-team Collegiate Sprint Football League, having not finished with a losing record since 2013.
That consistency stemmed in large part from Bill Wagner, who retired after completing his 50th season as the team’s head coach in 2019.
Stepping into Wagner’s shoes this season is Jerry McConnell, who had served as the Quakers’ offensive coordinator for 12 years.
Whether or not McConnell will succeed as the long-term successor to Wagner remains to be seen, but as he begins his tenure as head coach, he’s faced with the pressing issue of what to do at the quarterback position.
Penn will be without 2019 CSFL Player of the Year Eddie Jenkins, who competed at quarterback for the team and graduated in 2019.
The Quakers currently have three quarterbacks on the roster, including one junior, one sophomore, and one freshman. The team has yet to announce which of them will lead the team come September.
In the last season they played, the Red and Blue finished at 5-2, which was good enough for third place in the CSFL.
As they prepare for changes at both the quarterback and head coaching positions, their long-running consistency will be put to the test.
Just like their sprint counterparts, Penn football has been a consistent force in the Ivy League for some time now, as they’ve gone without an overall losing record since 2014.
Despite this steadiness, the team hasn’t won an Ivy League title since 2016 and is looking to change that fact this coming season.
For that to be possible, though, one challenge that will have to be dealt with is the issue of who will play at quarterback.
Since Ryan Glover graduated from Penn in 2020, the team has been trying to figure out who the quarterback will be, with five quarterbacks currently on the roster.
Additionally, 57 new players will start their Quaker careers this season, as COVID-19 shuttered any chance of the 2020 freshmen seeing playing time.
Despite this, at the 2021 Ivy League Media Day, Penn football head coach Ray Priore seemed optimistic about the effect the pandemic had on his team.
“With those challenges, I really believe there have been some great opportunities that have come from it: growth of our team, our leadership, our seniors and how we have developed through this last sub-bit of time,” Priore said.
On the defensive side of the ball, Penn will be led by 2019 second team All-Ivy linebacker Brian O’Neill, who will be competing as a graduate student this season after recent rule changes allowed that to happen. His All-Ivy junior season saw him earn the fifth-most tackles for loss in the Ivy League as well as the fourth-most interceptions.
Going into the season, O’Neill feels confident about the unit around him and their ability to compete at a high level.
“I think that, coming back, we have a bunch of really talented individuals on the D-line, and at linebacker, and then in the secondary as well,” O’Neill said at the 2021 Ivy League Media Day. “So I think our defense should be a pretty solid front, and I’m just super excited to get after it and hit the ground running.”
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