Football and women’s soccer field young, talented teams
By Noel Hynd
THIS WILL BE THE 122nd SEASON of Penn football, and sometimes I think I’ve seen all of the previous 121. Over that time, Penn has won 721 games — fifth among all universities.
Taking a somewhat shorter view, this is also the (lucky?) seventh season for Al Bagnoli as head coach of Quaker varsity football. Bagnoli is Penn’s all-time leader in Ivy League coaching wins with 32 victories — including the two back-to-back perfect championship seasons of 1993 and 1994 — and an overall record of 44-14. In terms of winning percentage, Bagnoli is one of the most successful coaches in Penn history. This season should do nothing to change that.
Last year, one big question mark for the Quakers was at quarterback, where the job was up for grabs. The ultimate choice as starter, Duke transfer Matt Rader, finished the year with 1,832 passing yards. Barring injury, this year Rader, a senior, figures to start all the games. Finding targets to throw to won’t be a problem. The wide receivers came on strongly as a group last year, and all are returning. Doug O’Neill, now a junior, emerged as a team leader with 32 receptions for 430 yards. David Rogers, a sophomore, had 17 receptions for 211 yards. And junior Brandon Carson, who switched from quarterback to wide receiver with Rader’s arrival, caught 14 passes for 129 yards, despite injury problems.
Rader won’t have a problem finding someone to hand the ball to, either. Senior Jim Finn started last season as the starting strong safety and finished the year as an all-Ivy running back, despite also seeing spot duty on defense.
The offense and defensive lines lost key starters to graduation, which may or may not create problems this year. Several newcomers show promise, and Coach Bagnoli did not put together that 44-14 record without creating solid lines out of whatever talent available. The linebacker position took a hit from diploma time, too, with two starters graduating. But First Team All-Ivy linebacker Darren MacDonald, now a senior, remains, and, once again, younger players seem ready to move up.
This year’s team, in other words, is talented though somewhat inexperienced. The offense — if everyone stays healthy — looks capable of scoring a lot of points. If the defense can remain as parsimonious as many earlier Bagnoli teams, the year could become very interesting.
As for the schedule, it’s a little strange, beginning at Dartmouth in Hanover on September 19 and ending also on the road against Cornell up on the tundra of Ithaca on November 21. Three non-Ivy League games follow the Dartmouth opener: Richmond, Bucknell, and then Fordham at Fordham on October 10.
The Fordham game is followed by Columbia one week later at Franklin Field, October 17, meaning for two weeks in a row the Penn rooting section will be heavily and noisily populated by New York Yankees fans following the inevitable post-season baseball.
There are only two other home Ivy games after Columbia: Yale (Homecoming Weekend, on October 31) and Harvard on November 14. The latter game will most likely be crucial to the fortunes of both Penn and Harvard, so if you plan to see one game, come to this one. Up in Cambridge, there is boastful talk of Harvard possibly winning back-to-back Ivy titles for the first time in the history of the league. Hopefully, the Crimson’s visit to Philadelphia will dash that ghastly dream; Franklin Field has not been a favorable venue for Harvard in recent years. And since the Harvard game is on the penultimate weekend of the season, things should remain interesting until that point, and possibly become even more so afterward.
Harvard and Brown have fine teams — perhaps the two best in the league. Penn has probably the next strongest squad. If Brown or Harvard falter, and if Penn beats either of them, Penn could steal the title or a grab a piece of it. Having said that, let me remind everyone that Ivy football is notoriously unpredictable.
Enjoy the season. It’s always entertaining.
Last year, one of my favorite Penn teams was Women’s Soccer. I expect that to be the case this year as well.
Penn finished last season with a 14-5 mark. Four of the losses were to nationally ranked teams — including one to Harvard that cost Penn a shot at the Ivy title. Penn also was undefeated at home and won the ECAC Championship, defeated several Ivy opponents for the first time ever, and went from the bottom of the Ivies to a tie for second. This year’s squad is largely the same, but with an added year of experience. Although team captain and three-time All-Ivy selection Darah Ross has graduated, 10 players who were regular starters on Coach Patrick Baker’s team are returning this year.
This team plays an exciting, quick, smart brand of soccer, often with explosive forward line scoring from junior twins Jill and Andrea Callaghan, and usually with hugely stingy goalkeeping from junior Anne Kleutmeier, who had eight shutouts in 15 games last year.
This is a very good team that is rich with junior and sophomore talent. And here’s a hint. The key game this year will be October 3 against Harvard. Only this year, the Harvard game is in Philadelphia, at Rhodes Field.
Who needs a World Cup when you can (possibly) have an Ivy Title?
Noel Hynd, C’70, writes on sports for the Gazette.