Women’s soccer vaulted to the top of the Ivy League in style.
By Dave Zeitlin
Unlike actual weather events, few could have accurately forecasted the “Sandstorm” that whipped through Rhodes Field this past fall.
Coming into the 2018 soccer season, Penn junior Emily Sands had proven a solid, if not prolific, midfielder for a middle-of-the-Ivy-League-pack Quakers team. By the end of it, she had metamorphosed into a dynamic forward who scored a whopping seven game-winning goals—tied for third-most in the country—to lead Penn to a 13–2–1 overall record and a share of the program’s first Ivy title since 2010.
Along the way, she became something of a Twitter phenomenon in Penn circles, with the “Sandstorm” nickname—created by Penn Athletics director of social media Chas Dorman—accompanying highlights of all of her clutch plays.
“It was kind of funny, actually,” Sands said after the season’s conclusion. “No one had ever done puns with my name before. The whole Sandstorm thing just kind of developed into something. My mom calls me Sandstorm now and so do my other relatives.”
The nickname also galvanized her teammates, who enjoyed the extra buzz even if Sands would sometimes have to sheepishly apologize for getting more attention than anyone else—including goalkeeper Kitty Qu, center back Camilla Nwokedi, and midfielder Allie Trzaska, all of whom joined Sands as United Soccer Coaches All-East Region honorees (the first time in program history Penn had four selections). And when Sands scored one of her most memorable game-winners, with less than a minute remaining in double overtime versus Lehigh on October 8, they even jokingly started to call her “Sandstorm” themselves.
But later that month, when the Quakers clinched the Ivy title by beating Brown in their home finale, the junior forward was happy to let others soak in the glory, especially senior Sasha Stephens for scoring the go-ahead goal on senior day.
“That was one of the things that made this a special season,” head coach Nicole Van Dyke said. “With some teams, there might be ego involved. That was just not the case with us. We almost laughed at it every week.”
Van Dyke credits Sands’ humility for not letting such a sudden rise go to her head and also her adaptability for being open to the position switch from midfield to forward.
Although she always enjoyed being a playmaker from the midfield, Sands was well-suited to play up top because she’s good with her back to goal and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
One of her favorite goals came in between when she pounced on a rebound to help the Quakers beat Columbia for the first time since she arrived at Penn. She also had a clever back-heel flick to knock off Cornell.
But in the final game of the season, neither Sands nor anyone else on the Quakers could find the back of the net in a 1–0 loss at Princeton—a result that snapped a program-record 12-game unbeaten streak and created a first-place tie atop the Ivy League standings with the Tigers (both teams had 5–1–1 conference records).
Because of the final game result, Princeton won the tiebreaker to earn the Ivy’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. And the Quakers, despite only conceding five goals and losing two games (both to nationally ranked teams) all season, didn’t have a strong enough schedule to garner an at-large selection to the tourney. So their season ended in gut-wrenching fashion at the home of their archrival.
“I’m still a little bitter,” Sands said.
Yet she acknowledged that it was “an amazing season no matter how disappointing we all thought the ending was.” And missing out on the postseason will only fuel her desire next year.
Roaring Start for Men’s Basketball
The most remarkable thing about the Penn men’s basketball team’s upset wins over Miami and Villanova on consecutive Tuesdays in December is that they didn’t feel like upsets at all.
Yes, Miami hails from the mighty ACC. Yes, Villanova has captured two of the last three national championships and had won a remarkable 25 consecutive Big 5 games. And Penn hadn’t beaten Villanova, or a team from a “Power Five” conference like Miami, since 2002–3.
But after the first of Penn’s marquee Palestra performances, it was Miami coach Jim Larrañaga who sounded like the plucky underdog, citing his team’s “valiant effort” for trimming Penn’s lead from 19 to four before the Quakers pulled away for an 89-75 victory. And after the second, a 78-75 triumph over No. 17 Villanova complete with a court storming, Wildcats head coach Jay Wright simply declared that Penn was “a better team than we are at this point of the season.”
“This is why we’re here,” said junior forward AJ Brodeur after the game. “We’re here to do things like turn some heads, win championships, break these streaks. We’re here to be great.’”
Not surprisingly, Brodeur, a 2017–18 first team All-Ivy selection, has been leading the charge for the Quakers, who opened the season 4–0 for the first time since the 1978–79 Final Four campaign and stood at 9–2 following their win over ’Nova (with their only two losses coming to Kansas State and Oregon State in a tournament on the US Virgin Islands marred by brutal travel delays).
More remarkably, Penn managed almost effortlessly to fill in for the loss of junior Ryan Betley, last year’s top scorer, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Quakers’ opener. Freshmen Bryce Washington and Michael Wang, a 6-foot-10 forward with a sweet stroke, have overachieved. The Quakers have also gotten great production from junior guard Devon Goodman, who’s formed a dynamic backcourt partnership with senior Antonio Woods. Woods was perhaps the best player on the court against Villanova, and Goodman delivered two difficult baskets in the final minutes to stop Miami’s comeback attempt.
“We lost our leading scorer and I never sensed it would bother us,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “We’d love to have Ryan, but I also sense that the guys know that’s not how we win. We win by playing as a team, on both sides.”
Dave Zeitlin C’03 writes frequently for the Gazette.