Playing in her first game as a member of the University of Pennsylvania's women's soccer team, Tracy Bienenfeld had to be happy to see women — and not men — competing against her. For the previous four years, she was the only female on Lower Moreland High School's boys team, a daunting task for a girl who measured in at 5 feet, 1 inch as a freshman.
"It made me tougher both physically and mentally," said Bienenfeld, who dealt with her share of heckling fans during away games. "By the time I was a junior, I was getting pushed around like all the other boys."
Now 21 years old and 5 feet 7, the college senior is a co-captain of Penn's women's soccer team.
Bienenfeld prides herself on her intensity during the final minutes of a game. Though she plays defense, Bienenfeld has come up huge in clutch situations. Just last month, she scored with 43 seconds left in double overtime to beat the University of Richmond, which sent coach Darren Ambrose running on to the field in celebration.
"Whenever the game is coming to a close, you definitely pick up your intensity," she said.
As of Wednesday, the Quakers are 6-3-1 this season, already on pace for a better record than last year, when they finished 8-6-3, fifth place in the Ivy League.
Their strong performance comes despite a 21-person team that boasts only three other upperclassmen, and as many as 10 freshman. The team's inexperience at the college level makes Bienenfeld's role as a captain that much more meaningful.
"It's fun to be a captain and to show our freshman how it works," said Bienenfeld, who's majoring in public health. "They are coming into a new program, and college is much different from high school, but I think they're doing a good job and stepping up to the plate."
Last summer, she played for the United States on its 18- to 35-year-old women's soccer team in the World Maccabiah Games in Ramat Gan, Israel. While she enjoyed the soccer competition, it was the connections she made during her three-week trip that stand out the most. She recalled going for a run with some teammates while wearing their U.S. jackets, and they were followed by small children who excitedly ran alongside them.
She still remains in contact with some of the international athletes she met there, and even met up with some of them in Australia while studying abroad.
"There's nothing like meeting Jewish athletes," said Bienenfeld, who's also a member of the Jewish Student Athletes Club at Penn.
"They're my favorite people to meet — because they're just like me."