This season, in search of scoring, Vance told the 5-foot-1 Penn to shoot when she had the chance, and the results have been stunning.
Penn leads the Lions in goals with seven, and they are undefeated (4-0) going into Friday's 7 p.m. game at Atholton.
"She has tremendous field awareness," Vance said of Penn. "She's always in the right place. But last year, instead of shooting, she'd pass the ball. This year, I've been more firm.
"Our two leading scorers from last season graduated, and I needed someone to step up to the plate. Even though she's a midfielder, she has the ability, but sometimes she's too nice. She's totally humble and shocked you want to do an interview with her."
Penn has a 4.0 grade point average, and she is focused on the Ivy League after she graduates from Howard.
"I definitely want to play field hockey in college," Penn said. "But I want more than just sports. I want academics, as well."
Have you always played field hockey?
I played when I was little, but I didn't really like it. It was hard to move the ball. The players were all in a clump, and the ball goes nowhere. I played lacrosse until eighth grade. Lacrosse was a faster game, the ball moved, and it was more interesting. But, as you get older, field hockey becomes a lot more fun.
Your coach said you have to put your "niceness" aside and be a more aggressive goal scorer. Do you like that role? You're leading the team in goal scoring, so it seems it suits you.
It's funny, my mom told me to stop being so nice, too, even before Coach Vance did. But during games I'd carry the ball up field and pass it off. Coach said I'm too nice, that I need to take the shots from the top of the circle, and that's what I've been doing, and it has been working.
Why do you think you had been passing instead of shooting?
[Vance] says I'm too nice, and I agree a little bit. But I think before it was because I wasn't really that confident in my shots. This year, it's changing. When I get into the circle, I just think shoot. If I have an open shot, I just take it.
Does the more aggressive role feel right?
I do like the feeling of being aggressive. I'm a really competitive person — at times. I have a younger sister, Marissa (13 and on the Howard junior varsity field hockey team), and an older brother, Nathan (17 and a member of the Lions indoor track team) and we're really competitive at home all the time. We compete over everything — grades, games, even over who can talk the loudest.
To be better at field hockey, are there some things you're working on?
I'd like to improve my drag-flick and my reverse chip shot. The drag-flick is a shot on the corners, where you drag the ball and then flick it high past defenders to score. On the reverse chip, you hit the ball on the opposite side of your body. You have to have the right techniques. On the drag-flick, you also have to have a lot of power behind the ball. Both are scoring shots.
Do you and your teammates have specific goals for this season?
I don't know if the team has a goal. But everyone wants to make it to states. That would be the ultimate. And we really want to beat Glenelg — because they're always good (two-time defending state champs) — and Centennial. Centennial knocked us out of the playoffs last year. Personally, I just want to keep scoring and improving my skills.
Do you play other sports at school?
I run indoor track in the winter, and I played lacrosse last year. This year, I think I'll do outdoor track instead of lacrosse. I'm good at running. I run the 800 and the mile [indoor and outdoor]. And I also play indoor field hockey for my club team, Freedom, here in Columbia. It used to be called Spitfire, and I've played with them since eighth grade.
You mentioned earlier that you believe education is important. Do you have some subjects you like best? And do you take part in school activities besides sports?
I like math and science. Chemistry is my favorite. I don't know why exactly, except it's more interesting than other stuff. It's relevant to everything around you. Maybe I'll be a scientist or do something with math.
A couple of my friends and I just joined the SHOP club. That stands for Students Helping Other People. It's a club that helps people in the community. I think it's good to do like service for your community, to help other people who need it.