Panken leads with heart and grit in senior season
Kit Loughran | Tuesday, September 8, 2015
The engine that could, senior midfielder Evan Panken thrives on his work ethic and commitment to the sport.
It’s not about being flashy for Panken.
“I would describe my style of play as gritty, and I like to think of myself as an engine,” Panken said. “I work hard in every game and never shy away from a challenge.
“I definitely play with my heart on my sleeve, and I really love the camaraderie of soccer.”
And his grittiness and heart have certainly taken him far on the pitch. Panken has started every game for the past two seasons — 45 straight contests. Not surprisingly, he’s started all four games in 2015. He’s managed one assist and six shots in that short time.
Last season, he contributed four goals and a career-high six assists, landing third on the Irish roster with 14 points. Panken attempted 24 shots, with 10 on goal, for a .417 shot-on-goal percentage. He posted the game-winning goal and added a second half assist in Notre Dame’s 4-1 win over Dartmouth on Sept. 6. From game-winning goals to assists, he also gave the assist on the game-winning goal in the 3-0 triumph over No. 15 Virginia in last season’s ACC championship quarterfinal on Nov. 9.
And the engine doesn’t lose his steam on the field. Academically, the pre-med and Spanish double major was named to the all-ACC men’s soccer academic team in both 2013 and 2014.
Looking back on his success last year, Panken said he couldn’t have mastered his work ethic or field performance without his teammates.
“I would say that I have learned a lot from past upperclassmen that have moved through the program,” Panken said. “They were always willing and available to help me in my personal development as my role on the team grew every year.
“Every year I have made it a goal to get better, and soccer is a great sport because there are always areas to improve.”
After redshirting his freshman year, Panken saw his Notre Dame career take off in 2013, when the Irish won the program’s first national title. Panken netted his first career goal to put the Irish on the board in the 3-0 win at Syracuse on Sept. 13, 2013. He also pushed the Irish ahead 3-2 with his goal in the 4-2 win over Wake Forest in the NCAA round of 16 match on Dec. 1, 2013, and again put the Irish ahead, 1-0, in Notre Dame’s 2-1 victory over Michigan State in the NCAA quarterfinals on Dec. 7, 2013.
All these spurts led Panken and his teammates to what he said he considers his all-time soccer moment. That time, the Irish took down Maryland, 2-1, for the national title.
“My best moment on the field had to be winning the national championship in 2013,” Panken said. “It was amazing to be on the field after that game, to see how all the hard work we had put in all year had paid off and to be able to celebrate that with all my teammates.”
Panken said the Irish are striving for the usual, easier-said-than-done goal once again, the enviable “Big 3” — to win the ACC regular season, ACC tournament and NCAA tournament. His personal goals, though, are a little less tangible — in terms of titles, that is.
“My goals for this season are to play well and help the team succeed in anyway possible,” Panken said. “I also want to be a leader for the underclassman and be a resource for them. As a senior I think everyone is put into a leadership position because you are now the ones who know what the program is about and the ones who are role models for the underclassmen.
“I am grateful to be part of such a strong senior class that prides itself on both academic and athletic excellence. I hope that the underclassmen will see the standards that my classmates and I hold ourselves to and take these on to be their own.”
With another year of eligibility to chug along, Panken could have one more season to reinforce those standards.
“My plans for next year are still a bit up in the air,” Panken said. “I am eligible for a fifth year for soccer and would love to take that.
“I will also be applying to medical school next year, so I will just have to wait and see where life takes me.”
In the meantime, between winning potential NCAA titles and MCAT prep, Panken and his engine-like grittiness will help the Irish take on their first ACC opponent of the season, No. 9 Clemson, on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.