Leaving Johnny Unitas Stadium last Friday, I was still processing what I had just seen.
The women's lacrosse national semifinal between Penn and Northwestern certainly had its boring parts, but the end was a frenetic, frenzied finish that had everyone on the edge of their seats. With Penn down four goals with under 10 minutes to play, it appeared that yet again the Wildcats would win by a comfortable margin over the Quakers. Even after Penn cut the lead down to three with 6:22 remaining, Northwestern won the draw and appeared on the verge of closing it out. But a turnover led to another Quakers goal. Then they won the draw and scored again. And again they came up with the draw. And, before you knew it, Penn had done the impossible and scored four goals in a span of 4:52.
The comeback gave the fans exactly what they wanted in a game on the final weekend of the tournament - "that definitely was a thriller," Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte-Hiller said after her team had won. And as one Penn Athletics representative joked with me afterward, even the Northwestern fans were rooting for Penn during the comeback.
Well, maybe that's an exaggeration. But still, this was quite the exciting, thrilling comeback - something that was missing in Northwestern's five-year run as champs (see, for example, the anticlimactic 21-7 thumping of North Carolina Sunday that clinched its most recent title).
So where does this exhilarating comeback, regardless of the ensuing overtimes, rank all-time in Penn sports lore?
Last year, after the Quakers made it all the way to the national championship game before falling, 10-6, to the Wildcats, I wrote that the second-place finish ranked behind only the 1979 run to the M. Hoops Final Four in Salt Lake City as the second-best accomplishment in the history of Penn Athletics.
After lacrosse's 13-12 double overtime loss last week, the 2008 feat is still second to basketball's in 1979. But the 2009 feat of pushing the undefeated Wildcats to the brink of elimination can go third.
However, I feel that if the Red and Blue had been able to win the opening draw in double overtime, march down the field and score the game-winner - or let's say Katrina Dowd's miraculous last-second shot to tie the game in overtime for the Wildcats hadn't gone in - I think the four-goal comeback would've topped Tony Price and the hoopsters of '79.
It wasn't that Penn was about to pull off a huge upset; as the most recent team to beat the Wildcats, everyone knew the Red and Blue were capable of winning. But to do so when down four with nine minutes left? Against a team that knows how to close out games, as evidenced by its 21-0 record up to that point? Now that would've been legendary.
Of course, you could argue the impressive comeback was all for naught since Meredith Frank scored the winning goal in double overtime and not one of the Quakers. But to completely forget this great comeback would do injustice to the team and its incredible grit and determination to storm back.
So after coming so close to not only pulling off a comeback for the ages, but also ending Northwestern's domination, the question remains: can the Quakers fulfill their goal of winning the national championship?
Next year looks like it could be Penn's year.
The team will certainly miss the great contributions of the Class of 2009, which is leaving as the program's winningest class ever with a 58-13 career record. Becca Edwards' 101 career points surely will be missed, as will the great defense of Katie Mazer and Hilary Renna. But those were the only three seniors who really contributed for multiple years. Others like Samantha Bird and Kaitlyn Lombardo really only came into their own this year, and there's no reason to believe a few members of the Class of 2010 can't do that as well next season. In addition, Penn looks to have another strong recruiting class arriving in 2010, as at least two incoming Quakers are high school All-Americans.
Meanwhile, looking at the five-time defending champs, Northwestern is still going to be good - don't get me wrong. Katrina Dowd and Danielle Spencer both return for their senior season and will look to dominate once again.
But when you graduate the NCAA all-time leader in assists (Hannah Nielsen), a two-time NCAA Tournament MVP (Hilary Bowen), your all-time leader in saves (Morgan Lathrop) and the player who scored the game-winner against Penn (Meredith Frank), something's got to give.
So while I'm definitely not going to crown Penn the champions for next year right now, just maybe 2010 will be their best chance yet to claim victory on the final Sunday of the season. And maybe a year from now I'll be writing blasphemies about the 1979 hoops team.
Zach Klitzman is a senior history major from Bethesda, Md., and is Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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