The irony about Philadelphia’s most beloved sports idol is that he didn’t even win.
While many a joke has been made as to what this says about the city — even in a fictional world, Rocky couldn’t win — it misses the point.
For decades, the city has romanticized this story of the underdog, whose tremendous determination and heart was all that allowed him to go the distance with the defending heavyweight champion of the world.
The result is but an afterthought.
For one night, the Penn field hockey team epitomized that which Philly admires most. Against the six-time defending Ivy champs, the Red and Blue were the ultimate underdog against Princeton — and they went the distance. The fact that the Quakers ultimately lost, 3-0, almost doesn’t matter.
“For the seniors, we hadn’t beaten them … and every year we have been beaten by them, it has been 10-0,” said a sober Kieran Sweeney after the game. In truth, coming into the game, the Tigers had won by a 22-0 margin over three years.
“It’s our last game, it’s homecoming, we’re at Franklin Field and we’re playing our worst enemy,” added the senior goaltender.
It’s hard to imagine that a sixth-place team wanted this game more than an opponent with its 17th Ivy title in 18 years on the line.
But for the first 52 minutes, Penn (4-13, 2-5 Ivy) battled, scrapped and hustled its way to a 0-0 tie. The Quakers sideline moaned with each near miss of a goal. Princeton (9-7, 6-1) observed in near silence.
Even after the Tigers’ first goal with 17:37 remaining, Penn continued to fight. Not until Princeton’s second score, with under five minutes to play, did it seem the Quakers’ fate was sealed.
In a class move, coach Colleen Fink started all five seniors — for the first time all season — and played them each the full 70 minutes.
“You try to reward the senior class for the effort and energy that they put in during their career,” explained Fink afterwards. “It’s the right thing to do.”
When the final horn sounded, the sadness fell over the seniors. The tears began streaming, and the realization that they had lost their final game began to settle in.
“It’s really hard,” said a soft-spoken Caroline Olt after the game. The senior captain took the loss especially hard and was one of the last players to leave the locker room afterwards.
“You sort of don’t realize it, until you’re there, and you’re like, ‘Oh wow … this is really it,” she reflected, speaking each word slowly behind glassy eyes.
Though the postgame mood was understandably somber, when looking back at this game, the team, especially the seniors, should do so proudly.
Plays like Abigail Egan’s 50-yard dash from midfield to the goal line, which forced a late-game penalty corner opportunity for Penn, characterized the pride and passion with which the seniors played.
Fellow senior Kirstin Snyder weaved through fields of black and orange and produced multiple scoring opportunities for the Quakers.
Sweeney stood on her head multiple times in net, turning away the first nine shots on goal before one finally managed to sneak its way through.
Senior Erin Healy, playing in her first and only game of the year, stepped up defensively, and turned every fight for a loose ball near the sideline into a fight to the death.
And of course, Olt, the defensive leader, starting her 51st consecutive game — a streak which extended back to her sophomore season — shepherded the defense that held the dynamic Tigers offense at bay for the majority of the game.
After the game, an Andy Grammer song blared from the locker room: “I know it’s hard, know it’s hard, to remember sometimes, but you gotta keep your head up.”
With the heart the Quakers displayed, they have no reason not to.
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