iqbal

Alex Iqbal was one of four regular freshman starters for Penn this year. She finished second on the team in goals with five and was third overall in points.

Photo: Alexandra Fleischman / The Daily Pennsylvanian

With any team in a rebuilding mode, the whole transformation is a process.

On the surface, the Penn field hockey team made only a small improvement over last season in terms of wins and losses, but upon closer observation, the change was drastic.

“From day one of preseason to our last game, we’ve come so far,” said senior captain Caroline Olt, who started all 17 games this year and led the way in the defense’s improvement from last season.

Goal differential in Ivy League games may be the most telling, where the Quakers cut down on last year’s difference of minus-32 to this season’s minus-11.

Even with this season alone, in a short two-month span, the Red and Blue went from a 7-0 opening loss to American to playing powerhouse Princeton to a tie for most of the season’s final game.

“To be that competitive with the team of the caliber that Princeton is really shows a lot of how hard we worked, how dedicated we are to making ourselves better and the direction the program is going in, which I think is a good one,” Olt said.

Penn also managed to amass a streak of 15 games without being shut out — the 11th-longest streak in the nation until it was snapped in the finale.

Freshman Alex Iqbal believes the team’s growth over the course of the season can be attributed to the fact that so many freshmen were regular starters this season.

“It was a little hectic at the beginning,” she said. “We didn’t really know where each other played, but as the year went on, our passing got better and we got more shots on goal.”

Iqbal certainly made strides near the end of the season, scoring five goals in the final five games.

“Seeing everybody making progress and growing individually, becoming better players, especially as a senior, means a lot to me,” Olt proudly remarked.

Coach Colleen Fink is excited to see what the freshman class, four of whom were regular starters, can accomplish next season.

“It’s only going to help them in these big types of games, against Ivy League opponents,” she said.

Fink was also thrilled with the play of sophomore Julie Tahan, who led the Quakers in goals and points.

“She is obviously going to play a significant role next year, not only from a playing standpoint, but from a leadership standpoint,” the coach explained. “I think the girls on the team are already looking to her in many ways as a leader.”

Highlights from Penn’s 2011 campaign included a thrilling double-overtime victory over La Salle, nearly spoling Princeton’s Ivy title and a comeback win over Brown on the road.

“Going up there and in the elements, and the girls just putting that type of effort forth and coming from behind and winning, that was exciting,” Fink said.

But for Olt, the best part of the year was not of a specific play or game:

“Seeing the way that our team came together, and the progress that we made throughout the season was definitely a highlight,” she said.

“The commitment and resiliency we showed really says a lot about the character of the team and how dedicated we are to the program and to each other.”

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