The call was questionable and possibly a game-changer. Harvard’s Kim Goh lined up to take a penalty stroke with just 12 minutes left in regulation. Barely 20 feet separated her and the net and a one-goal game.
She took her shot, but Penn goalkeeper Carly Sokach dove right and turned it away, holding the Quakers’ 4-2 lead and stealing Harvard’s momentum. The Penn field hockey team ultimately prevailed for its first Ivy win of the year, a 4-3 decision Saturday at Franklin Field.
“Carly was composed and she read the play,” Penn coach Colleen Fink said. “It was a big stop that we desperately needed … Just like a goal can uplift a team, I think a defensive stop can help uplift a team too.”
The Crimson (1-5, 0-2 Ivy) outshot the Quakers (5-3, 1-1). They had more penalty corners. Twice they had a lead but couldn’t hold on. They had a fury of shots in the last 10 minutes and almost tied the game several times. But in the end, it didn’t matter.
“We knew we needed to step up. It feels so good,” senior Sarah Hasson said. “We haven’t beaten Harvard since I was a freshman, so just as a senior now, it’s just so much better. It’s such a thrill of winning, it’s great.”
Hasson twice found the back of the cage, bringing her season goal count to four. She added an assist on Penn’s second score of the game as well. Freshman Elizabeth Hitti and junior Sunny Stirewalt also scored for Penn.
Though Hasson’s second tally was the ultimate game-winner, it was her first goal on Saturday that truly changed the game. With less than a minute remaining before halftime, Hasson broke a 2-2 tie when she backhanded Hitti’s pass in front of the net through traffic and into the cage.
She made it 4-2 a little over eight minutes into the second half on a redirection off a pass from junior Julie Tahan.
“I was kind of just in the right place at the right time,” Hasson said. “We’ve been working on shooting really quickly without expectation of the goalie and that’s exactly what I did.”
A four-year player, Hasson has witnessed the transformation of Penn’s team. Two years ago, in her sophomore season, the Quakers finished 3-14 and were outscored by their opponents, 74-19. Last season there was significant improvement — not necessarily in wins but in overall quality of play — as the team progressed to 4-13 and reduced the scoring deficit to 54-24.
Now, with nine games still to play, Penn has already surpassed last season’s win total and matched its 2009 mark.
“With the whole coaching change, we were really excited about our whole coaching staff, but all the attitudes on the team were in this kind of lull,” Hasson explained about the team’s transition after her freshman campaign. “We didn’t really know where we were.
“And then in my junior year we were kind of getting in that groove, but we still didn’t click. Then this year we’re all on the same page. We’re working so hard and we all just want to win.”
And that’s the biggest change for the 2012 Quakers — they’ve been winning. But it hasn’t been flawless. Their defense still needs work, as evidenced by a slow start and finish Saturday.
“I think they’re nervous. I think they’re so desperate to win — they want it so bad — and when you want something so bad sometimes you can be a little tight,” Fink said.
She’d prefer that her team not have to get in a shootout with its opponent every game, but “if that’s what we’re going with this year, I have to embrace it,” she said.
Whatever it takes to win.