The Penn field hockey team was less than four minutes away from achieving a major goal it had set for itself coming into the season: Win each of its first four games.
After defeating Liberty, 5-4, on Saturday, the Quakers were in position to do just that on Sunday until Appalachian State’s Jessi Stuart scored the tying goal with 3:14 left in regulation.
The Mountaineers prevailed in sudden-death overtime, 3-2, leaving the Red and Blue off to a still-good 3-1 start.
“It’s obviously disappointing to set a goal and not achieve it,” coach Colleen Fink said. “We’ve been really preaching about not talking so much and really putting our goals into action … But it’s obviously a good start to the season.”
Indeed, it’s the best start Penn has had since 1997.
Saturday against the Flames (2-3), the Red and Blue never trailed and took the lead for good 27 minutes in on junior Amelia Cohen’s second goal of the season.
Senior Sarah Hasson scored to make it 3-1 at the half, and Cohen found the back of the net for a second time to give Penn a three-goal lead less than two minutes into the second half.
Over their first three games, the Quakers scored 14 goals. To put that in perspective, a year ago, it took the team 12 games to reach that mark.
“We definitely have gotten better communicating with each other,” Cohen explained. “Our off-ball movement has improved a lot with that. And we’re just connecting on passes and putting each other in good position to score.”
Going back to last weekend’s win over Towson, Cohen has scored three times — the first three of her career — in two games.
Against Appalachian State (2-3) on Sunday, Penn struck first again, on freshman Elizabeth Hitti’s second goal of the year. But it was holding the lead that would plague the Quakers — they twice blew a one-goal advantage before succumbing to the Mountaineers in the extra period.
While the offense has been explosive four games in, the defense — or at least its ability to hold leads — has been a cause for concern.
The Red and Blue blew advantages of 2-0 in the opener against Lehigh and 3-1 in the second game against Towson. Liberty cut a 4-1 lead to 4-3 before junior Julie Tahan gave Penn a two-goal cushion again with her fourth goal of the season.
“We’re giving up far too many offensive opportunities to our opponents,” Fink said. “They’re getting a lot of isolated [1-on-1s] with our goalkeeper, they are getting a lot of penalty corners, so it’s definitely an area of the field that we need to tighten up.”
But, Fink added, it’s only been four games.
“Early on in the season, every team struggles somewhat defensively because it’s a very complicated aspect of the game,” she said.
Penn has a quick turnaround, hosting Rider on Wednesday night at Franklin Field. Fink would like to see the team employ a different defensive mentality.
“They have to be able to go into every game with the mindset that it’s going to be a shutout,” she said. “And then they need to be desperate for that shutout.”
Cohen echoed her coach.
“We need to keep the energy up and keep talking and not get flustered when a goal gets scored on us,” the junior said.
“Just keep up our confidence and our talking and score right back.”
Until Sunday, the Quakers did answer each goal allowed with a score of their own.
And though the team missed its first goal, its season-long goal — to finish .500 or better — is still well within reach.