All the numbers seemed to finally go Penn’s way last season. A 3-0 start. First winning record since 2006. Most goals scored in a season since 2003.

But one stat kept getting in the way in 2012 — three goals allowed per game, good for last in the Ivy League.

Penn’s defensive struggles lessened somewhat as the season progressed but never subsided. It was Penn’s defense that nearly allowed La Salle and Harvard to steal wins away from the Quakers early in the season and disappeared in the second half at Fairfield and for an entire game at eventual national champion Princeton.

If Penn field hockey is to continue its upward trajectory in 2013, its defense must also keep on an uptick that began this spring for coach Colleen Fink.

“[That’s when] we performed a lot better as a unit,” Fink said. “We made a couple of additional changes. They are getting more comfortable with the style that they’re trying to play. We did make a couple of personnel changes potentially. Maybe putting Amelia Cohen, who wasn’t on the offensive line potentially back in the defensive end of the field. Having Helene [Caniglia] who was a defender last season, in a slightly different position. Not anything drastic but just a little tweaking.”

“A lot of us on the defensive end were young [last year],” junior MaryRose Croddick said. “So just experience playing on the [Division I] level definitely helped.”

It’s true — Penn was an uncommonly young squad in 2012, boasting just two seniors on its roster a year ago. Perhaps more importantly, though, the defensive puzzle just wasn’t very easy to put together.

“We had to make changes during the course of the year [on the defensive side], toying with different people in different positions,” Fink said. “Usually your defense is pretty set and doesn’t change. We were still looking for the right clientele to have in the right places. We were asking our defense to be a little bit more aggressive in terms of our positioning, so some of those goals were a product of that.”

Getting more comfortable with that increased aggressiveness has been an emphasis this offseason in addition to the personnel changes that Fink has been looking into.

“Definitely our decision-making is something we’ve been working on this preseason,” Croddick said. “Having quick decisions on defense in order to attack up the field quickly.”

Still, the Quakers’ defensive attack did show signs of promise last year, substantially slowing down Dartmouth’s potent offense on the road in a 2-0 loss and holding its own against both Columbia and Yale down the stretch. Only time will tell whether Fink’s defense’s stinginess will catch up with its assertiveness.

“It’s more about, do you want to play 1-on-1, or do you want to step up and intercept, eliminate your opponent?” Fink said. “If you’re asking your defense to step up and step up and step up, there’s going to be times they step up and they mistime it or mishandle the ball, [so] you end up with a numbers down situation defensively. So it’s partnered with that aggressive style that we’re asking our team to play.

“It definitely takes time to change that.”

SEE ALSO

Penn field hockey finally gets its level playing field

Tahan returns for one final go-round with Penn field hockey

After two-year layoff, what’s next for Alex Iqbal?

Around the Ivies: Can anyone beat Princeton?

Returning to relevance: the highlights of 2012

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