Before the season, Penn field hockey coach Colleen Fink and her team set out a list of goals. One of them was to win double-digit games, a feat the team has yet to accomplish since she arrived at Penn in 2010.
It seemed like a lofty goal, but with six games remaining, the Quakers stand atop the Ivy League standings with their name perched above last year’s national champion, Princeton, and a chance to realize Fink’s dream against a weak opponent.
The Red and Blue travel to New York to take on Columbia, a team that was just blown out 6-0 by Albany. The Lions (5-7, 1-2 Ivy) are among six teams in the conference with a 1-2 record, with the lone exceptions being the undefeated Quakers (9-2, 3-0) and the Tigers.
But how did Penn get here? How did a team that won nine games last season start so hot?
The Quakers’ high-powered offense is the main reason. The team is averaging over a goal per game more than last season, tallying a mean of 3.64 goals compared to 2.47 in 2012.
The scoring outburst is shocking, but a bigger surprise is where it’s coming from. The usual suspects, Julie Tahan and Alex Iqbal in particular, haven’t been scoring much. But that’s not a knock against them. Rather, a new offensive system has worked wonders for the Quakers as a whole.
Midfielders like Tahan have been able to sit back and take on more of a defensive role while facilitating attackers on offense, rather than trying to score themselves.
“Julie contributes with her leadership and how she leads the rest of the team when it comes to transitional defense,” Fink said. “We’re a stronger team when she can focus on defense instead of scoring.”
This has paved the way for junior Emily Corcoran and freshman Jasmine Cole to not only burst onto the Ivy League scene but also to rocket themselves to near the top of the NCAA. Corcoran’s 2.64 points per game is the third-best rate in the nation, while Cole is tied for second in the NCAA with 1.18 goals per game.
Corcoran’s emergence may be a shock to the rest of the league, but it’s no surprise to her coach.
“Her offseason work is what’s made the big difference,” Fink said. “I always knew her to be a goal scorer, but she didn’t always capitalize on her chances last year.
“She’s always had that ability and tenacity. It was just a matter of time.”
After hitting the Big Apple, the Quakers return home for a nonconference contest against Appalachian State. The Mountaineers (2-11) are having a difficult year, but the Red and Blue have good reason to take them seriously.
“They beat us last year,” Fink said. “Plain and simple, that’s what will motivate us.”
While a win this weekend would allow Penn to reach its goal, the Quakers don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“Hitting double-digits would be a huge accomplishment, but it’s bigger than that for us,” Fink said. “The whole year, our goal has been to make that last game of the season meaningful.”
That final game comes against Princeton, who destroyed the Quakers 7-0 in New Jersey last year. For that game to mean something, the Quakers will likely need to win out in conference play.
But the way this season has gone, there’s no reason they won’t.
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