In a season where Penn field hockey made a significant leap forward, it could not take the final step.
With a share of the Ivy League title and an NCAA tournament bid on the line, the Quakers fell to Princeton, 5-1, on Saturday afternoon at Vagelos Field.
The Tigers’ (13-4, 7-0) victory marks their ninth straight Ancient Eight crown, and also their ninth straight victory over the Quakers (13-4, 5-2).
There was a palpable sense of history in the air before the match, as over 40 former Penn field fockey players and coaches — none more notable than donor Ellen Vagelos — were honored as part of the Vagelos Field’s official dedication.
One could also feel the magnitude: Penn hadn’t laid claim to the Ivy League Title since 2004, it was Homecoming and it was Senior Day. The stands were overflowing.
The Red and Blue fell behind early, as Princeton freshman Cat Caro started the scoring just over two minutes into the contest. Penn goalkeeper Carly Sokach was able to save the initial Princeton shot off the Tigers’ first corner, but Caro was there to gather the rebound and punch it in to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
After Penn failed to attempt a shot in the first 10 minutes of the game, the Quakers finally broke through at the 13 minute mark, when sophomore Elizabeth Hitti scored to tie the game up at one apiece.
Senior Julie Tahan’s hard shot off an Emily Corcoran corner was blocked, and Hitti got a hold of the ball on the left side and delivered a low drive that found the net. It was Penn’s first goal against Princeton since 2007, and it would be the Quakers’ last of the afternoon.
Soon enough, Princeton was on the attack again. Princeton’s leading scorer, senior Michelle Cesan, slashed her way through the Penn defense and delivered a wicked backhand shot that elevated to give the Tigers the 2-1 lead midway through the first half.
Two minutes later, the Tigers extended the lead to two when senior Amanda Bird scored a goal off a corner that was assisted by Cesan and freshman Annabeth Donovan.
For the remainder of the first half, Penn often struggled to get the ball out of its own territory, while the Tigers kept knocking, firing two shots that hit the cross bar.
“I think we did some things [today] that we historically don’t do,” coach Colleen Fink said. “We turned the ball over a lot in the outlet. You can’t make those types of mistakes.”
After a first half in which Princeton tripled Penn’s shots and doubled Penn’s corners, the score was 3-1, Tigers.
After play resumed, Penn was able to get some offensive pressure, including two back-to-back corner chances, but wasn’t able to take advantage of its chances.
Carly Sokach, who had 14 saves on the day, did her best to keep the game in reach, as she dove and kicked to keep a bevy of Tiger attempts from getting past her in the middle stage of the second half.
It was only a matter of time before Princeton found the net again, however, as junior Allison Evans slashed in from the right side of the circle and snuck a shot past Sokach to give the Tigers a comfortable 4-1 lead with under 13 minutes remaining.
“We just gave Princeton too many opportunities,” Fink said.
Keeping with the theme of the game, the Quakers managed to get some scattered chances as time ran down, including some pressure from freshman Jasmine Cole, but nothing materialized.
Michelle Cesan tacked on another Priceton goal with less than two minutes left in the contest to make the final 5-1, in a loss that left the Quakers just short of what seemed to be an improbable goal before the season.
“This team has never been in this position before — with an Ivy League title on the line,” Fink said. “My father is a long time coach and he always says ‘you can’t skip steps.’ You want to skip the step that teaches you how to win in the critical game with everything on the line, but we unfortunately couldn’t skip that step today.”
No, it did not turn out as the Quakers had hoped. But if the resilient and promising squad’s upward trajectory continues as it has the last four seasons, Penn could make the final step — and soon.
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