For Penn field hockey, it’s simple, really.
A win means a future. It means knocking off the defending national champions en route to the Ivy League crown and an NCAA Tournament berth. It means all the hard work was worth it.
Lose and that’s it. That’s it for a historic season full of breakout stars, unbelievable finishes and program records. That’s it for the first season of play at Ellen Vagelos field, and that’s it for Penn’s four seniors’ careers.
Saturday at noon, Penn (13-3, 5-1 Ivy) takes on No. 9 Princeton in the de facto Ivy League Championship game in which the winner takes the crown.
Plenty has changed since the Tigers (12-4, 6-0) thumped the Quakers to end the 2012 season.
The Red and Blue are a far more dynamic offense than they’ve been in recent history, improving their goals per game by 1.03 thanks in large part to a strong recruiting class led by freshman attacks Jasmine Cole and Elise Tilton, as well as the emergence of junior Emily Corcoran.
But they are also a much more capable defense. Carly Sokach is 11th in the country in save percentage and after allowing nearly three goals per game last year, the goalie now holds opposing offenses to under two.
Yet there is nothing more Princeton would like than to crush the Cinderella story unfolding in Philadelphia. They may have more losses than the Red and Blue, but all four have come against nationally ranked teams, three of which were in the top five. They’ve also been outscoring opponents in Ivy League play by nearly four goals per game.
But what head coach Colleen Fink believes is the key for the Quakers might surprise you.
Don’t be perfect.
“We need to go out and play a great game, no question,” Fink said. “But we can’t try to be perfect. We are going to make mistakes. It’s all about how we respond to our mistakes and if we take advantage of Princeton’s mistakes.”
It’s a lesson that the coach learned watching game film. What stood out to her far more than any specific player or offensive scheme was how the opposing team crumbled in the presence of the mighty Tigers.
“Princeton is a good team, but these other teams were beating themselves before [Princeton] even had a chance to,” Fink said. “They were either intimidated or tried to be too perfect and that’s just not the way to beat them.”
That’s not to say she’s oblivious to the talent of the Tigers. She’s not. Princeton has an incredibly balanced attack and their national championship run last season gives them superior big-game experience.
“We need to work on our corners and be ready for their speed,” Fink said. “But really, we need to just go out and play our game without getting caught up in all the excitement.”
It’s a true underdog story, but it’s been one in the making since summer practices. All season, Fink has said the team’s ultimate goal was to make the last game of the season mean something.
The stage is set. Looking for just their second Ivy League championship of the 2000s and playing their biggest rival on their brand new field, the moment could not be scripted any better for the Quakers.
Time to see if this story has a happy ending.
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