Last year, the Penn men’s lacrosse team danced with the Blue Devils and came out on top. This year, the team wasn’t quite as lucky.
In its season opener against the defending national champions, No. 18 Penn fell lost to No. 1 Duke, 9-6, in a hard-fought battle on the road on Friday night.
After falling to an upstart Penn squad in the Quakers' season opener last year, the Blue Devils came into this weekend's matchup more focused and ready to play. Duke (3-0) knew it couldn’t take the Quakers (0-1) lightly, and the team was aggressive from the start.
“The fact that we beat [Duke] and had a pretty good season last year I'm sure motivated them to prepare for this game,” Penn coach Mike Murphy said.
Duke put the first goal on the board just 39 seconds into the contest, but the Quakers responded quickly with a goal from senior midfield Zack Losco.
The Blue Devils' more experienced offense took control of the game in the first quarter, imposing their will on the Quakers and building a 4-2 lead at the end of the period.
Penn refused to quit though, shutting down Duke’s offense in the second quarter. The Quakers managed a goal with 10 seconds remaining in the half, moving the deficit to one heading into the break.
Senior goalkeeper Brian Feeney, who recorded 10 saves on the day, was instrumental in keeping the Quakers within striking distance in the back-and-forth affair.
“Feeney played extremely well in goal,” Murphy said. “He was just fantastic.”
Midway through the third quarter, Penn was still battling with the score at 5-4. However, the Quakers showed their inexperience when a careless turnover in the midfield led to a breakaway goal by Duke’s Chris Hipps.
“That was, I think, the difference in the game,” Murphy said. “That’s just our maturity level.”
Hipps’ goal sparked a scoring barrage by the Blue Devils, one in which they tallied three goals. The stretch was exacerbated by a scoring drought that lasted over a full quarter for the Quakers.
Losco and junior attack Isaac Bock tallied goals for Penn in the fourth quarter, but it was too little and too late.
The senior duo of Feeney, who kept the score close throughout the game, and Losco, who put up three points and caused two turnovers, stood out for the Quakers on Friday.
Overall, Murphy was pleased with his team’s first effort of the season, considering that it came against the top team in the land.
“They’re the defending national champions, and I think they’re going to be great this year,” Murphy said of Duke. “[We are] close to being great.”
Moving forward, Murphy would like his team to generate confidence from its defensive performance but work to smooth out some of its offensive kinks.
“We played well on defense for the most part,” he said. “I think we could be a little sharper on offense.
“We’re not built for power, we’re built for speed. We kind of tried to force things a little by running through people ... It’s not a major overhaul. It’s just tweaks, and hopefully we’ll make them in practice.”
The Quakers will look to rebound on Tuesday night, when they will host their season opener against city rival St. Joseph's.