It may be early in the year, but this weekend may be the toughest challenge Penn women’s lacrosse faces all season.
It’s hard to imagine a situation more difficult than going on the road to face the defending national champions. But that’s exactly what No. 17 Penn (1-0) will do on Sunday when they travel down to Chapel Hill to face No. 1 North Carolina.
“It’s a great opportunity to play a team as good as [North Carolina] and we just want to show them and ourselves and everyone else what we’re capable of,” junior goalkeeper Lucy Ferguson said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Coming off of last weekend’s 11-8 victory over Delaware in their season opener, the Quakers will look to continue their success. The game saw the Red and Blue take advantage of a decided edge in terms of free-position shots and adapt in the second half on their way to the win.
“We really responded at halftime and made the changes that we needed to make,” coach Karin Corbett said. “I think that’s a huge confidence builder, when your coaches tell you some things to tweak and you do it and it works.”
Moving into this matchup with North Carolina (4-0), Penn will look to stop one of the most prolific offensive attacks in the nation. Thus far, the Tar Heels are averaging 21.0 goals per game, the third-highest mark in the nation.
When it comes down to stopping this offensive onslaught, the Quakers are going to need to rely on the steady hand of Ferguson, a unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection last season. The junior had five saves against Delaware, including one on each of the Blue Hens’ free-position attempts, an effort that helped her earn co-Ivy Defensive Player of the Week.
However, it won’t come down to Ferguson alone against one of the deepest and most athletic programs in the nation.
“We can’t play person to person matchups against them, we have to play as a team,” Corbett said. “We need seven defenders and [Ferguson] to be playing all together and helping one another and making sure we’re not leaving people in one-on-one’s.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Penn will look to sustain its early success from last weekend, particularly that of senior midfield Tory Bensen , who notched a career-high five goals against the Blue Hens on Saturday.
However, Penn will be forced to deal with North Carolina’s Megan Ward , the Tar Heels starting goalkeeper. Ward has combined with backup goalie Caylee Waters to hold opponents to a mere 7.5 goals per game.
As a whole, the Quakers are preparing for their role as the underdogs, with the potential to shake up the national rankings by dethroning the Tar Heels in their annual early-season matchup.
“It’s a great test for us. To see what the top teams look like and for us to have to work towards that,” Corbett said. “We’re the underdogs, they’re supposed to win, and all we can do is upset them and learn from it, if we don’t.”