When Penn field hockey’s four seniors step onto the field for their last regular season game this Saturday, things will be different.
Not only different because this could be the last time they don the Red and Blue. Or because this could be the last game they play of a sport to which they have dedicated so much of their lives. Or even because winning this game would bring the program its first Ivy League title since 2004.
But different because the entire landscape of the field hockey program has changed throughout these seniors’ careers.
Four years ago, the team played its games at Franklin Field. Two of the current four seniors weren’t on the team — one of those, Nicole Mackin, wasn’t even at Penn. And the team was downright terrible.
“The year before we came, we were one of the worst teams,” senior midfielder Alex Agathis said. “I think we were 80th place.”
This didn’t deter Agathis though.
“On my official visit, I saw how close the girls were and how much fun they had on and off the field during practice and at the team dinner. The camaraderie was something I knew I wanted in my college experience.”
Interestingly enough, this lack of winning actually may have encouraged senior attack Elizabeth Hitti to come to Penn. From day one, Hitti believed in what the team could do, especially behind coach Colleen Fink’s enthusiasm and desire to turn the program around.
“When I was looking at Penn, they weren’t winning,” Hitti said. “But when I sat in coach’s office and she told me about her vision for the program, she was just really passionate about it, and I believed it.”
It didn’t take long before Fink’s vision began to translate to positive results. In 2013, the Quakers notched their first winning Ivy record in four seasons. In fact, that team had a shot to take down rival Princeton for the Ancient Eight title in the last game of the season, a scenario quite similar to this year’s matchup.
That 5-1 loss to the Tigers, a talented squad and the 2012 NCAA National Champions, suggested that perhaps the Quakers weren’t quite ready to take advantage of their opportunity on the big stage. Now, however, the Red and Blue are poised to seize the moment and rewrite the script.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t win then, but that was just a step that brought us to where we are now,” Agathis said. “And after we lost that game that day, coach [Fink] even said, ‘we can’t skip steps.’ I mean, now we are there. We are at the top of the platform. No more steps.”
Although it’s easy to draw comparisons between this Saturday’s game against Princeton and the 2013 matchup, Fink and her players believe it’s not fair to equate the two because both teams were so different then.
Penn is undoubtedly different. This season for the Quakers has been filled with individual achievements, from Hoover’s goal scoring to Hitti’s assists; however, the mentality of the players is clear: put the team first and yourself second. Senior Stephanie Honig even calls the team her “family.”
And this attitude has helped all the pieces fall into place, creating a feeling of destiny around the team as it has won three of its Ivy games in dramatic overtime fashion — extremely difficult feat — to set up Saturday’s shot at the title.
“It feels like everything is really coming full circle,” Agathis said. “I can’t imagine us not coming out on top on Saturday.”
Since Fink laid out her vision four years ago, it seems the seniors have never been more ready to bring it to fruition.
“To see that vision culminate with another shot at the Ivy championship is just what we have been working for ever since I got here,” Hitti, the co-captain, said. “Its what I was working for when I committed here, so it would a dream come true to go out on top.”
Hitti’s desire to bring the team to this occasion isn’t something new and certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I think Elizabeth Hitti since she stepped on campus has been compelled to be in this position by the time she was walking off campus,” Fink said. “She definitely brings the team along with her in that mentality.”
More than anything, it seems as if this senior class as a whole feels a responsibility. A responsibility to play their best for their teammates — including those who have come before and those who will come after.
“We don’t want to win the Ivy League once,” Fink said. “We want to win it and sustain competiveness within the league, and I think if this group is able to [win against Princeton], then they would have set the precedent and paved the path for the years to come to do just that.”
As for the advice Hitti wants to pass on to younger players, the importance of “making the most of the experience” is at the top of her list.
“That is something that we have tried to get across to the underclassman. I know there are days when you don’t want to come to practice. It has happened to me too.
“But one day you are going to be standing there and you’re not going to have any more practices,” she continued. “And you are going wish that you were standing at practice again even if you were miserable.
“I wish I wasn’t a senior right now.”
It’s clear that the seniors aren’t ready for it end. And with a win against Princeton, it doesn’t have to quite yet.
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