For Penn women’s lacrosse, it is time to write a new story. Last year’s once in a lifetime senior class is gone and their departure came without renewing Penn’s claim on the Ivy League championship. This year, the narrative changes especially a new opponent enters the fray.
For the first time since spring 2012, the sixteenth-ranked Quakers (1-0) will face-off against twelfth-ranked Duke. Originally the fourth place team at the start of the season, the Blue Devils (2-2) have faltered against top-12 opponents Northwestern and USC. They look to right the ship against a Quakers team that showed signs of a smooth transition in last week’s win over Delaware.
In road games against ranked opponents, Penn is 1-5 since 2013, the year the current senior class arrived. Most recently, Penn traveled to Duke in 2012 and lost, 12-5. Nonetheless, coach Karin Corbett is looking forward to this early season clash.
“I’m excited to travel. It’s a team that really is close. The chemistry is good,” Corbett said about her squad. Despite being only one game into the season, the Red and Blue have shown that they have the talent and rapport to keep pace in 2016.
The team’s six returning starters have helped keep open the floodgates for the team. It is never easy to replace half of the starting lineup but the Quakers have shown in the early stages that they can do it with great thanks to the team’s new starters.
Starting in net, junior Britt Brown earned the start after impressing in preseason practices. After acknowledging that there was a tight competition among freshman Maggie Smith, senior Courtney Rushford and Brown, Corbett made it clear that she was impressed by the junior’s performance against Delaware, and does not see a reason to make the switch (but left the option open).
“What we have told them is that it’s kind of week to week and practice to practice and getting them to really try to compete each week,” Corbett said, adding that goalkeepers could even substitute in at halftime. “[Brown] had a great game and that is something that we want to look at.”
Not only did Brown succeed in net, but the new-look defense also kept the ball away from the goal. Captain and midfielder Lely DeSimone lauded the defense’s play on Saturday and looks forward to seeing their development first-hand.
“I think that having such a young defense, they’ve all stepped up. They’ve all embraced their new roles. They’re really quick learners and we’re really lucky to have them all,” DeSimone said.
Going up against a potent Duke attack, the back end will need to be even more stout than they were against Delaware, where they let a five score lead dwindle down to a two goal advantage in the game’s final 10 minutes. The Blue Devils’ top three scorers have combined for 44 points over four games.
Notably, Penn presents a new type of challenge for Duke as the first of their opponents who do not abide by a zone defense. Corbett remains aware of the Blue Devils’ abilities on the attack and knows that solid team defense is paramount.
“They have good challengers, and we’re going to have to really do a good job as a team defense to stop their challenge.”
On offense, the Quakers match up well with Duke. Captain Nina Corcoran tallied four assists on Saturday while playing behind the net and also picked up two scores. She leads a Quakers offense filled with scorers but lacking the nationally acclaimed firepower that they had last season in Tory Bensen. Senior Catherine Dickinson believes that Corcoran’s presence behind the net can help mitigate Bensen’s departure.
“I think Tory was an incredible player. Obviously it’s hard to replace that talent. But we have a lot of attackers who really have a lot of experience under their belts.” Dickinson said.
“I think Nina’s a great player who is able to dish out the balls but I think she can score anywhere on the field and everyone’s just ready to go to goal and be a threat and feed and do whatever we can so we’re excited to spread out that opportunity.”
Moreover, the team showcased sophomore Caroline Cummings at attack to rave results. She recovered four draw controls, attacked the net and put both of her shots in the net. Corbett believes that Cummings brings a new element to the team.
“I think that Caroline Cummings coming in had some great draws and a couple of really nice goals... She’s very creative, and so it’s fun to see that and see her creativity that she can bring out on the field,” Corbett said. “She’s a tremendous stick.”
The team’s offense will need to find a way to put balls in the net against Duke’s stingy defense. Kelsey Duryea minds the net for the Blue Devils and has been very successful to date: she’s saved 54.2 percent of shot directed at her, which would have led the NCAA last season.
In a battle of top-20 programs, the Quakers have their work cut out for them. Nevertheless, the team is enthusiastic to take on a new opponent on the road to the Ivy League championship and NCAA Tournament.
“I think it’s exciting," DeSimone said. "You’re always excited to play a top-15 team and see what your team does against them. I think we’re really looking forward to this game against Duke, and we’ll see what we have in store for them.”
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