It’s bad enough losing one all-time talent. Penn women’s lacrosse coach Karin Corbett has to find a way to handle losing three.
No stranger to replacing greats, Corbett has coached 23 Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association first or second team All-Americans.
Three of them, second team All-Americans Tory Bensen and Lucy Ferguson, as well as two-time first team All-American Meg Markham, graduated in the spring of 2015. They are just three of six full-time starters — in addition to four other contributors to the 2015 squad — who will no longer don the Red and Blue.
Corbett knows how important last year’s graduating class was but maintains that they have built the foundation for the current upperclassmen to uphold.
“Obviously it was a tremendous class ...and a group that set the tone for what this team was going to fight for. So we miss them, that’s no question,” she said. “But I think they left a legacy for this team this year and we have a tremendous senior class this year.”
On the backend, Ferguson graduated after starting in 53 of the team’s 54 contests between 2013 and 2015. Markham, the Quakers’ defensive stalwart, was a co-recipient of the 2014-2015 Association of Alumnae Fathers’ Trophy which is given to a senior student-athlete who shows outstanding athletic, academic and leadership qualities. Also in the backfield were Taylor Foussadier and Lydia Miller, two second team All-Ivy recipients and four-year starters.
Replacing the defenders individually will be tough if not downright impossible. Instead, Corbett has implemented a new system that looks to harness the defense’s speed.
“I do think the one thing this team has differently [is that] this group has the potential to play a much more aggressive, high-paced defense to set the tone a little bit differently. So I’m looking forward to that,” she said. “I’m hoping we can put a little more pressure on the opposing attacks with playing a more pressure high defense.”
The only returning defensive starter, junior defender Megan Kelly, is no stranger to individual success: her 33 ground balls in 2015 — third best in the Ivy League — strongly complemented her 22 caused turnovers, good for second best in the Ancient Eight. She too recognizes the profound impact that the three defenders and Ferguson had on her own development as a player.
“I think the combination of losing the four of them is definitely different, it’s a void to fill,” she said.
“We’re just a different kind of defense this year and I’ve had to take on a role of teaching a little bit, but everyone’s been doing so well and working so hard because there are so many opportunities for people to fill spots and make a difference on the team.”
As the lone returning defensive starter, Kelly will surely be looked to as a leader and acknowledges that she has had to take on a bit of a teaching role thus far. Nonetheless, the Moorestown, N.J., native makes sure not to take over control.
“It’s not a one man defense. [That is] not going to be successful.”
In replacing the outgoing seniors, Kelly pointed out candidates like senior Liz Gully and sophomore Katie Cromie to shoulder the load but also noted that the freshmen are exceeding expectations, too.
“They are not playing like freshmen. They are pressuring and are both fast, aggressive athletes, and that’s exactly what we need,” she commented
At midfield and attack, the team lost two full-time starters in midfielder Lindsey Smith and attacker Tory Bensen, who tied the program record in 2015 with 58 goals. Corbett knows that a player like Bensen is hard to find, but notes that senior attack Nina Corcoran played a large role in that success last season.
“If you look at a lot of [Bensen’s] goals, they’re assisted by Nina and Nina has been our biggest playmaker the last three years. She really leads this attack with Lely and our midfield,” Corbett said. “They’ve done a very good job, the senior class, of bringing along those young players who haven’t seen so much time.”
Corcoran, like Kelly, is thankful for the role that the graduating seniors have played in shaping her as an attacker and leader.
“I think that everyone on attack knows that they have to step up. Obviously, no one can replace Tory Bensen,” she added. In her senior season, Corcoran looks to teach the underclassmen much like Bensen taught her from her days as a freshman to her record-breaking junior season.
“I think, especially with me on the attack, Tory was such an awesome leader, a molding leader, as we were freshmen and sophomores so that the transition would be easier when we were upperclassmen,” she said.
“So I was ready to be a junior, I was ready to be a senior [and] I was ready to take that role just because how well my upperclassmen prepared me for that.”
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