Performing under the weight of expectations is no easy task. Just ask Penn women’s lacrosse.
Heading into the 2015 season, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Quakers would end the season with an Ivy League championship. Penn, after all, had won a share of the Ancient Eight crown for each of the previous eight years. No one on the roster knew what it was like to end the season in second place.
But 2015 would be different. Penn would play the same stellar lacrosse all season long — hanging with the eventual NCAA champions, Maryland, through one and a half periods and demolishing all of their Ivy League rivals, save one.
That one foe would not only ruin Penn’s otherwise perfect conference record, but deny them a share of the Ivy title for the first time in nearly a decade. That opponent? Our friendly rival from across the border, Princeton.
The clash of titans came in April at Franklin Field. Heading into the game, both Princeton and Penn had unblemished Ivy records with just two more conference games left in the season before the Ivy League tournament. Despite home field advantage, the Quakers were outmaneuvered by Princeton, 9-7.
Even with a regular season loss to the Tigers, Penn’s hopes of repeating as champions were still alive heading into the Ivy League Tournament in May. And in the matchup everyone predicted — a tournament final between Princeton and Penn — no one this side of the New Jersey state line saw the outcome coming. The Red and Blue fell to the Tigers once more, this time 14-11.
“It was our goal to win and I think that we had the right personnel to win it,” coach Karin Corbett said. “I think Princeton was better that day.
“It was disappointing, no question.”
Although Penn did not extend its streak to nine consecutive seasons atop the league, it did earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, where it advanced to the second round before falling to Syracuse, 13-10.
In 2016, it looks as if the cards are stacked the same way as last season. The Red and Blue enter the year with a No. 13 ranking by Inside Lacrosse. The only other Ivy League team to crack the top 20 — and the only other Ivy League team to earn a ranking higher than Penn — is none other than the No. 12 Princeton Tigers.
“We have a great team this year and we expect great things from ourselves,” senior midfield Lely DeSimone said. “This year [is] just refocusing ourselves. We’re looking to take back the Ivy League championship.”
Despite this apparent parity, the Quakers that take to the field on Saturday against Delaware will look quite different than the Quakers of yesteryear. Gone are six of the team’s former starters, most notably All-American defender Meg Markham and second team All-Americans goalkeeper Lucy Ferguson and attack Tory Bensen.
“On paper, we are the team that has lost the most,” Corbett said. “But for my team, that’s not what it’s about.”
Indeed, the team is not focused on filling holes but on finding redemption. That means beating teams like Harvard and Cornell that lost very few star players to graduation. Most importantly, that means beating Princeton, yet another Ancient Eight team with relatively few shifts in its starting lineup from 2015 to 2016.
“People can discount us all they want,” Corbett said. “But we have a great group of fighting kids that want to win.”
Even though Corbett’s squad may not be coming into this year as the reigning champions, they still see themselves as the biggest threat in the Ivy League. In that sense, this year is no different than the nine seasons that preceded it.
“That’s just the culture we’ve created,” Corbett said. “You can never rest on anything, There’s always a target on your back and they’re always coming to get you.”
Penn’s not the only team with a target on its back this year, as the Quakers have painted a big red target on Princeton’s back. And this year they’re out not just for redemption, but for revenge.
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