After clinching a berth in the Ivy tournament, you might think that Penn’s men’s lacrosse team has done its job. But rest assured, there is still plenty of work to do.
The Quakers (7-5, 3-2 Ivy) will travel north to Hanover, N.H., this weekend to the Dartmouth Big Green (1-11, 0-4) in their final Ivy tilt of 2016. Penn will be entering its penultimate regular season game on a two-game winning streak, having beat Ivy foe Harvard at home on Saturday to clinch a berth in the postseason Ivy tournament before grinding out a hard-fought win at UMBC on Tuesday. This game will mark the third in a tough final stretch for the Red and Blue, who finish out their season with four games in two weeks.
One might think these final two games against unranked Dartmouth and crosstown rival Saint Joseph’s will serve simply as tune-up games for the Quakers, but the reality is that these two games still hold plenty of weight in determining the postseason fate of the team. Though Penn is currently unranked, it did receive votes in the Inside Lacrosse poll last week, indicating that they still have an outside shot at an at-large bid to the national tournament if they do not win the Ivy Championship. However, a loss to either of these two teams would likely crush whatever hope the Red and Blue has of obtaining such a bid.
Luckily for the Quakers, they’ve been playing well of late. They bounced back from a thrashing at the hands of Brown to begin playing some of its best lacrosse of the season. In its past two games against Harvard and UMBC, the team won almost every statistical battle, from shots to ground balls to faceoffs, despite winning by just one goal in both games.
If anything, this speaks to the development and maturity of the young players that have stepped up for the Quakers over the course of the season. From the outside, it was questionable whether or not such a young team would be able to succeed, especially with such a tough schedule. But the team has stepped up and shown that it can hang with some of the top programs in the nation.
“In college you have to be a lot more technically sound,” freshman attacker and team-leading goalscorer Simon Mathias said. “In high school, we were the better lacrosse players out on those fields. But when you get here, when you get to college, everyone is a Division I recruit, everyone is an All-American, so you have to be fundamentally sound and you have to do everything right or else you’ll pay the price.”
Freshman attacker Tyler Dunn agreed with Mathias’ analysis of play.
“Pace of play is really a big thing, having situational awareness is key, and on- and off-ball is important. I’d say those are definitely the biggest things I think [associate head coach Patrick] Myers, [head coach Mike] Murphy and [defensive coordinator Jim] Stagnitta have really helped us out with,” Dunn said.
That’s not to say there is not still work to be done. Their play has just begun to become more steady and consistent rather than streaky and varied. They will have to aspire to that style of play if they are to win the Ivy tournament and make it to the national stage.
“Sometimes it can feel a little bit like whack-a-mole. Sometimes you focus too much on one aspect of the game and then another problem crops up, so we just try to be consistent,” coach Mike Murphy said. “We try to touch on things at least weekly, if not daily, whether it be tactical or technical skill.”
That being said, it’s clear that the Quakers have made good strides despite battling through some growing pains this season. And the players feel as though there’s really not much holding them back except themselves.
“We can go this season as far as we want to,” Dunn said. “We definitely have the talent and definitely have the skill. We just need to keep being mentally tight, keep being healthy. Our captain Nick Doktor is doing a great job with us, so if we follow him we can go as far as we want.”
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