Sports fans know how much numbers matter. For the men’s lacrosse team, though, only one number means anything to them right now — three.
On Saturday, the Quakers traveled to Hanover, N.H., to take on a Dartmouth team that had notched just one win all season. Unfortunately for the Big Green, that statistic remained intact.
By submitting an all-around effort on both sides of the field, Penn closed out its Ivy schedule with an 11-4 beatdown.
In doing so, the Quakers (8-5, 4-2 Ivy) logged a 4-2 Ivy record for the third time in six years, extended their winning streak to three games and, most importantly, clinched the No. 3 seed in the Ivy League Tournament.
Despite the offensive balance displayed by the Red and Blue against the hapless Dartmouth (1-12, 0-5) defense, it was Penn’s performance on defense that sealed the deal.
Goalkeeper Reed Junkin, who had recently tapered off after a transcendent start to the season, was nothing short of spectacular against the Big Green. The freshman, who ranks 11th nationally in shots blocked per game, was critical to the Quakers’ effort, blocking 17 of Dartmouth’s 21 shots on goal. The nimble underclassman snagged several point-blank attempts with his excellent footwork and stick skills.
“Today, [Junkin] really stepped up,” Penn coach Mike Murphy said. “The defense and the goalie work together. As the goalie makes more of those saves, the defense gets confidence in him and, as a result, the defense responds.”
Without Junkin’s heroics, the Quakers might not have been as pleased with the match’s outcome, as Dartmouth was able to win the battles in several key statistics. With Dartmouth accruing fewer turnovers as well as more man-up opportunities and ground balls than its opponent, the case can be made that the Big Green outplayed the Red and Blue.
The scoreboard, however, never lies.
A closely contested first half that saw Penn build a slim two-goal lead gave way to a high-octane attack by the Quakers later on. As has been the narrative throughout the season, underclassmen carried the Red and Blue offense to success. Freshman Simon Mathias, who has scored at least one point in each match this season, notched two goals to bring his team-best total to 25. Sophomore Reilly Hupfeldt, who also scored two and now sits at 23 goals on the season, joined him in the second-half frenzy. Facilitated by the steady presence of senior captain Nick Doktor, three others got in on the action as well, reflecting a balance that the coaching staff has tried to instill.
“It’s part of our overall approach of just being selfless. We want to let the ball find the best shot,” Murphy said. “We don’t go into games saying we have to generate a lot of shots for this guy or that guy.
“It’s all about the defense that’s shown to us. Rather than shooting, guys are dodging or making two or three passes. That’s more our nature and we’ve got a lot of good offensive players.”
The Quakers’ efforts resulted in a resounding victory that carried larger implications for the immediate future of Ivy lacrosse. Having clinched the No. 3 seed in the end-of-season Ivy tournament, Penn is assured that they will have a chance to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. But the rest of the tourney’s field remains in question.
While Penn has wrapped up its Ivy schedule and will play local rival Saint Joseph’s on Tuesday, No. 4 Yale and Harvard will battle it out in New Haven, Conn., in a match that could result in a three-way tie for second place the conference standings. Thus, Penn’s opponent for the most crucial game of the season remains a very large and looming question mark.
Despite this uncertainty, the Quakers must be prepared for their final game of the regular season against the Hawks. Saint Joseph’s will counter the youth of Penn with veteran savvy. Reigning Epoch/Lacrosse Magazine Player of the Week Mike Rastivo will lead a powerful and experienced offense, which averages 13.36 goals per game, good for fifth in the nation.
The Quakers, however, led by Junkin and his band of fellow freshmen, believe that they can fend off such a storm.
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