I’ve had the privilege of writing for the Daily Pennsylvanian for two full years now, and one particular date is seared into my brain: November 7, 2015.
That particular day, undoubtedly, was the most entertaining of my Penn career thus far. It was homecoming weekend, and campus was packed with parents and alumni prepared to take in some late-season fall sports action.
I started off the cool afternoon covering field hockey versus Princeton. It was a daunting matchup for the Red and Blue — the Tigers had utterly dominated the Ivy League for decades, winning the previous 11 championships and 20 of the preceding 21 titles.
Penn, however, was no slouch in its own right: behind a conference-best 27 goals from sophomore attack Alexa Hoover, the Quakers sat at 5-1 in conference play, meaning that the day’s tilt served as the Ivy League’s de facto championship game.
Princeton, as predicted, took an early 1-0 lead. That score then held for the next hour of gameplay, as each squad settled into solid defense. The crowd, easily twice as big as any other I had ever seen at Vagelos Field, was on edge.
Their angst gave way to euphoria when Quaker freshman Selena Garzio found the back of the net of a corner play with three minutes remaining, tying the score at one and extending the season to an overtime period.
“We were confident at that juncture of the game that she’d be able to finish, and she did,” Penn coach Colleen Fink told me afterwards. “She executed it perfectly.”
There was, however, to be no joy in Mudville that day, as Princeton’s Ryan McCarthy netted the sudden death winner just minutes into bonus time. The Quakers, despite the valiant effort, were forced to settle with the Ivy’s silver medal.
Undeterred, I whipped out my game recap and headed up to Franklin Field, where Penn football was in the final moments of a nail-biter, also against the Tigers.
To that point, the Red and Blue had shown some life on the season — picking up Ivy wins versus Brown, Columbia, and Yale. However, doubts remained that Penn was truly capable of competing with the conference’s big boys.
The score was tied 20-20 when Princeton lined up for a game-winning field goal, one that would drop Penn to 3-2 and likely out of title contention.
However, junior linebacker Donald Panciello, who had provided the heroics in an historic upset win over Villanova earlier in the season, burst off the edge and blocked the attempt, sending the game to overtime.
And unlike their field hockey counterparts, the Quakers came up big in the extra period. After holding the Tigers to three points on defense, Alek Torgersen found Eric Fiore for a game-winning touchdown. The stands went crazy; Penn football had officially and indisputably returned to relevance.
That Saturday afternoon was the most conspicuously thrilling day in what was an unbelievably exciting fall season for Penn athletics — football would continue its roll to a share of the Ivy title with an upset of Harvard and a trouncing of Cornell. Tommy Awad’s All-American performance led cross country to its best performance in years. Women’s soccer would battle to several intense draws in conference play. Sprint football nearly pulled out a shocking double-OT upset of Army.
Needless to say, I am looking forward to this fall season. If Penn athletics is again able to field a slate of championship-caliber squads with a knack for the dramatic, I will be one happy sports reporter once again.
And if Quaker teams can reproduce the relentlessly entertaining Homecoming of a year ago, they might just turn University City into a certifiable nirvana of college sports.
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