If anyone thought Penn field hockey’s success in 2015 was a fluke, they’re more than ready to tell you otherwise in 2016.
After finishing with a 13-3 record last season and finishing tied for second place in the Ivy League after a heartbreaking overtime loss to rival and Ivy champ Princeton, the Quakers look poised to make a jump into the national spotlight this season. With returning starters like junior goalkeeper Liz Mata and record-setting junior forward Alexa Hoover at the helm, the Red and Blue will be looking to step up their game this season against some tougher competition.
The Quakers dropped teams like Longwood, Lafayette and Bucknell off their schedule this year despite playing them frequently in years past. After repeated multi-goal victories, it was time for a new challenge.
“We finished 21st in RPI last year, and we were probably about five teams out of consideration from an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, so what does that say? That says something about our schedule,” Penn coach Colleen Fink explained.
“So, I’d rather have a good loss at this point than an insignificant win, and I think that’s what’s going to put us in a position, regardless of the outcome of the Ivy League standings, to be able to potentially get an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament if we do well in our league games and our big non-conference games.”
“Big” might be an understatement for the magnitude of the opponents Penn has added to its schedule. In the place of the teams they left off, the Quakers will now face ranked teams like No. 14 Delaware, No. 2 Syracuse, and No. 1 North Carolina, teams that combined for a 57-8 record in 2015. The Orange defeated the Tar Heels, 4-2, en route to a national championship game victory in Ann Arbor last year, avenging their only loss on the season.
But don’t tell that to the Quakers; they don’t want to hear it. In its spring tournament, the team played against two NCAA Tournament teams in Fairfield and Syracuse, beating them by scores of 2-1 and 3-2, respectively. The Red and Blue know they have an opportunity to put themselves in the national spotlight, and they’re excited for the challenge.
“If we’re not increasing our aspirations, we’re not going to get any better,” Mata said. “Playing these teams, showing that we can hang with these top 20 teams, showing that we belong up there, it’s a mental challenge but it’s also going to challenge us as a team to realize that this is level that we need to play at.”
“I don’t think this [schedule change] actually changes much about what we do,” said Hoover, who in 2015 set Penn records for goals in a season with 27 and points in a season with 63. “We take all our games at the same intensity. It doesn’t matter whether we’re scrimmaging Division II West Chester or we’re playing the national championship. We want to be doing things our way when we play, so it’s more a matter of us doing things the way we want to do them this year.”
Regardless of the results of their big games this season, no one can say that the Quakers are taking the easy way out. But based on how drastically the team has improved over the past few years, we can expect the Red and Blue to make some noise on the national stage.
“I think that this has been the trajectory of the program since I arrived here seven years ago,” Fink said. “This is ultimately the next step in our process of achieving the long-term goals for this program. Now that we have the right talent pool, the right culture, the right foundation, we’re in a position to be successful.”
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.