Upstate New York has served as a notable battleground in American history. That legacy will continue this weekend as Penn field hockey arms itself for two of the hardest encounters it will face this season.
This Saturday, the Red and Blue (4-1) travel to Ithaca, N.Y., where they will open up Ivy League competition against Cornell. A day later, the team will travel an hour north to No. 1 Syracuse as they ready to face the defending NCAA champions.
Being caught between a rock and a hard place might be an apt description for the Quakers’ upcoming matchups, but the team stresses it’s taking the challenges one game at a time.
Against the Big Red (4-2) on Saturday, it’s hard to believe that anyone will have forgotten the epic contest when the two teams met in Philadelphia last fall.
Three goals in the last six minutes of regulation sent the game to overtime tied at 2-2. The deadlock held for a mere 17 seconds, when then-sophomore Alexa Hoover tucked away a penalty stroke after nearly dribbling the entire Cornell defense single-handedly.
“Ivy play is just a fight, a fight till the end,” senior defender Claire Kneizys said.
This year, Penn has already become well-accustomed to gritty, extended matches, having grabbed overtime winners over Saint Joseph’s and Fairfield in its last two games.
“It’s good for the team to know that that resilience is still there but also to be prepared mentally for that battleground atmosphere,” coach Colleen Fink said.
It’s easy to see why these battle metaphors keep showing up. For the Quakers, this weekend seems to evoke a sense of warrior spirit.
All eight teams in Ivy play hope to draw first blood in this seven game campaign, and the Penn-Cornell contest this Saturday brings together the two second-place finishers from last year’s Ancient Eight standings, meaning there will be a lot on the line when the two face off in Ithaca.
“I’m ready to beat them in regulation this year,” Kneizys said.
When Penn plays the Orange (7-0) on Sunday, it will be a test of a whole different magnitude. While the Red and Blue actually topped Syracuse in an offseason tournament last spring, the regular season is another story, and Fink says that Syracuse has added a formidable physicality to its play this year.
“They’re very aggressive, they aren’t super concerned with fouling [and] they don’t play at all tentative,” Fink said.
“We can’t be looking for calls that we might not get up in New York.”
“Something that we’ve really been focusing on this week and really the whole season is intensity,” Kneizys added. “Just doing everything at 100 percent, playing faster, playing stronger and also [having] a lot more motion on the field, switching and playing less positionally.”
The Quakers have faced Syracuse in the regular season three times before, most recently in 2006. None of those matchups resulted in a Red and Blue win, and it would take an incredible effort for Penn to emerge from this upcoming matchup on the winning side.
But it is a fantastic opportunity for Penn to see how it matches up against the top teams in the country, a club that the Quakers are well on their way to joining soon.
According to Kneizys, the team has two defined goals this season: to stop Princeton’s 16 year Ivy League champion dynasty and to be one of the nation’s best and most recognized programs.
“To be a top 20 team you have to beat other top 20 teams,” she said.
The Quakers will have the opportunity to advance both goals this weekend, but they’ll have to fight for it.
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