Penn field hockey took a trip to the Empire State this past weekend to take on Ivy rival Cornell and No. 1 Syracuse in what was one of the toughest weekends on their schedule. They came back with some good news and some not so good news.
The positive was an Ivy League win. The not-so-positive part was a harsh defeat at the hands of the nation’s No. 1 program.
The Quakers (5-2, 1-0 Ivy) first took on the Big Red (5-3, 0-1) on Friday in Ithaca, opening their Ivy season with a critical 1-0 win. Junior Rachel Huang’s goal in the ninth minute of play was the sole difference maker for the Red and Blue, who were spurred by strong defense. Junior goalie Liz Mata made seven saves in her third shutout of the season.
“Obviously our players knew the significance of that game, so we didn’t really need to get up for it,” Penn coach Colleen Fink said. “We’ve just been talking a lot about the battleground conditions in Ivy League play, because it is so tight in our league in my opinion. Since there is no Ivy League playoff, all of these games become even more critical. You need to be prepared to battle and be prepared to work hard.”
The team’s high pressure strategy would continue for the Quakers into the beginning of their next match on Sunday against the second No. 1-ranked opponent of the year for Penn in Syracuse (8-1). The team played previously top-ranked UNC earlier in the season.
The first half of the game was fairly balanced between the two sides, with the Red and Blue controlling possession in the first 10 minutes of the game. Junior forward Alexa Hoover was especially disruptive, allowing the Quakers to create some chances around the arc and forcing the Syracuse defense to turnover over the ball often. Syracuse’s only goal in the first half came from their first shot of the game, a wicked backhander that snuck just under the bar, giving Mata virtually no chance to save it. Other than that, the first half was fairly balanced.
The story took a turn for the worse in the second half. The Orange outshot the Quakers, 18-3, and earned eight penalty corners compared to just one in the first half. Mata and the defense were able to keep the score within one for a while until finally Syracuse broke through for their second goal with 15 minutes left in the match. The Orange would go on to score two more in the final minutes of the game, putting a Red and Blue comeback out of question.
“We had a really good understanding of the way Syracuse played through watching film, so I think the team felt really comfortable going into the game and I think they knew what to expect,” Fink said. “I think we had Syracuse very frustrated in the first half for the most part.
“Unfortunately in the second half, when they got their second goal, I think some thoughts of doubt maybe crept in to the mindset of our girls, and that’s something we really need to work on. We need to know that we are a top-20 caliber team, and that giving up four goals is never going to be okay at this point. We should be beyond that, whether we’re playing the best team in the country or the worst team in the country.”
Despite giving up four goals in the game, no one could argue that Liz Mata was anything short of great for the Quakers this weekend. After earning the seven-save shutout against Cornell in the first game of the weekend, Mata was able to keep the Quakers in the game against Syracuse for almost the entire second half, making a total of 13 saves — nearly doubling her career high.
“I think that the confidence that the team and the coaches have in me is a big part in that,” Mata said after the Syracuse game. “90 percent of the game for me and for a lot of goalies is mental, so I feel like having the ability to come in prepared and knowing that I’ve put in the work has really allowed to get into a good game-ready mindset. Getting that close overtime win over Fairfield wasreally helpful, but knowing that we, as a team, are putting work right now is really setting us up for success.
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