After a Labor Day weekend of lessons learned at the hands of the then-No. 1 team in the nation, Penn field hockey is looking forward to a different type of weekend starting this Friday.
After a quietly dominant 2-0 win in their season opener against Lehigh, the Quakers (1-1) took on North Carolina in an early-season test against the national runner-up from 2015. The scoreline wasn’t pretty — UNC made off with a 6-2 win — but realistically, the game was much closer than the score indicated. Four of the six Tar Heel goals were scored within a 10-minute period in the first half, a costly if brief lapse in play.
“In the UNC game, to be frank, I thought we played fantastically with the exception of about four and a half minutes,” Penn coach Colleen Fink said. “They scored some great, two-versus-one, attacking goals, and we got caught on our heels. Our transitional defense was an issue ... but for 55 minutes I thought we did really play well and we hung with one of the best teams. I’m not discouraged by the loss because I’m glad we played that team when we played them early on. That team is what we aspire to be and they play like what we want to play like.”
Senior captains Claire Kneizys and Elise Tilton emphasized the mental toughness and strength of identity that the Quakers need to continue to develop.
“We’ve spent this preseason and years past really defining who we are as a team and how we play,” Tilton said. “We’re going to play teams that are better than others, but we have to play Penn field hockey regardless of who we’re playing.”
“UNC was a really good game to point out our weaknesses, but I think we did also have moments of greatness,” Kneizys added. “We scored twice on one of the top teams in the country, which was awesome. But it definitely pointed out how we can be mentally stronger and going forward we want to work on our fitness and our team defense and defense in transition.”
The Quakers will see a bit of a different type of competition in the coming days when they host upstart program LIU-Brooklyn (0-2) on Friday and then make the crosstown trek to Saint Joseph’s (3-1) on Sunday. The Red and Blue will be LIU-Brooklyn’s third-ever opponent in its history, while on the flip side Penn will play Saint Joseph’s for the 20th time overall, having won the past two games against the Hawks by a combined score of 12-5.
It would seem curious that in a season where the Quakers have made it their mission to strengthen their schedule they would take on teams that most predict they will beat. But for Fink, growing the game and engaging in the Big 5 conference is just as important as boosting the team’s RPI (which ranks teams based on record and strength of schedule).
“LIU is a new program. Their coach called me last year really struggling to find games,” said Fink. “One of the points I want to make publicly is that ... at our coaches’ conventions, everyone talks about growing the game of field hockey. We’re a smaller sport nationally, we only have 80 Division I teams, and everyone complains that there aren’t enough programs.”
“However, those same programs will then in turn not play that new team, because it will hurt their own personal RPI, strength of schedule, etc. I think that’s a selfish mentality to have, so when [LIU-Brooklyn coach Patricia Kennedy] called me and asked to play, we said, ‘Absolutely,’ without hesitation.”
The games against St. Joe’s, on the other hand, always present a homecoming for Fink. She captained the 1999 squad that beat Penn 3-2, while her father was the Hawks’ track and field coach when she was growing up. Having such strong connections to the Philly area, fostering passion for the Big 5 games is important for her.
“We’re going to always play every Big 5 game we can. I think it’s important for the student body at Penn to know how special it is to have what we have in this area, you don’t have it anywhere else in the country,” Fink said.
“Penn has the best academic reputation in the city, so I think we should strive to have the best athletic reputation as well.”
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