It happens all the time in the movies: the hero achieves the ultimate triumph for her team when all else seemed lost. For Elise Tilton, that is exactly how her final game on Ellen Vagelos Field played out.
On Friday, Penn field hockey toughed out a gritty 3-2 victory over Brown in their penultimate conference game. The Red and Blue (11-5, 4-2 Ivy) recorded the 29th victory in their 40th meeting with the Bears (7-8, 2-4).
The game served to celebrate the Quakers two graduating seniors: Claire Kneizys and Elise Tilton.
Coach Colleen Fink remarked on what the two captains have meant to the team.
“These two girls have been a huge part of the success of this program,” Fink said. “They’re both just real true competitors and I’m glad we could get the win today for them.”
The game started strongly for the Quakers. After early strong defensive play from junior back Jasmine Li and sophomore Paige Meily, the Quakers offense found their rhythm. Junior forward Alexa Hoover opened the scoring on a pass from junior midfielder Gina Guccione. The Quakers aggressive play translated into nine shots on goal in the opening half.
“It was nice that we got on the board first,” Fink said. “It’s definitely something that we’ve talked about.”
After halftime, it seemed as if the second half would play out similarly to the first. However, the Bears came out of the locker room strong. In the 51st minute, Brown freshman Gina Openshaw won the ball off a scramble in front of net and delivered the leveling goal past Penn junior keeper Liz Mata. Four minutes later, Brown scored the go-ahead goal off an impressive shot into the high left corner from senior forward Jaclyn Torres.
When asked, Fink identified transitional defense as the reason Brown got back into the game.
“I think we got caught on our heels, and gave them some opportunities in transition,” the seventh-year coach said. “It’s just something defensively where we need to be more organized, more composed.”
But Penn fought back. It took only three minutes for the all-time leading scorer for Penn to bring the Quakers back level. Off a penalty corner entry from junior Rachel Huang, Meily set up Hoover for her second goal of the game.
Kneizys praised the Quakers’ ability to step up in tight moments.
“It comes down to who wants it more,” the senior captain said. “You can be down and if you play every second like its 0-0, you’re gonna win.”
Fink echoed her player’s sentiment.
“Because we sometimes have gone down early, we’ve learned it’s not the end of the world,” she said. “If there’s minutes on the clock, you just have to keep on fighting.”
Penn kept on battling, and eventually, it paid off. With a little over six minutes left in the game, Penn received its 13th penalty corner. Huang delivered another entry ball and senior Tilton deflected a shot from freshman Alexa Schneck to score the game’s final goal.
“That’s what dreams are made of right there,” the two-year captain said. “It was just right place at the right time. It feels good to finish out the last game on this field like that.”
For Fink, the game’s ending was, if nothing else, extraordinarily fitting for the occasion.
“It’s great that Elise was able to score the game winner,” she noted. “It’s exactly how you’d like to write it up.”
It couldn’t have happened any better if it was scripted. The Quakers will play its final conference game of the season Saturday versus Princeton.
And for Claire Kneizys and Elise Tilton, a storybook ending has already been written for a hard-fought season and two commendable careers.
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