lizmata

Junior goalkeeper Liz Mata has been the anchor to Penn field hockey's defense, starting the last 25 games for the Quakers and logging a 19-6 record in that span.

Photo: Ananya Chandra | Sports Photo Editor / The Daily Pennsylvanian

The season is only halfway done for Penn field hockey, but already we have seen records broken, overtime thrillers and major positional changes. The hype that built around the program last year is continuing to grow as the 2016 season wears on.

That budding exposure is well-earned for a program that plays the NCAA’s top-ranked teams and features a nationally acclaimed goal-scorer. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the Quakers (6-3, 1-1 Ivy), with a lineup that is replete with talent from top to bottom.

Junior Liz Mata — the Red and Blue’s starting goalie for the past 25 games — has succeeded over the past two years behind a varying supporting cast on defense and continues to accumulate wins for the Red and Blue, with a 19-6 record to boot.

The defense, mostly young, has delivered and grown together quickly with two new starters this year. They have allowed just nine goals in their last five games and were able to hold two Ivy opponents to a combined three points.

Sophomore Paige Meily is now leading at center back after splitting time between back and midfield in her freshman season. She traded her midfield spot with senior captain Claire Kneizys, the team’s former top defender.

On each side of Meily are juniors and returning starters in Madison Hendry — who started in her freshman campaign before missing all of 2015 with injury — and Jasmine Li, who started in all 16 of the Quakers’ games last year.

The midfield, despite missing two starters from last year, is improving and able to drive play on offense. One major development at that positional group has been the play of Rachel Huang. After stints in 2015 at both attack and midfield, the junior has mostly stayed at the latter position this season with success. Her four goals and 10 points are second on the team and both totals are already an improvement over last season’s performance.

Expectations are high for a midfield corps that features both of the team’s captains, with captain Elise Tilton on pace to cap off her Red and Blue career with her best goal-scoring season. Meanwhile, Kneizys, the team’s other captain, is new to the midfield but is already performing well.

Positioned at the top of the field, the attack needs little introduction. The team’s offense has not had the same success as last year in goals per game — 2.44 in 2016 versus a robust 3.38 the prior season — but unlike previous years, this program is seeing goals scored from everyone.

In fact, only once in coach Colleen Fink’s seven years with the team have there been at least four players with six or more goals. This year, there are four players on pace for eight or more: juniors Alexa Hoover, Gina Guccione and Rachel Huang and sophomore Sofia Palacios. That type of production is unprecedented for this squad and has created matchup nightmares for opponents.

But perhaps most noteworthy of this team compared to their Ivy League counterparts is their tenacity. In nine games this season, the Quakers have not once lost the lead and have erased two-goal deficits to force overtime on two different occasions, in a winning effort against St. Joe’s and more recently in a double-overtime heartbreaker against Harvard on Sunday.

The team’s never-say-die attitude and mantra, “Our Way,” has carried the Red and Blue on the field through thick and thin. And as long as they can keep that tenacity and fight alive, they have the talent to unseat Princeton and all their Ancient Eight foes in the quest for an Ivy League title.

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