As Penn field hockey's 2016 season winds down, the team's two graduating seniors will have their last practice, their last lift and their last pre-game routine as Quakers.
In appropriate fashion, their final appearance for the Red and Blue (11-5, 4-2 Ivy) will be against arch-rival Princeton.
This year’s duel with the Tigers (9-7, 4-2) will not be, as it has been in prior seasons , the Ivy League championship game. For the first time in 11 years, a school other than Princeton will home the Ancient Eight title. Harvard, which took down both Penn and Princeton in thrilling overtime contests, will receive that distinction .
The lack of a championship on the line does not undermine the importance of the game for the Red and Blue. For each of the last 11 seasons, the Quakers have fallen to Princeton, so Saturday's game offers the chance to turn over a new leaf and start fresh with a win.
Coach Colleen Fink recognizes that this is a chance to shift the hierarchy in Ivy League field hockey.
“I think it’s really important,” Fink said. “We still do have the opportunity to take that step and do something we haven’t done.”
Barring an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament – not likely given the team’s RPI – the Quakers’ season ends after the game.
This year’s senior class is small, featuring just two players, but their impact has been immense. Both have been full time starters over the last four seasons, both are team captains, and both have played a huge role in the team’s successes in previous years.
For Elise Tilton , who has started 53 times in her 56 game career with the Red and Blue, Saturday will be a chance for her to finish strong on her own terms.
Suffering from a hip injury for the vast duration of the season, Tilton played close to 100% in last Saturday’s Homecoming contest against Brown.
In that contest, Tilton had the chance to leave her stamp on the program. She chipped in a corner with just minutes left to take the lead and ultimately win the game for the Quakers.
“I think it was storybook for Elise to be able to score that goal to get the game winner. It was a really nice goal and she’s been scoring goals that way all season,” Fink said of her midfielder’s play this year.
Scoring the winning goal at her last game played in front of her home crowd was a moment she won't soon forget. “It didn’t really hit until after that game," said Tilton.
That game-winning goal was Tilton’s 27th in her four seasons, placing her in close proximity in the record books to one of the program’s greats and the field's namesake, Ellen Vagelos.
Tilton now looks to leave another stamp on the program in Saturday’s game against Princeton. Regardless of the outcome, she will be looked at as one of the program’s greatest contributors in Fink’s early years at the helm.
The team’s other senior and co-captain, Claire Kneizys , does not carry the same Red and Blue experience that Tilton boasts. Kneizys, before becoming a full-time and unquestionable star, was a starting back at Columbia. Naturally, Penn’s victory over Columbia this year, the first such occurrence since Kneizys’ transfer, was a special moment for her.
“That game was very personal for me. It felt great to beat them,” she said.
Kneizys has been a paramount contributor on the backline for her sophomore and junior seasons. After a handful of games into her senior season, Kneizys moved around in the starting lineup.
With just a handful of games left, Kneizys was determined to make the most of the opportunity. In fact, Kneizys scored her first goal for the Quakers as a center defensive midfield, a game-winning overtime goal versus St. Joe’s. Since then, she has had a lot of success in the role and has been looked to as a senior member of the midfield even though she is relatively new to the position.
“I wish I had been playing it longer because I really enjoy it now,” Kneizys said.
The two seniors are not entirely sure what life will be like when they finish their last game, but they know that they will forever be a part of the program and cherish the memories that they have.
“It’s very bittersweet,” Kneizys said. “We’re still going to have this family we’ll still be a part of this team whether we’re playing or not in the spring.”
“It’s surreal. When you put this much time and emotion and yourself in a sport or program, it feels so weird for it to be over,” Tilton added. “It becomes a part of your identity.”
For the seniors, Saturday is an all likelihood their swan song. As part of their final appearance they will look to buck a longtime trend and leave their legacy on the program. A win would do just that.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.