Now the real season begins for Penn men’s lacrosse.
After starting off the year with a bang, defeating St. Joseph’s and Virginia in consecutive weeks, the Quakers (3-2) followed with a difficult Spring Break. One-goal losses at now-No. 2 Penn State and unranked Michigan sandwiched a narrow victory over Navy and have Penn ranked No. 19 by the USILA.
The team’s climb back to the top ten begins this Saturday at Franklin Field against No. 15 Princeton in the Ivy League opener.
Disappointing starts from Yale and Brown have made the Ivy League significantly weaker than it has been in recent years, a fact that has both positive and negative consequences for the Red and Blue.
On one hand, the conference schedule should be easier to navigate, as even with the Quakers’ recent losses, they are still the second-ranked team in the league. On the other hand, fewer Ivy League teams may receive bids to the NCAA tournament, as the current play of the teams has the conference teetering on a becoming a one-bid league.
Therefore, this year, more so than in any recent year, winning the Ivy League is paramount. It may be Penn’s only shot at reaching the NCAAs.
But still, even if that wasn’t the case, each Ivy game is crucial — especially this weekend’s game against Princeton.
As if Penn needed any motivation beyond opening up league play against an arch rival, many former Quakers will pack the stands to cheer on the team as part of Penn lacrosse’s Alumni Day.
“The Penn-Princeton rivalry is a great one....We all understand the rivalry and what it means to us, to our coaches, and to to our alumni,” sophomore attackman Simon Mathias said. “To have all our alumni back this weekend will be great. It should add some extra buzz to the stadium.”
The Tigers (4-2) hold an impressive win over Johns Hopkins and have been playing their best lacrosse of the season. Their catalyst at the offensive end is Michael Sowers, who operates behind the net, feeding shooters and dodging for timely goals.
“Sowers is an old school ‘X’ attackman,” coach Mike Murphy said. “He’s very skilled and very athletic, and he has great vision, so you have to minimize his impact as much as you can. You’re not going to take him out of a game by any stretch.”
Sowers, only a freshman, is joined by All-American midfielder Zach Currier who predominantly operates between the offensive and defensive ends. The senior’s penchant for sparking transition and scooping up loose balls makes him somewhat of a throwback player, one who is thriving in today’s more structured, role-specific game. Additionally, the Quakers will have to contend with the strong play of junior goalie Tyler Blaisdell.
Combatting this talented Princeton group will be a Penn team hungry for a victory, only two goals off from an undefeated start to the year.
“There are a lot of lessons to be learned from our games over break. We’ve been watching a lot of film on all three of those games to learn about and improve our own game,” Mathias said. “I’d say, from a tough Spring Break, the message is that we’re focusing on ourselves, taking it one week at a time in order to prepare ourselves for Princeton.”
Challenging Blaisdell to work for his saves will be Mathias, the team’s leader in both goals and assists, and junior midfielder Kevin McGeary, who contributed five goals in the loss to Michigan.
Meanwhile, at the defensive end, sophomore goalie Reed Junkin will need to regain his early season form in order to thwart scorers like Sowers and Sims. Aiding him in that process will be Penn’s three senior close defensemen and long stick midfielder, Connor Keating.
Keating may have to serve as Currier’s foil, as he’s possibly the only player in the nation capable of matching the Princeton midfielder’s abilities to create offense out of an unsettled situation.
“It’s obviously somewhat unique to have a defensive player have that level of ability to score goals like [Keating] does,” Murphy said. “I’ve never seen a guy who handles the ball and shoots the ball as well as he does with a long stick.”
Obviously, Keating is not alone in his explosive abilities. This Penn team is littered with capable scorers and stout defenders. The pieces are in place. Now, it’s all about focusing and playing the full 60 minutes.
“Everyone is really motivated in the locker room this week,” Mathias said. “We have a pretty good plan to execute a win, so I’m pretty excited. If we focus and execute that plan, I’m pretty optimistic about how our Ivy play will start off.”
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