After falling just short of pulling off a seven-goal comeback against Ivy rival Yale, Penn men’s lacrosse will face another tough test this weekend against conference foe and defending national semifinalist Brown on Saturday.
The Quakers (4-4, 1-2 Ivy) will travel up to Providence to take on the Bears (4-4, 1-1), looking to play themselves back into an Ivy League tournament spot with a win as well as to redeem themselves from a 17-6 loss to Brown at Franklin Field last season.
The win will not come easily for the Red and Blue; the Bears, reaching the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament last season, boast defending Tewaaraton winner Dylan Molloy as their primary weapon on attack. The Setauket, N.Y. native absolutely torched the Quakers last season, putting up a whopping eight goals while adding three assists for a total of 11 points, good for seventh all-time in the Ivy League for points by a player in a single game. He finished his historic 2016 season with a total of 62 goals and 54 assists.
“We have to address him differently than we did with [Yale attackman Ben Reeves] last week,” Penn coach Mike Murphy said. “Reeves is more of a skilled, speed dodger while Molloy is a lot more physical. Molloy is such a good feeder, and he tends to dodge with reckless abandon, so you never really know what’s going to happen.”
Luckily for the Quakers, much of the supporting cast that facilitated Molloy’s explosive offense last year has moved on. The next five leading scorers for Brown from the 2016 season, including Kylor Bellistri and Henry Blynn, were seniors who have since graduated. Just as well, former Bears head coach Lars Tiffany surprisingly left his alma mater for greener pastures at Virginia, so the Bears have had to spend much of this year learning and implementing a new scheme under new head coach Mike Daly.
Even with these changes, Penn will still need to be in top shape on the defensive end and in goal in order to come away with a victory against a team that averages nearly 47 shots per game. Players like junior long-stick midfielder Connor Keating will be a key part of the Quakers’ plan to keep Brown from having too much possession time by controlling the midfield on face-offs and in transition.
“Last week, for both teams, face-offs were critical. Both of those runs, for and against, were sparked by face-off wins,” said Murphy. “Yale is very much a six-on-six game, whereas Brown wants to attack early and often.”
“We know that they have good shooters, so we’re just going to have to make sure that our goalie is seeing the best quality shots, outside the hashmarks and preferably low-angle shots,” Keating added. “It’ll be about winning our matchups and forcing those bad shots.”
Keating has been one of the most consistent performers for the Quakers so far this season, leading the team with 33 ground balls as well as adding eight goals on the offensive end. His 17 points as a sophomore last season (13 goals, four assists) led the nation in long-stick scoring, and garnered him first team All-Ivy honors as well as a nod from the All-American committee as an honorable mention. Now an upperclassman, Keating knows that he must be a model of consistency in midfield if the Quakers are to see success.
“I just try to come out to practice every day and follow our game plan, and stick to what we’ve been preparing throughout the week,” he said. “I go out and play as hard as I can, and whatever happens, happens.”
One thing that no one can deny is that this team has heart. After being down by a score of 13-6 to Yale with nine minutes remaining in the game, the Quakers were able to score six goals in rapid succession while giving up just one goal in between. This sort of resolve has been a hallmark of the program, and the team believes that this mental toughness combined with improved consistency across the field will make them hard to handle for any opponent.
“Being down that many goals and to still be tough enough and come back, even though we came a little short, we did show a lot of heart at the end,” Keating said. “If we can kind of master that heart in the beginning of the game and keep that going throughout, then we could put on a dominating performance.”
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