Oh, what a difference a year makes.
364 days after losing to Princeton at home in game that wasn’t even as close as the 17-8 score would indicate, Penn men's lacrosse travelled to New Jersey and turned the tables on the Tigers, earning its first Ivy League win of the year, 14-7.
For the Quakers (4-3, 1-0 Ivy), Saturday’s game may have represented their most complete performance of the season.
Highlighted by the play of Tyler Dunn and Simon Mathias, the offense was explosive, especially in the second half, when the team scored nine goals.
Dunn, a junior midfielder coming off of a five-goal outing against Villanova, scored another five against the Tigers (3-3, 0-1 Ivy), demonstrating his offensive versatility throughout the contest. A left-handed player, two of Dunn’s goals came with his off hand, one a step down shot and the other an underneath dodge from the wing.
With the offense occasionally longing for explosiveness so far this season, Dunn’s combination of speed, shooting accuracy, and fearlessness could be just what the Quakers need to complement their stout defense.
“The last couple of games especially, Tyler has come on,” Penn coach Mike Murphy said. “His physical presence and his athleticism stand out. When he has the ball in his stick, going to the goal, he’s hard to stop. It’s hard to prepare for his athleticism.”
However, Dunn was by no means alone in this impressive performance by the Red and Blue offense. Mathias, a junior attackman, scored three goals of his own, predominantly operating from behind the goal, constantly forcing the Princeton defensemen to slide and recover as he pressed either the right or left side of the cage.
Still, as well as the Quakers played on the offensive end, the Penn defense stood out as the game’s ultimate storyline.
The Tigers, known and feared for their high-octane offense, are led by All-American and last year’s unanimous Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Michael Sowers. Entering Saturday, Sowers had recorded 36 points in just five games to cement his place as a frontrunner for the Tewaaraton Award as the best player in college lacrosse.
Against the Quakers, he was held to zero goals and three assists, with one of those helpers coming in the fourth quarter after the game’s status was out of question. Guarding him throughout the entire contest was sophomore defenseman Mark Evanchick, who was tenacious in his coverage. He matched the shifty Sowers step for step and constantly forced the ball out of his hands.
One sequence definitive of Evanchick’s efforts occurred as time was running down in the third quarter. Sowers got the ball behind the goal with about a minute left and spent that entire time period attempting to dodge past Evanchick. While most dodging sequences do not last more than ten seconds, this one encompassed a full minute, yet Evanchick never tired or relented, forcing Sowers to throw the ball away helplessly as time expired.
“He is really making strides, getting better everyday,” Murphy said. “He’s done an unbelievable job for us….He’s really evolved from September to now.”
Matching Evanchick’s heroic efforts were those of junior goalie Reed Junkin. In last season’s loss to Princeton, Junkin surrendered 15 goals while only recording eight saves. As a result, he was replaced by backup goalie Alex DeMarco to close the game.
Well, there will be no goalie controversy after this game. That’s for sure.
Allowing only seven goals, Junkin made 20 saves, many of them from point blank range. Against a Princeton offense littered with great time-and-space shooters, Junkin saved just about every type of shot. Whether the shot was high, low, or off-side hip, Junkin was up to the task.
“He started off the year pretty well, but the last couple games, obviously including this one, he’s been seeing the ball really well. He’s been comfortable and gaining confidence, but he’s not getting ahead of himself,” Murphy said. “He’s in a really good place.”
Still, even in a game in which most everything went according to plan, there are aspects of the game upon which the Quakers will need to improve in order to capture an Ivy League title.
For instance, Penn allowed Princeton 10 separate extra-man opportunities, committing penalty after penalty in the second half. While some of the officials’ calls were questionable at best, many others were obvious mistakes that, in a tighter game, could prove costly.
Perhaps many of the penalties could be owed to the fact that it was a rivalry game against an opponent that had soundly beaten the Quakers last year. The chippiness, especially in the final minutes of the game lends credence to that idea, but either way, the Red and Blue will have to remain composed in the future.
“We definitely need to foul less and commit fewer penalties, especially things like offsides,” Murphy said. “Those things cannot happen. Also, it was a little bit chippy at the end. We need to be more mature, so hopefully this can be a learning experience for us. We will certainly address that on Monday.”
Overall, the Quakers accomplished what they had set out to do. They defeated a bitter rival, rebounded from a loss, and established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the highly competitive Ivy League.
Not a bad day’s work.
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