Elyse Decker was the last person to find out she’d be starting in Penn women’s lacrosse’s Ivy League tournament opener on Friday afternoon at Princeton.
The freshman was also the first person to make her mark in an epic shootout.
Starting last-minute in place of injured senior Alex Condon, the rookie doubled her career scoring total in one day by tallying five goals, carrying the Red and Blue to a big first-half lead. And despite allowing No. 3 seed Dartmouth to finish the game on a 7-1 run, No. 2 Penn held on for a 16-14 win, advancing to Sunday’s conference championship likely against No. 1 seed Princeton.
“I’m really proud of my team; obviously last Wednesday [a 21-8 loss at Princeton] was a tough day for us, and it was hard to get over. And I give the team a lot of credit; we wanted them to come out here and just enjoy the game, and that’s what they really did,” Penn coach Karin Corbett told Penn Athletics after. “The Yale game [a 14-11 win to clinch the Ivy regular season title] was okay, but we needed a better game, and I thought today was much better.”
With Condon out for the entire game and Dartmouth’s leading scorer, sophomore Ellie Carson, missing all but the first five minutes after suffering her own injury, one might have thought the offensive production would take a back seat in a game that already featured the Ancient Eight’s top two scoring defenses. But the final result was anything but.
Decker already had a hat trick 22 minutes into the contest, boosting No. 13 Penn (13-3, 6-1 Ivy) to a 7-2 lead. Soon after, senior Caroline Cummings’ second goal of the contest gave Penn its 224th of the year, breaking the previous school record of 223 set in 2010 — with this year’s Quakers still having at least two full games remaining to tack on to that.
On the afternoon, ten of Penn’s 16 goals came from freshmen, with Decker’s individual quintet being matched by five combined from Zoe Belodeau, Zoe Kraus, and Laura Crawford.
“At the beginning of the game, I told myself, ‘I’m playing for [Condon],' so I really wanted to just go all out and do the best I could, because I know how bad she wanted to be out there,” Decker, who set Penn’s all-time record in goals in an Ivy tournament game, told ESPNU. “I had to do everything I could to make up for it.”
For the contest, both teams’ combined total of 30 goals set an all-time record for the highest-scoring game in the nine-year history of the women’s Ivy League tournament. Penn’s total of 16 was also its highest-ever mark in the Ivy tournament, one shy of Princeton’s league record of 17 set in last year’s semifinal win over Penn.
"This year [the second year of the shot clock era], it’s about how many goals you can score, and maybe not as much about how many you can stop,” Corbett said. “[Scoring balance] is what this team is about; it’s not on one kid’s shoulder, and I think we showed that today.”
It was all Penn throughout the first half, but No. 24 Dartmouth (11-5, 5-2), right on the bubble of contention for the 26-team NCAA tournament, certainly made Penn sweat in the closing minutes.
After being limited to four first-half goals while struggling to cope with the loss of their offensive star, the Big Green suddenly figured it out — and fast.
Completely dominating Penn at the faceoff draw to a 15-2 margin in the second half (and 26-6 for the entire game, including 16 from junior Kathryn Giroux), Dartmouth got possession after possession as it attempted to claw back into the game. And unlike in the first half, the Big Green were converting, wearing the Quakers' defense down in the process and cutting the lead from eight to two with only three minutes left.
But with its chance at its first Ivy League tournament title since 2014 on the line, the Quakers held strong. Sophomore goalie Mikaila Cheeseman made two of her 11 saves in those last three minutes, and her stop of a Kierra Sweeney shot with 18 seconds left sealed the deal, allowing the Quakers to hold on in one of their wildest contests yet.
Next up, the Quakers will face No. 15 Princeton (11-5, 6-1), after the Tigers took out Columbia in the other semifinal. Sunday afternoon will present a rematch of the Tigers’ 21-8 blowout win only 11 days prior.
“We’ve got to attack more against the winner of this [other semifinal], which I don’t think we did that well in a couple of games,” Corbett said. “When we do that, a lot of great things can happen with this attack. So I’m looking forward to building on today on Sunday, and hopefully into the NCAA Tournament.”
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