Nervous. Jittery. A little scared. Not words Penn women’s lacrosse coach Karin Brower Corbett generally uses to describe her top-10 team.
But heading into Saturday’s matchup with Cornell, the Quakers did not inspire confidence.
A sloppy performance in their prior contest had resulted in a loss to Georgetown Wednesday. Cornell and its nine seniors, led by dynamic scorer Jessi Steinberg, were waiting in the wings, eager to feast on Penn’s inexperienced defense.
After quickly falling behind, 3-0, the Red and Blue regrouped and bested the more experienced Big Red, 11-10. Corbett admitted it was the biggest win of the season thus far.
“It was a lot of nerves in the beginning and young kids being a little nervous for a really big game,” she said.
The Quakers (5-2, 3-0) were forced to play without Lydia Miller, the unit’s most experienced player, who went down with a concussion on Friday and was unable to play.
Taylor Foussadier, Meg Markham, Allie Martin and Leah McBride formed Penn’s very young backline. Martin is the lone sophomore; the other three are freshmen.
In the early going, Penn’s inexperience looked to be too large an obstacle to overcome. Within the first nine minutes, Cornell (6-2, 2-1 Ivy) had put three shots past senior goalkeeper Emily Leitner, and Penn was struggling to even advance the ball out of their defensive zone.
Corbett, in her 13th year as Penn’s head coach, called a timeout.
“You could tell that the nerves were there,” she said. “We called a timeout, and they just needed to relax and be confident and they really did after that.”
After Meredith Cain put the Quakers on the board, she and fellow midfielder Maddie Poplawski started tracking back to help out the defense.
In the offensive zone, Penn created turnovers that led to quick goals.
By halftime, Penn had taken a one-goal lead it would never relinquish.
Leitner’s trust in her defense has grown with each game.
“I have full confidence in them,” the keeper said. “They listen to me, and they listen to each other.
“When they do something wrong, they ask what they can do to fix it, which I think is the best attitude you can have on the field. After a game like this, it shows that we have confidence in them but also that they have confidence in themselves.”
With the win, Penn has solidified its perch atop the Ivy League. On Friday the Quakers will begin a three-game homestand, their longest stint at Franklin Field of the regular season.
Their next big Ivy test will come on a trip to Hanover to face the Big Green in mid-April.
Against Cornell, the young, injury-depleted team passed the test of battle.
“Going into [the game], it was a little scary in that we were so young against such a veteran team,” Corbett said. “For how we won, it was definitely a big win.”
After their early-game struggles, the Quakers turned what would have been a devastating loss into their most important victory.