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With an optimism it hasn't had in years, the Penn women's lacrosse team heads into its first two matches of the 2000 season over spring break. The Quakers (1-12, 1-6 Ivy League in 1999) travel to Washington, D.C., to take on American University (7-9) on March 14, and then head north to face Yale (14-5, 5-2) on March 18. The Red and Blue also have their final preseason scrimmage against Lehigh this Sunday. "I'm so excited. So excited," Penn sophomore Traci Marabella said. "It's completely different than last year -- so much more confidence on the field, in our teammates. You can tell everyone is just happy to be there." While this marks the first time that Penn will play American in a regular-season game, the two squads did meet last weekend in a scrimmage at the William and Mary Invitational. And the Quakers are heartened that they came away with a victory from that match -- and several others -- in that tournament. "I think [the scrimmage] gave our team confidence that if they play well, play their game and take care of the ball, they have a great chance of hopefully winning the game," first-year Penn coach Karin Brower said. American posted its first-ever winning season last year and is led by Ashley Flanigan, who scored 18 goals last season, and Kerry Lambert, who had 11 assists. However, the Eagles will be hard pressed to replace the loss to graduation of their top two all-time leading scorers. The Elis, on the other hand, face no such trouble. Yale returns a potent attacking duo of All-American Heather Bentley (46 goals) and 1999 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Amanda Walton (57). Charged with stopping the opposing attack is Penn goalie Christian Stover. The junior will be in net for the opener, despite having a possible stress fracture in her right foot. On paper, Penn's defense -- anchored by senior Lee Ann Sechovicz and junior Sara Evans, but featuring several freshmen -- looks to be tested early and often. But Stover will be helped greatly by a new defensive philosophy implemented by Brower. "Karin says if someone scores and she says, 'Whose girl is that?' we're all supposed to say, 'It was our girl,'" Stover said, "because if someone scores against us, they've scored against a team, not just an individual. This year the defense is based more on the team talking together, working together." And, the Quakers coach has been pleased with the play of the team's defense in its limited action thus far. "They're getting there -- they're learning how to pressure out harder and be more aggressive on defense, and their positioning is getting better," Brower said. Of the two spring break contests, the Yale match may serve as a better measuring stick. Although the Elis outshot them by a very wide margin, the Red and Blue kept the score relatively close against Yale last spring, ultimately falling 11-5. "It was one of the best games we played all season," Marabella said. "I remember afterwards kind of feeling pretty good and that we could do better. And I remember scoring my first goal -- I was so excited." On attack, Quakers captain and leading scorer Brooke Jenkins will indeed look to Marabella, junior Amy Weinstein and the other Penn attackers to press the Elis. Yale has the unenviable task of replacing goalkeeper Alison Cole, who played all but 55 minutes a year ago. The scrimmage against the Engineers on Sunday, meanwhile, will answer any lingering questions about Penn's lineup. But at practice this week, it was clear the Quakers were already anticipating the start of the season. "Definitely after last weekend I'm excited," Stover said. "It's good to see that we really did click together. "We had such a positive weekend that it's really going to help our confidence, especially with the veterans."

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