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When the Penn men's lacrosse team hosts perennial powerhouse Syracuse on Friday, the Quakers will have something they haven't had in quite a while -- a fighting chance.

The Quakers -- who were 58-90 over the previous 10 years -- are 8-3 this year, and have assured themselves of their first winning season in 13 years. They are also ranked 15th in the country in the USILA/STX Coaches' Poll.

The reason for the Quakers' turnaround is not as complicated as it seems. There is one man who has jumpstarted the program's turnaround -- Matt Hogan.

The first-year coach was previously an assistant at Navy, where he oversaw a defense that finished first in the nation in 2000 in goals-against average. The Midshipmen were fourth in that category in 2001.

Hogan's transition to Penn has been a smooth one. Aside from an 18-4 loss at Princeton, the Quakers have been in every game. Hogan's coaching, particularly his defensive strategy, has turned around the program.

Just look at the stats. While goaltender Ryan Kelly has done an excellent job in net this year and deserves all the praise he receives -- the junior has a 7.68 goals against average, compared to his 9.83 GAA last season -- Hogan has strengthened the defense in front of him.

Last season, the Quakers allowed their opponents to score just over 14 goals a game. This year, the Red and Blue have their opponents down to a mere 7.4, good enough for eighth in the country, tied with Notre Dame.

Also, the Quakers' man-down defense is ranked first in the country. Penn has allowed just five goals after being down a man due to a penalty.

The Quakers have stopped 31 out of 36 of man-down opportunities for an 88 percent success rate at killing off the penalty. That's almost unheard of.

And although the Quakers' offense has struggled to produce goals for stretches this season, it wouldn't be surprising if Hogan turned that around in the near future.

In fact, in the last two contests, the Quakers have staged late-game rallies to win. In a game against Lehigh on April 10, they came back from a 5-3 deficit to take a 7-6 victory. And on Sunday, Penn was down one, 9-8, before scoring three goals in the final 2:44 to stun Brown at Franklin Field.

Sometimes when a program has so many sub-.500 seasons in a row, it becomes hard to break the culture of losing. The players get accustomed to loss after loss, and it becomes second nature. Hogan's ability to motivate his players, especially the seniors, has been incredible.

Although the players' importance in turning the program around cannot be overstated, it is Hogan who has motivated them to bring the program back nearly to where it was during the glory days of the 1980's, when Penn made six NCAA Tournaments.

Again, the stats tell the story. Senior Scott Marimow, the anchor of the defense, scored his first career goal against Lehigh, and has improved the defense to the level it is at now. Senior midfielder Mike Iannacone already has 16 goals, five more than he had all of last season. Another senior, midfielder Sonny Sarker, has three assists -- three more than he had in his career coming into the season.

Hogan has completed this turnaround in just one short season.

So when the Red and Blue host the Orangemen -- who are ranked fourth in the country -- on Friday at 3:30 p.m., the fans at Franklin Field can sit back and enjoy watching not only the national lacrosse powerhouse, but two of the nation's top teams -- courtesy of Matt Hogan.

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