Most teams at Penn would be satisfied after three straight undefeated Ivy League seasons coupled with three Final Four appearances.
However, the women’s lacrosse team isn’t your average Red and Blue squad.
The Quakers start their season Saturday at Drexel with some unfinished business, namely their ultimate goal of a national championship. Penn, which went 15-3 in 2009, was defeated by Northwestern for the third straight season in the NCAA tournament last year.
“Losing makes you hungry,” coach Karin Brower Corbett said. (Corbett, who got married in the off-season, is transitioning toward her new surname.)
And the hungriest of the Quakers is the senior class, especially captains Ali DeLuca, Emma Spiro and Emily Szelest. Before the trio arrived on campus, the team hadn’t won an Ivy title in 25 years.
In fact, the year before they enrolled at Penn, the team went 10-6. Over the last three years the team has lost just seven games (and only four in the regular season).
So for the Class of 2010, there’s some added pressure to finally deliver the top prize.
“I always joke that I’m not leaving Penn until I win a national championship,” Szelest, the starting goalkeeper, said. “It’s four years’ worth of struggle and trial.”
Though the Quakers — ranked third in the preseason poll — know that they have what it takes to win it all, they’re not taking anything for granted.
“We weren’t recruited to a top program,” Spiro, the 2009 Co-Ivy League Player of the Year said. “We don’t think the Ivy Championship or the National Championship is just given to us.”
The road to a title is even longer this year, as the Quakers will have to win nine Ivy games to become true Ivy Champions.
That’s because for the first time, the Ancient Eight’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will be determined by a four-team conference tournament.
According to the team, there are some pluses and minuses to the new tournament.
On the positive side, playing against the top Ivy teams once again will help bolster the team’s Ratings Percentage Index (currently three other Ivy teams are ranked in the top 20). Furthermore, DeLuca said that competing in a playoff atmosphere can only help once the real NCAA Tournament comes.
But Corbett thinks that the Ivy tournament will also present a competitive challenge.
“The hard thing is that the Ivy League coaches are good coaches,” Corbett said. “So that will make things interesting with the tournament and how you kind of change your game plan to play a team you’ve already lost to or beaten in the regular season.”
In addition to the Ivy tournament, there will be roster changes for the Quakers. Though the team lost Becca Edwards and her 101 career points to graduation, the team returns five of its top seven scorers from 2009, including DeLuca who led the team with 55 points.
And with former midfielder Giulia Giordano moving to attack, Corbett believes this will be one of the best scoring units in her 11 years with Penn.
“We’re going to have a lot of firepower this year,” Corbett said.
The Quakers see themselves as the antithesis of many other lacrosse teams, which very often have just one player as a dominant scoring threat.
“We’re a team offense,” Spiro said. “We don’t rely on one person. And I think that’s really hard for other teams to guard.”
“Everyone is recognized as a threat,” Giordano added.
It’s an ironic twist because for the last several years, the team has been known more for stellar defensive play than high-scoring offense. Last year, for example, Penn was ranked 46th in scoring offense but first in scoring defense.
“We’ve been known for having the best defense in the country for the past three years,” DeLuca said. “And I think that our attack is slowly becoming recognized as an offensive threat. … This year we’ve finally caught up [to the defense].”
But after the loss of two starting defenders, the Quakers might actually have to rely on the offense a lot more than they have in the past.
Szelest had the lowest goals-against average in the nation, but Corbett admitted the coaching staff is still trying to find the right combination of starting defenders to aid her.
Although the senior goalkeeper has been solid in the net for the Quakers, they don’t plan to depend solely on her.
“I’ve always felt, ‘you put a good defense in front of a goalkeeper, you give them the shots that she’s able to save’,” Corbett said. “I don’t think you rely on a goalkeeper. I don’t think that’s fair.”
Regardless of potential gaps in defense, the Quakers know that this is their year to finally get over the hump.
Otherwise, people might start questioning their ability to seal the deal.
“And that just comes with the territory,” Corbett said. “That’s going to be our MO if we don’t win one — ‘they can always get there but never win the big one.’ It’s a different pressure that we’re going to have.”Comments powered by Disqus
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