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Women's Lacrosse beats Princeton at Franklin Field, securing a first-place position in the Ivy League. Penn 20 Emma Spiro Princeton 17 Pyle, Cassie Credit: Katie Rubin

Entering Saturday’s game at Dartmouth, the Penn women’s lacrosse team lacked a signature victory and was in the thick of a three-way race at the top of the Ivy standings.

But the Quakers’ 9-6 defeat of the then-No.6 Big Green gave them a top 10 victory. Even more importantly, thanks to Harvard’s 11-9 upset of Princeton, the Quakers are in the driver’s seat for the regular season title.

Penn (10-3, 5-0 Ivy) — which rose two spots to No. 5 in the deBeer media poll after the win — is the sole undefeated team in the Ivy League. No. 7 Dartmouth (9-2, 4-1) is one game back with two still left to play. So with the head-to-head tiebreaker, Penn needs just a single win over either Princeton (5-8, 3-2) Wednesday or Brown (7-6, 2-4) Sunday to clinch its fourth straight Ivy League title.

A win will also give the Quakers home-field advantage in the inaugural Ivy League tournament that will determine the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid. The Quakers have already clinched one of four spots in the conference tournament.

And the Red and Blue can thank their biggest rivals for making this path so easy.

Princeton’s loss Saturday in Boston was its first against Harvard in 18 years, as hat tricks by Tigers attack Kristin Morrison and midfield Cassie Pyle were not enough to overcome the Crimson.

For Princeton coach Chris Sailer, it was just another night of inconsistent play during what will almost certainly be her first losing season since 1987, the year she began coaching.

“We played with a lot more urgency and found some opportunities late in the game,” she said. “We needed to play with more of that from the start.”

With Princeton’s loss to Harvard, the Penn-Princeton contest will not be the de facto Ivy League championship game, as it has been in the past three years.

However, the Tigers still have a shot at earning a spot in the four-team Ivy tournament. Right now, they sit in third with just two league losses. Still, their remaining games are against the top two teams in the conference. Without a win in either game, Princeton would be tied for fourth at the end of the season, and a tiebreaker would determine the last spot.

Looking to pass Princeton are Yale and Cornell, who are both 3-3 in conference play. The two teams will meet on Sunday afternoon, with the winner clinching one of the seeds in the tournament. (The loser has a chance to gain the fourth seed if Princeton loses out.)

Harvard is also mathematically alive but would need to upset Dartmouth, beat Columbia and get some help in order to get the four seed.

National powerhouse toppled. The Quakers and Crimson, however, were far from the biggest winners in Division I this weekend.

North Carolina’s 18-16 win over Northwestern Sunday handed the Wildcats their first loss in 41 games, dating back to an 11-7 defeat by the Quakers at Franklin Field in April 2008. It was also the first time a visiting team won in Evanston, Ill., since May 6, 2004.

“A loss is never a fun thing, and this one is a tough one to take,” Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller told Northwestern Athletics. “I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that a loss can be a good thing, but now that we have lost, we need to see what we can take from it.”

The contest was a rematch of last year’s national championship game in which the Wildcats thoroughly dominated the Tar Heels, winning 21-7.

This year’s version was high-scoring in the first half, with a combined 14 goals in the first 10 minutes. Though the Wildcats led by four twice, the Tar Heels responded with runs of their own to tie the game at 12 with 2.6 seconds left in the first half.

Both teams clamped down on defense in the second half. In the end, North Carolina’s balanced attack won the game, as six different players scored goals in the second frame to put away the Wildcats, who never trailed after the break.

Despite her team’s failure to extend its impressive winning streak, Northwestern attack Katrina Dowd tied a career high with seven goals and eight points.

But it was the inability of the defense to stop North Carolina — the 18 allowed goals were the most ever under Amonte Hiller’s leadership — that ultimately stopped the Wildcats and brought their NCAA record 58-game home winning streak to a close.

With the win, No. 1 UNC (13-1) switched places with No. 2 Northwestern in the media poll, marking the first week the Wildcats were not No. 1 this season.

The Tar Heels now have wins over current No. 2 Northwestern, No. 3 Maryland, No. 5 Penn, No. 6 Duke, No. 8 Vanderbilt, No. 13 Georgetown, No. 16 Boston College and No. 20 Denver. Their only loss was in overtime, 13-12, to No. 4 Virginia.

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