As if preparing for a shot at an Ivy League title wasn’t enough motivation, Sunny Stirewalt also had bragging rights on the line with three former high school teammates playing for Villanova, including cousin Kristen Mericle.
With the stands packed with family, Stirewalt gave a performance to remember. The senior delivered immediately, scoring the first goal just 1:45 into the game on a beautiful effort down the sideline to set the tone for a 2-1 Quakers victory.
After getting out to such a quick start against the struggling Wildcats (3-12), it seemed like Penn (12-3) was poised to shoot its way into the record books against another overmatched nonconference foe, but it would be nearly an hour until the Quakers struck again.
Villanova tied the game just past the midway point in the first half on a goal by Heather Smillie, sending the two teams to the break all knotted up with neither side making a strong move to run away with the contest.
“The girls came out a little flat today,” coach Colleen Fink said. “I don’t know if they thought they were the better team and weren’t going to have to fight for the win, but it definitely affected us at the start.”
The second half, however, was a different story.
Though the score was deadlocked for much of it, the Quakers were relentless on the offensive attack, piling up six penalty corners and firing eight shots without Carly Sokach having to make a save.
“We were knocking on the door for the whole second half,” Fink said. “I knew the second goal was bound to come.”
And come it did, once again off Stirewalt’s stick. Her big day continued on a seemingly broken play where the ball skidded through numerous players from both teams before she corralled it and battled her way between two defenders for the goal.
“It wasn’t necessarily the way we would’ve drawn it up,” Fink said. “But it was huge nonetheless.”
Penn’s defense held strong, giving Stirewalt a satisfying finish to a sweet reunion.
“It was just awesome for all of us to be out on the same field together,” she said.
After the big midweek win, the Quakers now turn their attention to their remaining Ivy League schedule, beginning with a game against Brown in which the Red and Blue will need to improve their offensive efficiency.
“We are almost becoming too selfless,” Fink said. “We need a sense of urgency taking shots and getting to the goalie’s pads. I don’t think we played our best this weekend and same went for today, but we were able to pull out wins both times.”
It doesn’t matter how pretty the wins are though, as long as Penn gets their next two. Fink is optimistic about the Red and Blue’s chances, especially for one particular reason.
“I still don’t think we’ve played our best hockey.”
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