It’s amazing how much things can change in a year.
In last season’s finale, Penn and Harvard squared off on Rhodes Field to determine which team wouldn’t get last place in the conference. But on Saturday, the two will play in Boston with an Ivy League title on the line.
“That’s the story of the Ivy League,” coach Rudy Fuller said. “There’s so much parity and things are so tight that this is probably one of the few conferences in the country where you can have that kind of turnover on a year-to-year basis.”
The Quakers (7-8-1, 4-1-1 Ivy) remember the difficulties and frustrations of last year, but that only serves as a reminder of just how far the team has come to be in a position to win an Ivy crown facing off vs. the Crimson (7-7-2, 5-1 Ivy).
“It definitely doesn’t get better than this,” senior captain Jonny Dolezal said. “Last year, this was the Toilet Bowl between us and Harvard.”
“It means a lot. It’s a big game this year, especially compared to last year,” junior captain Duke Lacroix added. “This is exactly what you want, to play the final game of the season for the title. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
In last year’s matchup, the Quakers came out on top, 3-1, to record their only Ivy win of the season and drop Harvard to the cellar of the conference.
But Fuller insists that this year’s game will be completely different from last season’s contest.
“I think both teams are completely different teams from last year,” Fuller said. “They are certainly much improved and are playing with a lot of belief this year, and I’d say the same thing about us.”
The Crimson’s turnaround last year can largely be attributed to first-year coach Pieter Lehrer , who took over the struggling program back in April.
“Pieter has done a phenomenal job in his first year,” Fuller said. “Harvard has struggled over the past few years and he’s come in and put them right at the top of the league in his very first year, so he deserves a lot of credit for that.”
From an outside perspective, Penn’s turnaround over the past year is a little more difficult to point out since the player and coaching personnel has mostly stayed the same.
But the players are quick to point out a different attitude on and off the field that has produced better results this season.
“I think we really turned a corner this year,” Lacroix said. “I think it’s a belief we have in the locker room and the belief we have in each other.”
The Red and Blue experienced a six-game losing streak in September, and it looked like the team might suffer the same fate as in 2012. But again the team relied on their newfound belief in each other to get them through the rough patch.
“I think that in the 3-13 season, we lost hope and belief from the start,” Dolezal said. “After the first two or three games, I think we gave up. This year, even though we lost a few straight, there wasn’t any point where we gave up on the season.”
That resilience has given the Quakers exactly what they wanted at the beginning of the season: a shot at the conference title and an ensuing NCAA tournament berth. They won’t need much more motivation than that come Saturday.
“There are gonna be a lot of emotions, a lot of adrenaline,” Dolezal said. “I’ve been looking forward to this moment for four years, the chance to win an Ivy title. This is senior year, our last game. This is what everyone lives for.”
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