For the first time in four seasons, Penn will play Princeton without a chance at an Ivy League title.
But the Quakers still have a lot to play for: a home crowd, visiting alumni, their graduating seniors, the opportunity to slay an arch-rival and — perhaps most importantly — the possibility of playing some more afterwards.
Entering their matchup with the Tigers (7-5-4, 1-4-1 Ivy) — the last game of the regular season — the Red and Blue (11-1-4, 4-1-1) rank 43rd in the country in terms of rating percentage index, a gauge of a team’s win percentage in conjunction with its strength of schedule.
Last weekend, Harvard clinched the Ivy League title outright and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, closing the door on Penn for that avenue to the postseason. However, a victory over the Tigers would very likely pull Penn’s RPI ranking even higher and push the Quakers into the conversation for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
By contrast, a loss would almost certainly eliminate any chance of a postseason berth. Coach Darren Ambrose has no illusions about this reality.
“We know we have to beat Princeton in reality,” he said. Because we don’t have a top-25 schedule … we can’t afford error.”
Last season, Princeton easily captured the conference championship behind the offensive wizardry of forward Jen Hoy, who logged 18 goals on the year.
But a year later, with Hoy graduated, the Tigers have struggled to find their footing, especially in conference play.
That said, the matchup is a dangerous one for Penn, a squad that relies on shutting out its opponents and scraping together a goal or two. Despite its shabby record, Princeton’s offense has shown signs of life, scoring four goals against Cornell last weekend.
Though Penn possesses the strongest defense in the conference, it has rarely been able to score multiple goals in a game, failing to do so in Ivy League play this season. If Princeton can sneak a couple of goals past the Quakers, it could spell doom for Penn’s postseason hopes.
Taking place on Homecoming Weekend, the match will also be Senior Night for the team. The senior class of Kerry Scalora, Kathryn Barth, Laura Oliver, Brianna Rano and Claire Walkernames all ok has helped spur the program to a 43-16-8 record over their Penn careers.
Though the class of 2014 won just one title in that span (2010), the squad has been in the running for a championship all four years.
“They’ve competed basically on four teams where every team had something on the line, and that’s rare nowadays,” Ambrose said. “We’re always knocking on the door, and they’ve been a huge part of that.”
It’s unclear, however, whether any result can put the Red and Blue over the top in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee at this point. Only one Ivy League squad has received an at-large bid since 2006.
The Princeton matchup is certainly the first bar Penn must clear on its way to the postseason, which is added incentive for the Quakers to prepare for Friday’s match. But even without the chance of a postseason berth, Ambrose wouldn’t be concerned about his players showing up to the game lacking motivation.
“It’s a game with Princeton at home,” he said. “I mean, what more do you want?”
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