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NCAA Championship Men's Lacrosse vs. Drexel, Penn lacrosse loses to Drexel Credit: Michele Ozer , Michele Ozer

It’s that time of the year again.

A year removed from a season that ended in an Ivy League Tournament title and NCAA Tournament berth, No. 13 Penn men’s lacrosse will take the field on Saturday to host UMBC.

The Retrievers (0-1) opened their season against No. 6 Johns Hopkins in a one-sided game that ended 16-4 in favor of the Blue Jays. For the Red and Blue, UMBC will be their season opener, though the team has played in scrimmages each of the past two weekends.

“I hope to build on what we did last year. I’m very excited about our new staff. Our senior class is fantastic and has shown effective leadership over the course of the school year and into the preseason,” coach Mike Murphy said.

“We’ve had two pretty good scrimmage dates the last two weekends. I feel good about where we are, I feel good about our preparation.”

Recovering from the loss of a handful of essential seniors has been the focus for the coaching staff in the offseason. While Penn returns eight of its top ten scorers from last season, starting goalie Brian Feeney — who played all but 14 minutes last season — graduated in the spring.

“We’ve had two guys really separate themselves in the goal. Jimmy Sestilio and John Lopes are both still competing for the job,” Murphy said of the current situation at goalie. “That [competition] is certainly a healthy thing for us.”

The graduated senior class also featured a number of midfielders who played significant roles on the team — including a first-team All-Ivy selection in Zack Losco. The team will look for others to step up into those roles, particularly on face-offs, where the Quakers struggled last season.

“The face-off is one area where we need to get some answers still,” Murphy said. “We haven’t been great there through the preseason so we need to address that and find some people who can make a difference there.”

While positional changes are clearly on Murphy’s mind, so too are the intangibles that can’t be measured in practice. With a roster that features a number of freshmen and sophomores in significant roles, a lack of collegiate playing experience is a slight concern.

“It’s a lot of game decisions. Some timer-on calls, shot clock-type calls that are somewhat subjective. It depends on how the refs are calling games how we’re going to defend and attack those situations,” Murphy said about what he’s looking for in the first game.

“We’ve got some young guys that haven’t played meaningful minutes in the past. It’s one thing to do it in practice or in a scrimmage, but it’s a whole different matter when you’re playing in a game.

While UMBC struggled in its first game of the season, the Retrievers pose some unique challenges for the Quakers schematically. Murphy and his staff have worked over the past few days preparing for UMBC’s zone defense and two-platoon system, which involves heavily defensive- or offensive-minded midfielders.

Penn will rely on its experienced attack for balance in the game with the team boasting such a different midfield unit. Heading that attack are two of the team’s top three goal-scorers: senior attack Isaac Bock and junior attack Nick Doktor.

The pair combined for 41 goals and 28 assists last season for a Quakers offense that finished third in the Ivy League in goals last year.

It’ll be a tough road for the Red and Blue to repeat last season’s successes, but every journey begins with a first step and for Penn men’s lacrosse that’s UMBC.

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