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Credit: Thomas Munson

Penn field hockey is a team that, in a very real sense, is at a crossroads.

In a year marred by attrition and adversity, the Quakers fought hard for their 8-9 record in 2014. And this leaves the Red and Blue in a situation both exciting and precarious looking towards 2015, a year that could reasonably be marked by either further struggles or breakthrough.

With all of that said, let’s break down the Quakers’ upcoming schedule to see which areas in particular could make or break their 2015 season.

A Telling Opening Stretch

For a team that features a star sophomore in Alexa Hoover and will likely rely heavily on the depth of its young talent, a solid start to the season should figure to be crucial. And this season’s opening salvo should be especially telling.

The Red and Blue’s first five games come against two opponents with winning records in 2014, two with losing records and one which was .500 on the year. In other words, it is a challenging stretch — but not overwhelmingly, and Penn’s results in these first five games could be predictive of its overall record for the year.

Don’t Sleep on the Nonconference Schedule

The Quakers’ 2014 schedule was clearly highlighted by the team’s trip to College Park to face No. 2 Maryland, a matchup with a national power that resulted in a 9-0 loss for Penn.

Penn’s schedule features no such contest with a ranked opponent, but that doesn’t make its nonconference schedule any less important. In fact, with four repeat matchups from the Quakers’ 2014 season — games in which Penn went 2-2 — how the squad performs throughout its nonconference slate should figure to be highly reflective of its ultimate prospects in Ivy play.

Penn’s Home Field Dominance

Vagelos Field has been kind to the Quakers as of late. In fact, the team has gone an impressive 17-8 at home over its past three seasons, with two of those seasons yielding decidedly average records overall.

This figures to bode well for the team in its upcoming season. A majority of the Quakers’ Ivy matchups will be held at home, and at no point will the team be forced to play back-to-back league contests on the road.

Tough Early Conference Slate

Of course, despite the importance of Penn’s nonconference schedule, this team will ultimately need to make a name for itself in league play. And the Quakers will be forced through the gauntlet from the very beginning of Ancient Eight competition.

Cornell is the first Ivy opponent up for the Red and Blue. Last season, the Big Red went 5-2 in league play, including a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Quakers. In total, Penn will be forced to take on three winning Ivy squads from the previous year in its first four league matchups.

Season-Ending Matchup with the Rival Tigers

If the Red and Blue manage to keep themselves in the Ivy race through the opening conference stretch, it could set up for a grand finale barnburner at home against rival Princeton.

In 2014, the Tigers went 6-1 en route to an Ivy championship, taking down Penn, 4-3, in the final game of the regular season to clinch the title. Last year, the Quakers failed to play spoiler, but this year, they very well could get their revenge in the form of a title-clinching win over their rivals.

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