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Junior co-captain Elise Tilton will be expected to help star sophomore Alexa Hoover carry the offensive load this year.

Credit: Thomas Munson

And so it begins.

Penn field hockey will kick off its 2015 campaign this weekend as it travels to Virginia to battle Liberty on Friday before facing Longwood Sunday afternoon.

“Even as a coach, you’ll always have those jitters,” assistant coach Katelyn O’Brien acknowledged. “You just have to figure out how to apply them.”

The Quakers faced both squads last season at Vagelos Field, losing to Liberty, 3-2, on Sept. 14 before dispatching Longwood, 5-0, on Oct. 19.

O’Brien cites the Liberty loss as a sort of microcosm of the Red and Blue’s 2014 season — the team played a closely contested game before falling just short in the final minutes.

“We can take a lot from last year,” O’Brien said. “It will add a little bit more fire to the belly this year, especially with the senior class. I think they’re really hungry.”

Co-captain Elizabeth Hitti is one of the members of that senior class. Coming off a sub-.500 record last season, she is ready to embrace her leadership role during her final season in University City.

“This is my last first game,” she said. “I want to go out with a bang. And especially with the six freshmen, the way we start on Friday is going to set the tone for the rest of the season.

“As a leader, I’m trying not to let it get to me, but there’s going to be lots of added pressure.”

Playing two road games over the weekend will allow the team to get a rare experience: a four-day road trip.

“We’re actually leaving at 3 p.m. [Thursday], and then spending that night on the road,” Hitti said. “After our game [on Friday], we’ll have a practice Saturday at Liberty in preparation for our game on Sunday. It’s going to be pretty booked.”

O’Brien also sees the road trip as an opportunity to build team unity.

“It’s nice to step away from Penn, especially early on,” O’Brien said. “Any time you can spend three, four days away from the classroom and what you’re used to seeing every day, it’s definitely a great learning experience.”

On the field, the Quakers will — as they did last season — rely on the offensive firepower of sophomore Alexa Hoover. In 2014, the attacker won the Ivy League’s Rookie of the Year award after leading the conference with 14 goals.

Assisting Hoover with the offensive load will be Hitti and junior co-captain Elise Tilton. Highly-touted freshman Selena Garzio will anchor the defense.

Liberty (1-0) returns its top five scorers from a year ago. Senior Sarah Gipe notched a team-high 19 goals in 2014, while classmate Ashlee Krulock added eleven of her own.

Longwood, which dropped its first matchup of 2015, 8-1, to James Madison, will be led by senior attack Jennifer Burris.

A year ago, Penn’s loss to Liberty was one of five one-goal losses the Quakers suffered. To improve on their 8-9 record from last season, the Red and Blue are going to need to benefit, largely, from a simple infusion of luck.

And with numerous key pieces returning — along with the arrival of several freshmen with great potential upsides — the Quakers certainly show plenty of promise.

But, before the team can begin to dream big, it must get some wins under its belt. And this weekend is the place to start.

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