For Penn field hockey, the plan is pretty simple: find a way to win Ivy contests, even when those results don’t come easily. And sitting on a 7-1 record with two wins in the conference, that is exactly what the team has done so far.
But while the Quakers’ offense controlled contests earlier in the season, goals have become harder to register lately, recently the team has relied on its defense to come through.
Entering the season, Penn faced a huge question mark in its backfield. Gone were full-time starters Helene Caniglia and MaryRose Croddick — two backs who never missed a game over their four-year careers at Penn and combined for 136 starts. In their place entered senior Nicole Mackin and sophomore Jasmine Li. The only returning full-time starters on the back line were junior back Claire Kneizys and sophomore goalkeeper Liz Mata.
“It was definitely an adjustment because we were all playing in different positions than we played last year,” Kneizys said. “I know how Jasmine and Nicole play, and it’s been working really well. We work really well together.”
Out of the gate, the new-look defense faced some growing pains. In the team’s season opener against Liberty, the Red and Blue allowed two late goals in a losing effort. Coach Colleen Fink was less than pleased with her team’s approach.
“I think where the mistake was is that the mentality was mine and mine alone early on, and I was trying to put it into the defense rather than have them formulate and embrace their own defensive mindset,” Fink said. “So in those early games, despite us giving up some costly goals, I was really harping on defensive mentality, which I don’t think they had clearly defined for themselves.”
After four games, the defense had conceded 36 shots on goal and 10 scores, but it was around this time that everything began to click for the defense.
“I told them I wasn’t going to talk about defensive mentality anymore because I felt that I was the only one embracing it and not them,” Fink said. “They had a team meeting, independent of the coaches, and they defined it themselves. ... They should be playing for each other and not playing scared or afraid to upset the staff.”
“I think we all hold ourselves accountable for what we can do and what each other can do,” Mackin said. “We work on [our weaknesses] in practice and take that to the field, and we are always backing each other up on the field and supporting each other.”
According to Li, the Red and Blue back line has come together as a unit with a singular purpose: to defend what’s theirs.
“You can only have success if you work together,” Li said. “The circle [and the entire area within 25-yards from the goal] is our house.
“And we’re not letting anyone into our house.”
In the next two games, the Quakers’ defense was even more successful in preventing quality offensive chances, allowing only seven shots on goal and taking down Villanova and Sacred Heart in the process. With so much success on both sides of the ball, Penn was ready for its Ancient Eight opener against Cornell.
Typical to Ivy League play, scoring was low throughout the majority of the contest. After a disciplined first half from the defense, the Red and Blue allowed Cornell to get back into the game, who would score two quick goals in the final minutes. Penn would match that with a dramatic pair of their own.
Even though the game was won largely thanks to Alexa Hoover’s critical overtime penalty stroke, the defense’s impact on the result cannot be overstated. Kneizys played one of her best games, while Mackin and Li stopped many entry attempts by the Big Red.
The following week, the Quakers traveled to Cambridge, Mass., and took down Harvard 2-1, again thanks in large part to the defense. In a game where Penn’s offense was having trouble finding the back of the net, the defense delivered, along with Mata, who had one of her best performances of the year. The Red and Blue won the game, once again, in overtime.
The numbers speak for themselves. Since allowing 36 shots on goal and 10 goals in the first four games, the Red and Blue have only let up 20 and 7, respectively, since. The Quakers allowed 58 shots in the first four games of the season, but have allowed only 34 in the four since.
Entering the second half of the season, the Quakers’ schedule will stiffen a bit as they face five more Ivy opponents and get set to enjoy far less recovery time between contests. The offense will continue to fire away shots, but scoring goals will undoubtedly be more challenging as conference games come around. Therein lies the need for the defense to shine.
Fortunately for Penn field hockey, the backs have started to excel at just the right time.Comments powered by Disqus
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