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

The Penn men’s lacrosse team is off and running in its season, grabbing a 12-10 home win against Michigan this past Saturday at Franklin Field to open play. This week, however, the Quakers will face their first road test of the season, traveling down to Charlottesville, Va., to take on a traditional powerhouse program in No. 11 Virginia.

Penn (1-0) started off its season with a stellar performance from its offense that saw nine different players score. On the defensive side, freshman Reed Junkin earned Ivy League Rookie of Week honors for his 12-save performance in goal.

The Cavaliers (1-2) have gotten off to a slow start this season, being upset in their most recent game by unranked High Point in overtime, ensuring that they’ll be out for redemption this weekend against the Quakers. Despite their slow start however, Virginia remains a dangerous team with plenty of All-American offensive threats, returning many of the same players who contributed to their 12-6 victory over Penn last spring.

“Virginia is one of eight or nine teams that have won a national championship here in recent history and they’re a very good team with a high-powered offense, so it’s obviously a game to get excited about,” coach Mike Murphy said.

That high-powered offense will challenge the Red and Blue once again this year, who have a relatively young team with a freshman in net and plenty of offensive responsibility resting on the shoulders of underclassmen. If the Quakers are to emerge victorious in Charlottesville, the young players are going to have play like veterans in what for some of them will be their first collegiate game in a hostile environment.

“We’re fortunate enough to have a pretty talented freshman class this year,” senior captain Nick Doktor noted. “They worked their butts off in the offseason and throughout fall ball to put themselves in a position to get a lot of playing time, so we’re not telling them anything different than we normally do.

“They don’t need to do anything special, they just need to go out there and be themselves. They all have unique skillsets that add to our team, so as long as they play in the moment, they won’t need to worry about who is on the other side.”

While this may be the first big-time match-up that some of the underclassmen will be a part of this year, it certainly won’t be the last. As of current rankings, the Quakers have six ranked opponents on their 14-game schedule, all of them currently ranked within the top 15 teams in the nation.

In fact, Penn lacrosse has consistently been ranked highly in strength of schedule ratings, coming in at No. 11 in the nation in Inside Lacrosse’s preseason rankings for this year while consistently showing up in the top 20 and oftentimes top 10 in’s rankings over the past six seasons of Murphy’s tenure as head coach.

“If we could play the top 14 teams every year, we would,” Murphy explained. “The fact that we play in the Ivy League helps us to pursue our goal of playing the hardest schedule we can every year. I just think it’s the right thing for us to do. In terms of getting better, it helps to prepare us for the Ivy schedule and tournament, and in terms of recruiting, good players want to play against the best teams.”

For Doktor, constantly being tested against the nation’s top-flight talent on a weekly basis has certainly helped him attain all of the achievements he has.

“Obviously you want to play the best talent that you can, because it brings the best out of you personally. Not only that, but it’s a lot of fun, you get to play the best teams in the country, historic teams who win the national championship and it’s exciting. The guys get really excited to play the big games and we’re fortunate enough to have a lot of big games on our schedule, so it just makes the sport that much more fun.”

The Quakers will face off in Charlottesville against the Cavaliers at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday.

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