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Penn field hockey's star, junior attack Alexa Hoover, showed her abilities not just as a goalscorer, but a playmaker last weekend against Lehigh, generating a crafty assist to teammate Gina Guccione. 

Credit: Ananya Chandra , Ananya Chandra

The final boxscore never seems to tell the whole story. That was certainly the case for Penn field hockey in both games played this weekend: a dominant 2-0 victory over Lehigh as well as a hard-fought and well-contested effort in a 6-2 loss versus No. 1 North Carolina.

On Friday, the Quakers (1-1) hosted Lehigh (1-2) in the Red and Blue’s season opener. The Quakers dominated the entire first half, with 12 shots and nine corners, but no goals to show for it. Junior attack Gina Guccione expressed the difficulty of scoring against a flurry of Lehigh defenders.

“I think in the beginning of the game we had some nice movement, some nice passes down the line, but once we got to the corner they had a lot of defenders in the circle, which is hard for us to get an open shot off,” Guccione said. “So we had to change our mindset going into the second half, recognizing that there are a lot of players in the circle, and maybe look for a different pass inside the circle or a ball from the top of the circle from one of our midfielders.

After more than 50 minutes of play, Guccione would open up the scoring for her team when she took a long pass from junior back Jasmine Li just outside the circle. She would dodge a defender before firing off a well-placed shot that would give Penn the lead.

The Mountain Hawks clawed hard in the second half with six shots on goal, but the Quakers' offense continued to outplay Lehigh’s. The Quakers controlled possession and had most of the game’s great chances in the second frame, including the one that resulted in their second goal.

With just over seven minutes left, Guccione and junior attack Alexa Hoover found themselves in a position to attack from just outside the circle. Looking to split the defense, Hoover drew pressure from one of Lehigh’s backs before flicking the ball to Guccione, who outshone the defense and picked up her second goal of the game.

Penn coach Colleen Fink was happy to see Hoover, the Ivy League’s top goalscorer in 2015 and one of the game’s top talents, display her playmaking skills on Guccione’s second goal.

“I think when you have a player like Hoover, the nice thing is she attracts a lot of attention. You have to mark her pretty tight and I think that was the case today,” Fink said. “She was a great playmaker today.”

Of course, Guccione’s tenacity with the ball on her stick — fully showcased in both of her goals — deserved some praise from Fink as well.

“She’s definitely really strong on the ball.”

The offense delivered in the second half, but the defense was putting on a clinic for the entire 70 minutes. Senior captain Claire Kneizys led the backfield along with Li, who set up the game’s first goal. After Nicole Mackin graduated in 2015, it was anyone’s guess who would fill that vacancy in the lineup. Fink opted with a platoon of backs who succeeded with limited minutes.

“I think Paige Meilly and Laura Shelton and Madison Hendry all filled that role,” Fink said. “They all did a really great job.”

The defense surrendered just six shots and only three on goal. Junior goalkeeper Liz Mata did not need to stand on her head for the Quakers but did notch her second career shutout on Friday.

The tides turned on Sunday when the Quakers faced off with the nation’s top-ranked team in UNC. The Tarheels (3-1) came to Ellen Vagelos Field with hundreds of fans and aspirations to knock off Penn. They succeeded in doing so, but were not able to pull away from the Quakers as much as they would have liked.

The 6-2 final is a bit misleading given the circumstances: four of UNC’s goals came in a less than 10-minute span in the middle of the first half. After Fink used a timeout to regroup her team, the game settled down significantly.

Fink and Kneizys both acknowledge that the team fell apart in those 10 minutes, but stayed strong for the other 60. Unfortunately, the Tar Heels’ onslaught in that short period put the game out of reach before Penn could ever respond.

“When they started getting momentum we didn’t do a good job of getting back in the game and slowing down their momentum,” Kneizys said. “They had a 10-minute period where they got all the momentum and a couple goals but after that we focused on game management and keeping mentally strong.”

The Red and Blue’s scoring started with just seconds left in the first half. Sophomore Sofia Palacios took a nice feed on a penalty corner and fired a ball that found the back of the net. She picked up another goal late in the second half playing the ball right next to the end line and delivering on a difficult sharp-angled shot.

Those two goals were not enough to overcome the Tar Heels’ offensive strategy of “attacking in twos.”

“Something UNC did really nicely was attacking in twos, and that’s something we’ve been working on, so we’re going to try doing that more,” Kneizys said.

Heading into another doubleheader weekend – a Friday game against LIU Brooklyn at Vagelos Field followed by a road game at neighboring St. Joe's – it is apparent that the team could learn from UNC’s offensive approach.

“We got a little down on ourselves, but I think that’s a product of our vulnerability in the midfield just in terms of how to handle a team that attacks in twos really well,” Fink said. When you have a small roster size, that’s difficult to simulate in practice. It’s something that we’re going to have to get really creative to try to address in the next two weeks.”

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