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As Penn field hockey heads into the final stretches of Ivy play, its games can be won and lost in the midfield, which is where junior Gina Guccione comes in to help anchor the squad in the middle.

Credit: Nick Buchta

Want to beat Penn field hockey? That’ll take something that hasn’t been done for the last 157 minutes and 34 seconds: a goal against Liz Mata.

This Friday, the Red and Blue (8-3, 2-1 Ivy) will host rival Columbia (6-5, 1-2), before traveling to face off against Delaware in a non-conference bout on Sunday.

This weekend’s matchup presents a substantial challenge for Penn, who is tied for third in the Ivy League standings. The Quakers and the Lions have evenly split their twenty meetings, but the last four times the two have faced off, Columbia has come out on top in overtime.

“They have been a formidable opponent of ours,” Penn coach Colleen Fink said. “But I do feel as though we have continued to gain momentum.”

Junior midfielder Gina Guccione echoed her coach’s sentiment.

“The last couple of games against Columbia have been tough,” the Fairfield, NJ. native said. “Going into this Friday we want to stay tough and keep working.”

What makes the Lions such a nuisance for the Quakers? Fink pointed out the tactical challenges that Penn will face.

“Columbia plays a really disruptive style,” Fink said. “They force their opponents to not really develop into any sort of rhythm.”

Still, the Quakers will go into Friday’s matchup with confidence, coming off two successive shutouts against Dartmouth and Temple. Against the Big Green, the team scraped its way to a double-overtime victory off a lone goal from freshman Alexa Schneck. Schneck, who comes from Reading, Pennsylvania, scored the first of four Penn goals that weekend.

As impressive as the offensive play has been for Penn, Fink saved plenty of credit for a defensive unit that is bearing fruit from a concerted effort to improve.

“Over the course of the last two years, we’ve talked a lot about defensive mentality,” the seventh-year coach said. “We kept on stressing the importance of limited entry balls, and limiting scoring opportunities [for the opposition]. The result of that is happening for this current team.”

As strong as the Quakers have been, they have also been battle-tested. Last weekend’s win over Dartmouth marked the fourth game for Penn that has at least reached overtime, with the Red and Blue recording wins in three of those matches. Based on their history against the Lions, the Quakers seem ready to play past 70 minutes again.

Guccione reflected on the upside to having experience in overtime play.

“We know what to expect, we know how tired we can get, and we just need to stay positive, and not give up until the final whistle goes off,” the midfielder said. “We’re gonna get tired, but if we stay focused, then we’ll be successful.”

To Fink, the key for her team will be their ability to stay in rhythm. In a game where the opponent will disrupt the flow of play, she will look for a strong relationship between her midfielders and her forwards to overcome an uneven pace.

“Even if we’re forced to play a choppier style of game, it’s about trying to find our rhythm within that choppiness,” Fink said.

Her players seem ready to respond, as Guccione once again mirrored her coach’s thoughts.

“I think we’re all excited for Friday,” she said. “We want to play our style of play and try to score early and not give up.”

In a season of tests, no test seems grander for Penn than the one against an old rival. Gina Guccione and her teammates will look to rise to the occasion and snap a four-game winless streak, whether it takes 70 minutes or more.

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