In Ivy League sports, dynasties are few and far between. After all, a dynasty exists only when new stellar talent comes in as quickly as seniors leave, which is never guaranteed. Penn women’s lacrosse was able to do that in 2016 after losing a tremendous senior class and now looks to do the same in 2017.
This spring, the Quakers will be without 2016 graduate Nina Corcoran, the program’s all-time assist leader. Her 58 assists in 2016 were far and away a program record, with the next best being Corcoran’s 2015 total of 40. On top of that, Corcoran’s 127 assists over four years are the most in Ivy League history.
Coach Karin Corbett has plenty of experience coaching all-time greats and has had to replace them in the past. In 2015, Tory Bensen, second in program history in goals with 141, graduated and left a noticeable vacancy at attack. Corbett was able to replace her, and the offense kept on ticking in 2016. This transition will be unlike last year’s, according to Corbett.
“It’s a different loss. Tory was a prolific scorer for us, and Nina was a prolific playmaker for us. It’s very different. Every year you have to reinvent who you are, not necessarily field issues but having a different look to your offense,” Corbett said. “With the catalyst that Nina was and the leader she was — she really was in charge of our team for 3 years — that has been a big void.”
Corcoran’s on-field vision was perhaps the Quakers’ greatest strength last season. Usually positioned behind the cage, Corcoran was able to quarterback the offense and make reads that most athletes could never dream of. Her keenness and patience with the ball made defending the Quakers a nightmare in 2016 and led to many quick release goals for the Red and Blue.
No individual benefitted from Corcoran’s presence more than now-junior midfielder Alex Condon, who connected with the 2016 graduate time and time again in a 41-goal sophomore campaign. They had an unparalleled on-field chemistry last season that resulted in All-American recognition.
It is crucial for Penn’s offense that Condon’s performance picks up right where it left off in the second half of 2016, when she scored the majority of her goals. To do that, Condon is going to need to find chemistry with whoever plays behind the cage.
“This year, instead of just having one major feeder, we have a couple different ones and a couple different looks,” Condon said. “I’ve definitely been working in practice on my chemistry with other people to build something that somewhat replicates what I had with Nina last year.”
In Corbett’s view, Condon has improved great lengths since last season and is going to be creating more chances for herself this year. She is not only a potent goal scorer but also solid on the backline when pitching in on defense.
“She has become a challenger, a takeaway defender. She’s causing more turnovers than anybody on the field. She’s a great defender. She’s that true midfielder, and she’s really rising to the occasion of not being just a cutter,” Corbett said. “She’s taking it to the net, and she has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen. She can finish. We need to get the ball in her hands but she also can create on her own.”
When it comes to replacing Corcoran, there is no one-for-one swap. Sophomore Chrissy Corcoran, Nina’s younger sister, has gotten looks behind the goal and will be starting in Saturday’s season opener against Delaware. Junior Emily Rogers-Healion, one of the team’s best on the draw, has also appeared in that lead role behind the net. Finally, freshman midfield Gabby Rosenzweig has worked behind the cage in practice.
Rosenzweig, Corbett mentions, is going to be major component to this year’s offensive makeover. Whereas last year the team had only one natural midfielder, as Corbett admits, there are now four. Freshmen Erin Berry and Rosenzweig have burst onto the scene and bolster an already talented midfield, which Corbett calls the team’s strongpoint.
“Erin Barry and Gabby Rosenzweig are extremely athletic and two of the best freshmen I have ever coached in that they are fearless, they have good skills, they really learn well,” Corbett said of her two new midfielders. “In our scrimmage last week, they did not look like freshmen.... We haven’t had this strong of a midfield in a long time. To have four middies we can count on is pretty exceptional.”
The rest of the midfield is already quite powerful, featuring Chrissy Corcoran, Condon, Rogers-Healion, Caroline Cummings and Natalie Stefan. Rogers-Healion and Cummings both performed well in 2016, picking up a number of points but also being reliable on the backend.
Stefan could be the biggest surprise in the group. She had an impressive freshman campaign but missed all of her sophomore season with an injury. She is great on the draw and overall a strong player.
Ultimately, the team’s offense will be driven by the midfield in unison with the attack. There is no program great on the attack in 2017, but there are a lot of talented athletes that have performed well in previous years. Condon aptly described the situation, which was the reality in 2016 and very well could hold true this year.
“Our offense is young this year, but there’s a lot of talent and a lot of potential. As the season goes on, we’ll get stronger and stronger and have a really good and solid attack.”
The Quakers’ Ivy League title chances in 2017 could be riding on it.