These past few years have seen many of Penn's athletic programs make it clear they are a force to be reckoned with in the Ivy League. But in women’s lacrosse? Penn’s not just good for their conference, they’re one of the best teams in the country.
When you fight your way to a national quarterfinal game like the Quakers did last year, well, it’s no wonder that the best players come from far and wide to don the Red and Blue. And though the roster lost some big names after graduation last May, the arrival of such an impressive class of 2020 seems to be a harbinger of a new era of lacrosse excellence here at Franklin Field.
This year’s freshman class comes to Penn from hometowns across the Eastern Seaboard, with enough All-American accolades to make your head spin. Half the players come from New York, and many from in and around the infamous Long Island hotbed of high school lacrosse talent. Mikaila Cheeseman (G #00), Erin Berry (M #2), Emily O’Neill (M #18), Katherine Markham (D #23) and Gabby Rosenzweig (M #24). Alex Frenzel (M #5) and Teia Ross (D #17) come from New Jersey, while Kaeleigh Morrill (A #15), Chelsea Kibler (M #4) and Morgan Winstead (A #13) are from Connecticut, Maryland and North Carolina respectively.
The first aspect that stands out about the new recruitment class is its size. Currently, the team is carrying six seniors, five juniors, six sophomores... and ten freshmen. This is no fluke, though. It’s the setting of a new precedent by head coach Karin Corbett, and one to which she is fully committed.
“We need more people,” she explained forthrightly. “With the amount that these kids are playing in high school and middle school, they’re coming in with a lot more injuries. I see a lot more kids with past concussions, more kids with past ACL’s; It’s just a big toll on their bodies.”
A full intrasquad scrimmage necessitates 24 players on the field at one time, which makes it an undertaking that hasn’t been seen at a Penn women’s lacrosse practice in the last few years. Even at their current size, Corbett insisted, “we’re really one injury away from not being able to do that.”
In the coming years, Corbett is striving to get up to a 30-person team, and maybe even max out their travel party limit of 32. For now, though, the effect of the change is clear: freshmen make up big part of this team, and not only in a numerical sense.
Two first-years are set to start Penn’s season opener against Delaware this Saturday, and by the looks of it they’ll likely be turning some heads. Gabby Rosenzweig and Erin Barry are both multi-year All-Americans, high school team captains (both in hoops as well), and midfielders here at Penn. That last point is especially important, according to Corbett.
“Being a midfielder is really hard as a freshman. You have to split your time to learn both offenses and defenses, and these two are two of the best midfielders that I’ve ever coached as freshmen.” She didn’t stop there. “In what they grasp, in how they make changes to their game, how fearless they are, how much risk they’re willing to take, and learn from their mistakes, I haven’t had two freshmen like this. I’m really excited to see what they can do when it really counts.”
So what’s it like as a freshman to make the adjustment from varsity and club play to a collegiate program this renowned? Barry, for one, has proved she’s up to the challenge.
“Coming in here I was very nervous because I knew that high school lacrosse was definitely so different than collegiate lacrosse,” she said. “The level of play is so much faster and so much more intense, but I’m getting more and more used to it every day.”
For every challenge she will face however, Barry has a great community with a lot of experience to help her along the way.
“I went on a lot of visits, y’know, just like every other girl trying to play lacrosse in college,” she laughed, “but the thing here was the team camaraderie and how everyone just supports each other and how dedicated everyone is to this program. It’s something so special and I don’t think that if I went anywhere else that I would have gotten the experience that I’m getting.”
With this many talented young athletes, the future of the program here at Penn certainly looks as bright as ever. But the gameplay is only part of the picture. The season hasn’t even begun, and Barry can already feel how much closer she’s grown to her teammates over the past few months.
“In my class, we have so many different personalities that add to the team,” she said. “With our level of play, we’re all so competitive, but off the field we’re such good friends as well. I think we really bring something special to the team.”