On Saturday, Penn men’s lacrosse will take on a Big Red machine that hasn’t been running so smoothly in recent weeks.
Cornell will welcome the Quakers to Ithaca for both teams’ second Ivy League matchup of the season. The Red and Blue (3-3, 0-1 Ivy) will look to regroup after two straight losses derailed what was a promising start to the 2017 campaign. In light of Penn’s recent troubles, the Big Red (1-5, 0-1), who have struggled mightily, might be just what the doctor ordered for a frustrated Quakers team.
When these two teams last met in 2016, Penn limited an athletic Cornell attack to six goals while scoring nine of their own. In what was an early season sign of their increased importance, the then-freshman attack of Simon Mathias, Alex Roesner and Tyler Dunn contributed six combined goals to lead the team to victory. Then-freshman goalie Reed Junkin also had a stellar day between the pipes, stopping 14 shots to secure an important conference win.
The Quakers need a similar effort after a blowout loss against traditional rival Princeton on Alumni Day. The Tigers, paced by Michael Sowers and Gavin McBride, ripped apart Penn’s defense on route to scoring 17 goals at Franklin Field. Penn, despite its early-season ambitions of winning the Ivy Championship, is now playing from behind in the conference standings, while Princeton, Yale and Brown sit at the top of the table.
The team should be able to vent their frustrations against Cornell’s weak defensive unit. The Big Red rank dead last among Ivy League teams in goals allowed per game with 15.8, and last in save percentage. Their conference-worst faceoff percentage of 35.4 should also give X specialist Chris Santangelo plenty of opportunities to catalyze Penn’s potent transition game.
The defensive end, however, is where the Quakers need work. Giving up 17 goals to any team is unacceptable in elite collegiate lacrosse and Cornell, despite all its faults, boasts two first-year attackmen in Connor Fletcher and Jeff Teat who are both elite scorers and passers. To avoid a Big Red scoring bonanza, Penn has been focusing on basic defensive strategy in practice this week, trying to reclaim the early season form that propelled them to a No. 8 national ranking.
“We’ve been focused on skillwork, footwork and communication was one of our biggest issues [against Princeton]. We had trouble meshing together,” junior Connor Keating said.
“We have to reestablish our fundamentals. We gradually got away from those against Penn State, Michigan and at Princeton, when we got behind, we abandoned some of those fundamental things that we’ve talked about,” head coach Mike Murphy said.
One positive that the Quakers can hang their hat on is the level of discipline they have shown through the first quarter of the season. The team has the lowest number of penalties and turnover rate in the Ancient Eight, demonstrating a level of cohesion that Murphy and his staff will continue to emphasize moving forward.
“One of our standards is being disciplined in all areas of the game. It’s one the most important components of our team and is reflective of how we’ve tried to play all year,” Mathias commented.
The Quakers will look to break their four-game losing streak on Saturday by regaining some of their early-season form. Cornell might be a vulnerable opponent but the Quakers must avoid complacency if they want to turn their once-promising season around.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.