While most of the campus will be out celebrating Spring Fling on Saturday, Penn men’s lacrosse will be faced with a must-win game for the second week in a row if it wants to keep its Ivy League and NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
The Quakers (5-5, 2-3 Ivy) will match up against Dartmouth (2-9, 0-4) for their final regular season conference game of the season. A victory would put the Red and Blue in a position where they are very likely to secure the last spot in the Ivy tournament, but the Big Green will certainly be hungry to spoil the Quakers’ dreams by winning their first Ivy League game since 2015.
As it stands, the Quakers are on the outside looking in, with Cornell and Brown both sitting at 2-2 to get the final two spots in Ivy postseason play. Those two teams, however, will play each other this weekend. The Quakers own the tiebreaker against Cornell but not against Brown, so the outcome of the game will be of utmost interest to Penn should it come up with a win against Dartmouth — the only way the Red and Blue wouldn’t make the tournament would be if Cornell wins against Brown this week and also defeats second-place Princeton next week, while Brown also beats Dartmouth in the following week.
Though the likelihood of making it to the postseason increased dramatically for Penn with last week’s win against Harvard, the team knows that it is still far from guaranteed a spot; the Red and Blue will need to maintain a high level of calmness and focus in the face of pressure while addressing some lingering gameplay issues.
“Offensively [Dartmouth] is good, they’ve got three guys in particular that are very dangerous, and their goalie is excellent,” Penn coach Mike Murphy said. “Against Brown two weeks ago, we start real fast going up 5-1, and then we didn’t sustain that. Against Harvard, we were down 5-2, and then we poured it on in the last three quarters. So it would be nice to see us play four quarters of complete lacrosse.”
“I think we just stayed together down the stretch,” said senior captain Kevin Gayhardt, speaking about the win against Harvard. “We went down for a little bit, but we’ve put a lot of attention and focus recently on being resilient, and I think that really showed up when we went on that 5-0 run in the fourth quarter to put the game away.”
Last week, Murphy said face-offs would be the key to victory for the Quakers, and he was certainly correct. After failing to win the face-off battle in their previous three contests, the Quakers saw junior Chris Santangelo put on an all-star performance against the Crimson, setting a career high by winning 22 of 29 face-offs on the day.
Right now, the Quakers feel good about their chances of making the Ivy tournament, with a boost of confidence after handling Harvard last week. Gayhardt and the rest of the senior class are the last remaining members of the 2014 NCAA Tournament team, and they know just how hard it will be to get back there; the Quakers will likely have to beat two teams that they could not defeat in the regular season if they are to win the Ivy tournament. But that doesn’t keep them from pursuing Gayhardt’s goal of leading the team back to the national tournament for the first time in three years.
“We’ve really been in this situation each of the past three years, so we’re just focusing on taking it one day at a time,” Gayhardt said. “When it gets to this point of the season, mid-April, that’s when you can focus on gearing up to make a run in to the postseason, but that all starts with taking it one day at a time, one play at a time in practice, staying in the moment and focused on the task at hand, and everything else will take care of itself.
“My freshman year was awesome; seeing that group of seniors carry the team to victory in 2014 up at Harvard was something I’ll never forget,” he added. “That’s definitely something we would like to do to leave our mark on this program and hopefully make it to the NCAA tournament and accomplish some even greater goals that we have.”