Talk about living up to the moment.
With its back against the wall and the Ivy League Tournament on the line, Penn men’s lacrosse recovered its early season form just in time, defeating Harvard 14-10.
In a must-win game for both teams, the Quakers (5-5, 2-3 Ivy) displayed a resiliency and maturity that had been noticeably absent in prior Ivy tilts, as they battled back from deficit after deficit to eventually secure the victory with a five-goal fourth quarter run.
Leading that charge for the Red and Blue was the inspired play of faceoff specialist Chris Santangelo. Winning a meager 43 percent of his draws coming into the game, Santangelo exploded against Harvard (5-6, 1-3), securing 22 out of 28 draws for his team. Not only did the junior dominate his matchup against the worst faceoff team in the Ivy League, but he also scored a goal of his own and moved the ball upfield quickly and effectively to spark several others.
Aiding Santangelo in the faceoff game was junior Connor Keating. The star long stick midfielder was first to every loose ball off the wing, scooping up an incredible 11 grounders on the day. Always a threat offensively as well, Keating contributed a goal and an assist. His ten goals on the season place him in great position to be the leading long stick middie goal scorer in the country for the second year in a row.
Joining his fellow non-offensive midfielders in the scoring column was senior Austin Kreinz, who bullied his way to the game-icing goal with four minutes remaining.
Not all of the production came from the two-way midfielders, however. The Quaker attackmen were active and electric in their own right. Kevin McGeary, in particular, was hugely important during Penn’s game-winning fourth quarter run. The junior ripped home two outside shots in the span of six seconds to give the Red and Blue the lead and then to expand that lead to two.
While McGeary recorded a hat trick, fellow star attackman Simon Mathias operated as a feeder, dishing out four assists while netting two goals of his own. The sophomore was especially effective working from the left wing, as he was consistently able to roll underneath his defender to gain inside leverage.
Everything seemed to be working for Mathias. Even when he airmailed a pass to a cutter on the crease, it wound up in the stick of freshman Adam Goldner who exhibited great hands and concentration as he caught the ball at his feet and whipped his body around to finish from the high crease.
Adding to the Quakers’ goal scoring output were Tyler Dunn with two and Joe Licciardi, JJ McBride, and Reilly Hupfeldt with one each. All in all, ten players scored at least once, as the Red and Blue showed off impressive scoring depth.
Even though the final Ivy matchup of the season is against lowly Dartmouth (2-9, 0-4), the Quakers cannot afford to take the Big Green lightly. Despite the strong offensive game against Harvard, Penn still exhibited vulnerabilities.
After a great game against Brown, sophomore goalie Reed Junkin appeared to revert to the form that got him benched briefly two weeks ago, allowing 10 goals while only stopping four shots. While many of those goals were scored from right in front of the goal, several others zoomed by Junkin from the outside. In order to beat Dartmouth and enter the Ivy Tournament, Junkin will need to become more consistent in cage.
Additionally, while faceoff play was excellent today, Santangelo and company must continue to work at it, as Harvard’s struggles in that department will not be shared by the rest of the Quakers’ competition.
Still, a win’s a win, and this win was crucial to Penn’s season. A loss would have all but knocked the Quakers out of playoff contention, while the win more than keeps them alive. While not fully in control of their own destiny, another victory against Dartmouth should be enough to grant the Quakers admission into the Ivy Tournament, as they now own the tiebreaker against both Harvard and Cornell.
It appears that the Red and Blue have finally hit their stride. If that’s the case, the rest of the Ivy League better be wary.