One team needed to win to keep its season alive. The other had the chance to move into first place in the Ivy League with a victory. And both took care of business.
In a fantastic weekend for Penn lacrosse, the Red and Blue men completed their climb back from a 1-3 start to Ivy play to clinch the last spot in the four-team Ivy League tournament by beating Dartmouth, while the women created a three-way tie atop the conference standings by topping Harvard on the road.
On Saturday, Penn men’s lacrosse’s (6-5, 3-3 Ivy) season was on the line, as a loss would have eliminated it from playoff contention. Thankfully, Dartmouth, a team with no conference victories since 2015, came to town and the Quakers registered a comfortable 9-4 victory.
The first half was a low-scoring affair, largely due to the play of Dartmouth freshman goalkeeper George Christopher. But Penn was also able to limit the Big Green’s offensive production, as sophomore goalie Reed Junkin once again demonstrated why he ranks among the elite net-minders of Division I lacrosse. Despite the halftime scoreboard reading 3-2, the Quakers were confident that they could get their offense running smoothly in the second-half.
Sophomore Simon Mathias led the attack, scoring two of his game-high four goals to steadily build the lead over Dartmouth (2-10, 0-5). Chris Santangelo also continued his dominant face-off play, winning 13 of 15 opportunities a week after his career-best performance against Harvard.
“It was huge for Chris Santangelo to win face-offs again. He’s been very, very good there, very clean,” head coach Mike Murphy said. “He’s been working on the fundamentals of it all year. For him, the issue tends to be that he needs to be technically sound. He’s been much more disciplined about it.”
Penn’s rejuvenated attack depends heavily on transition play and strong goalkeeping, a recipe which more than often yields wins for the inconsistent Quakers.
Saturday’s match also represented more than a chance to compete for the Ivy title. It was the seniors’ last game on Franklin Field, and the graduating class was feted during pregame celebrations.
“It’s all gone so fast. I’m so grateful to play in a place that has so much history like Franklin Field,” senior captain Kevin Gayhardt said. “I’ve been through so much with the other senior guys at this point and it felt really good to get the win. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears put out onto this field, so to leave it with a win means a lot to me.”
Gayhardt and his teammates cannot afford to grow too sentimental, as there still is more work to be done in the season. Having clinched the No. 4 seed in the Ivy tournament, the Quakers face Yale, a team that has given them fits over the past two years.
And, with an overall record of 6-5 and just one signature non-conference win to its name, Penn men’s lacrosse will not have a shot at a national title unless it wins the upcoming tournament and receives the conference’s automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament. Defeating the Ivy League’s worst team while bolstered by the nostalgia of Senior Day is not a proper test of Penn’s abilities. The Red and Blue will show their true colors in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, over in Cambridge, the Quakers’ female counterparts were just as desperate for a win, as a chance to stay alive for the Ivy League regular season championship was on the line.
Penn women’s lacrosse entered Saturday’s match against Harvard looking to extend its five-game win streak, a run that has propelled them to the top of the conference table and into the chase for the Ivy title. The Quakers’ 13-10 victory, along with No. 11 Cornell’s overtime loss to No. 7 Princeton, left No. 10 Penn in a three-team tie for first place.
The crucial win over the Crimson did not come easily, providing the Quakers (12-2, 5-1) their greatest test since their loss to undefeated behemoth Maryland, the overwhelming favorites to win the NCAA national championship.
Penn, perhaps still trying to stretch its legs after a long bus ride to Cambridge, faced an early deficit after senior Marisa Romeo, ranked 15th in the country in goals per game, and her compatriots raced out to a 4-0 lead. Senior goalie Britt Brown, whose elite save percentage of 55.8 is the second-best in Division I lacrosse, had difficulty stopping Harvard’s blistering shots.
Penn, however, was able to clamp down and, after overcoming a 5-1 deficit, closed the first half with a four-goal run to enter halftime tied. The Quakers, unlike Harvard (8-6, 4-2), took advantage of their free-position opportunities, netting four out of seven chances in the first half as opposed to the Crimson’s dismal 25 percent conversion rate. The second half saw more of the same, as Penn racked up seven free-position goals, a season high.
Another key to Penn’s rally was the ability of the defense to find another gear. After recovering only four ground balls in the first half, the Quakers scooped up 10 in the second half, allowing them to play in transition. Brown played her usual lockdown brand of goalkeeping and, along with the consistently stellar play of junior Alex Condon, Penn ballooned the score to an insurmountable 11-6. Despite Harvard’s late attempts at a comeback, two scores from senior Emily Rodgers-Healion sealed the victory with under five minutes to go.
With the win, Penn ensured that it has chance at the Ivy title. If any of the teams in contention – Princeton, Penn and Cornell – win next week, it will own at least a share of the championship.
At this point in the season, however, these teams have more than demonstrated their NCAA tournament pedigree. All three will undoubtedly compete for a national championship regardless of next week’s results. An Ivy trophy will, however, be a significant accolade and confidence booster heading into postseason play.