They don’t call it May Madness for nothing.
In the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, No. 7 Penn women’s lacrosse found this out the hard way, coming up just short in a wild last-ditch comeback effort against unseeded Navy en route to a stunning 11-10 loss. With the upset, the Quakers’ season comes to an abrupt end, finishing without at least one NCAA tourney win for the first time since 2013.
“I think you have to give Navy a lot of credit; they came out here fighting. It wasn’t our day, but at the end of the day, I’m really proud of this team,” Penn coach Karin Corbett said. “We really had no depth, we lost a lot of players to injuries this year … and I think for this team to win an Ivy championship and get a No. 7 seed, I’m really proud of them. We accomplished a lot with the small team that we had, and I think we played with a lot of heart and a lot of fight.”
If anyone thought the Quakers (13-4, 6-1 Ivy) would struggle with the Midshipmen going into Friday’s contest, it probably would’ve been because of Navy’s high-octane offense, one ranked ninth nationally entering the afternoon averaging a stellar 15.42 goals per game.
But it was ultimately on the other side of the ball where the game’s breakout star came, as the Red and Blue simply had no answer for Navy junior goalie Ingrid Boyum until it was too late.
Though Penn did jump out to a 5-2 first-half lead with the help of two free-position goals from senior attacker Emily Rogers-Healion, the contest turned into the Boyum show quickly after that. And as point-blank stop after point-blank stop came from Boyum — who entered the contest with a very pedestrian .384 save percentage but finished with 11 stops today — the Navy (16-4, 8-1 Patriot) offense saw no such problems, passing its way through Penn’s zone defense with ease.
As Penn goalie Britt Brown struggled to handle the onslaught, the Midshipmen went on an 8-1 run spanning both halves, seizing a four-goal lead with only 15 minutes remaining.
“Navy came out really strong, really hard, they had nothing to lose. They came out fast, and I think we had a hard time matching them at the beginning, and we kind of put ourselves in a hole and we had a hard time coming back,” Penn sophomore defender Katy Junior said. “The goalie played really well, and they came to win.”
And it was at that point, on the brink of elimination, that the Red and Blue would return to their regular season form — with their rookies leading the way.
Gabby Rosenzweig started the run with an unassisted goal from the left side. Classmate Erin Barry laid her entire body out with a diving goal to cut the lead to two soon after. Rosenzweig followed with her third goal of the game after a Megan Kelly steal, and suddenly it was a ball game again at 10-9 with under 10 minutes left.
“You know, I just really wanted to win this for the seniors. They don’t get another shot at this; I get three more years, so I’m lucky,” Rosenzweig said. “So I’m just sad that we didn’t pull it out for them, and I was just trying to dig deep and give it everything that I had.”
Unfortunately, though, the one-goal deficit would prove to be as far as Penn could get. Despite ending on an impressive 4-1 run, it would be too little, too late for the Quakers.
“[That run] says a lot about Penn as a whole, and as a defense we stepped up especially,” Junior said. “We played with a lot of heart, we dug deep and we realized our season was on the line, so we did all that we could to come back.”
Despite the frustrating result, the season spotlighted some major positives for a Penn team that met challenges unlike few others in Corbett’s tenure. On Friday, the Quakers didn’t use a single sub — a situation that’s been a regularity since Katie Cromie and Caroline Cummings went down with season-ending injuries — but the undermanned squad still managed to fight its way to its tenth regular season Ivy title in eleven years before its postseason struggles.
“We dealt with a lot of adversity, and I think we fought as best we could. We didn’t have the depth, and when kids are making the same mistakes and not having a great day, you usually can sub somebody in and give them a break, and we just weren’t capable of doing that,” Corbett said. “That’s not easy especially when you’re young, to get over some of your mistakes and move on without having that opportunity to be talked to, and that’s just where we were. Again, I give them a lot of credit; this team won an Ivy championship, and they need to be proud of that.”
And beyond next year’s hopefully healthier personnel, another extremely positive sign comes in the development of Corbett’s Class of 2020. Rosenzweig and Barry finished with a combined 50 goals this season, taking even greater offensive roles after Cummings’ injury, joining fellow freshman Chelsea Kibler in the starting lineup the majority of the way.
“What we had to ask of our freshmen was really hard, and I’m really proud of them. And I think that’s really great for the future — the two of them [Barry and Rosenzweig] really stepped up and brought us back into this game,” Corbett said. “That class is going to do well; Erin and Gabby got a ton of experience, and they have a bright future ahead of them.”
For now, though, it’ll be a long offseason of reflection, after a regular season that displayed such promise led to the universally dreaded one-goal playoff defeat. Though yet another strong senior class will be departing, the team’s talented returnees will be back in 2018, fueled by the anger of Friday’s result and ready to further the team’s already historic legacy.
“Oh god, it makes me want to already start next season,” Junior said. “I think this lights a big fire under us for next season, and it’s great that we had so many young players, because that means we’re going to come out strong and ready to go.”