When the top-ranked team in the country is just a few days away on your schedule, one can imagine that it would be a bit difficult to focus your attention on another opponent. But that’s exactly what Penn field hockey is doing as they prepare for a busy opening weekend of regular season play.
On Sunday, the Quakers (0-0) will host top-ranked North Carolina, but just two days before that they will play at home against Rutgers. While the Tar Heels (1-1) clearly present a more challenging matchup, the Red and Blue are resolved to approach both games with the same preparation and mentality.
“In terms of us approaching every single game, we watch film on them, we look at how they play, and we prepare for that. But in terms of knowing, you know how good their skill is, we just make sure we’re well-prepared to face them,” senior captain and forward/midfielder Rachel Huang said. “And playing against UNC, playing against Rutgers or any of the other teams, we go in with the same mentality.”
And beating Rutgers (2-0) will certainly require Penn’s best effort. Though the Scarlet Knights don’t field the same talent that the Tar Heels do, the talent they do present is nothing to scoff at. Last season, the Rutgers finished with a very respectable record of 9-9. That record included victories over Cornell and Saint Joseph's — two teams that Penn also beat last year, but only by a combined three goals.
The match might hold some extra meaning for Huang, as she grew up in East Brunswick, New Jersey, which is only a few miles away from Rutgers’ campus in New Brunswick. Getting a win over her hometown team would definitely be a great start to Huang’s final season in the Red and Blue.
As much as a win over Rutgers would mean to Huang and the Quakers, there’s no denying how big a statement victory over North Carolina would make. Having making it all the way to the NCAA Championship last season, there’s a reason the Tar Heels are ranked at the top. North Carolina’s defense shut out seven of its regular season opponents last year, and the offense was equally impressive, scoring five or more goals in seven games.
One of those games in which North Carolina scored more than five goals was actually against Penn, when the Tar Heels triumphed with a 6-2 result. While Penn was competitive that game, the team will need to do a lot more to get revenge.
Luckily for the Quakers, they have several key experienced players to lead the charge. Starring for the Red and Blue are first-team All-Ivy senior forward Alexa Hoover and junior forward Sofia Palacios, who scored both of Penn’s goals last year against North Carolina. Of course, Penn also has Huang, who is hungry as ever to start the season strong.
“We’re thinking that we want to come out on top and win, no matter the skill," Huang said.
"We’re going to put forth our best effort."
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