Fresh off an upset loss at Columbia, Penn field hockey responded with one of the most impressive weekend sweeps in school history. The Red and Blue eked out a 1-0 win over Yale on Friday, but the real fireworks came two days later, when an Alexa Hoover game-winning goal carried the Quakers to an astonishing 3-2 upset win over No. 10 Syracuse, giving the team its first top-10 victory in head coach Colleen Fink’s eight-year tenure.
“We’ve felt confident and capable this whole season of contending against a top-10 team,” Fink said. “I’d have to go back, but I think it’s one of the best [in my career], and it’s probably one of the best in Penn history. … I think it’s a really big win for the program.”
Despite being the less historically significant of the two wins, Friday’s triumph over the Bulldogs (8-6, 1-4 Ivy) was no cakewalk. Hungry for revenge following an overtime defeat at Yale a season ago, Penn (8-6, 3-2) got on the board early when junior forward Sofia Palacios crushed a shot from ten yards out for her first goal of the season.
Penn couldn’t build on its lead further from there, but it didn’t need to. Facing a powerful Yale offense that entered the weekend averaging north of three goals per game, sophomore goalie Ava Rosati and the unit in front of her stood tall late to preserve the shutout.
“Last year’s game really kind of stuck with us — it was a really tough loss at a really key point in our season,” Palacios said. “Bouncing back from that and showing them that we’re a strong team and that we’re a force to be reckoned with is something we should be proud of.”
As necessary as the Yale win was for Penn’s slim Ivy title hopes, Sunday’s showdown against the Orange (11-5, 2-4 ACC) will be the one remembered forever. The Quakers had already lost to a pair of top-10 teams this season, and they fell to Syracuse, 4-0, a year ago, but it was apparent from the onset that this time would be different.
Hoover found Guccione inside with a great pass only four minutes in to give the Red and Blue an early 1-0 lead.
Penn had a chance to stretch that lead even further when junior Rachel Mirkin was fouled inside, but Hoover’s penalty stroke was stopped by a diving save from Syracuse freshman goalie Borg van der Velde. Syracuse would roll with that momentum further, getting the game’s next two goals.
Down 2-1 in the second half, against a top-10 team that entered with a nation-leading ten shutouts in 15 games, the situation might have looked bleak for the Quakers on any other day. But the Red and Blue would show no quit, and their comeback efforts were spearheaded by their infamous senior scoring duo.
Eight minutes into the half, junior Paige Meily stopped a short corner entry pass to Hoover, who then found her classmate inside for the second Hoover-to-Guccione goal of the afternoon.
And after minutes of physical play in front of an increasingly rowdy Ellen Vagelos Field crowd, the best player in program history finished things off with perhaps one of the best plays in program history. Stealing an errant Orange pass, Hoover managed to bobble the ball on her stick before volleying it into the top left corner of the net, putting an exclamation point on the wild win.
Six minutes of keepaway later, the colossal upset was complete.
“It’s honestly showing [the country] that the Ivy League can compete, and especially our team specifically, that we can come out and beat these teams that are top-ranked,” Hoover said. “I think after close losses like [Delaware and UNC], we’re like, ‘it’s not happening again.’ We played hard, we played together, and that’s all we had to do honestly.”
No matter how historic the win was, it didn’t do anything to help Penn’s Ivy title chances. Two games back with two games remaining, the Red and Blue need some major help beyond winning out themselves.
But now the conversation has shifted somewhat — should Penn impress the rest of the way, including securing its first win over Princeton in thirteen years, the team’s case for an NCAA at-large bid would get awfully compelling.
“I think we schedule the way we scheduled with hopes that anything can happen, and you just never know,” Fink said. “I’m not gonna think it’s over until I’m buried in the ground.”