This weekend, Penn men's lacrosse will have a chance at redemption.
On Saturday, the Quakers (5-4, 1-1 Ivy) venture up to New Haven, Conn. to face No. 4 Yale in a rematch of last years epic quadruple overtime Ivy League tournament semifinal.
When talking about its Ivy League rival, senior defenseman Connor Keating did not mince words.
“We hate Yale.”
This season, Yale (6-1, 2-0) returns much of its firepower from last season, including reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Ben Reeves. This season, Reeves is tied for seventh in the nation with 5.29 points per game.
Aside from his consistent production, the attention Reeves demands allows for Yale’s second best attackman, Jackson Morrill, to put up a lot of goals in an efficient manner. Like his more touted teammate, Morrill is seventh in the nation with an impressive 54.2 shooting percentage.
One can expect to see either Keating or sophomore defenseman Mark Evanchick defending Reeves. Though Keating has primarily covered opposing teams' best midfielder, coach Mike Murphy did not rule out matching up the All-Americans.
Regardless of who covers Reeves, Penn has a lot of holes to fill after having its worst statistical performance defensively in a 20-13 loss at the hands of Cornell last week.
“The coaches had an awesome game plan. It was more so the six of us, or however many of us who cycled through the game that didn’t execute it,” Keating said. “We just have to be more mentally dialed.”
With Penn looking to avoid falling under .500 in conference play, the importance of this game is not lost on the players.
“It’s a huge rivalry for us and we are ready to attack it,” Keating said. “You could see today in practice that guys are ready to go. It was an upbeat, uptempo practice. You could tell that guys are hungry and we need this win. We are going to play hard and stick it to them.”
Aside from stopping Yale’s potent offense, faceoff play will also be crucial if Penn wants to pull off the upset.
Penn has struggled with faceoffs, winning only 42.4 percent on this season. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, feature Connor Mackie, who has won around 60 percent of his faceoffs and is in the top 20 nationally in that category.
It is unlikely Penn will win the faceoff battle outright. However, Murphy is hoping senior faceoff specialist Chris Santangelo can at least make the draws competitive.
“If we can win 40 percent that would be good,” Murphy said. “We just got to find a way to grind it out and make the balls 50-50 and not just get beat clean by [Mackie.]”
The last time Penn beat a top five team in the nation, faceoffs were a big reason why. Against Duke, Santangelo dominated the faceoffs, winning 15 of 22. Those extra possessions were crucial to the Quakers pulling off arguably the biggest upset in college lacrosse this season.
Faceoffs are crucial because the extra possessions could not only give the Quakers more chances to score, but also keep the ball away from Yale’s dangerous attack duo.
Though Penn is undeniably the underdog, the Red and Blue have consistently been able to hang with top five opponents. With that in mind, an upset this weekend is more than just a shot in the dark.
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