For most teams in college sports, if you win a conference championship, finish the regular season ranked in the nation’s top 10 and make it to the NCAA Tournament, you’re not going to be too unhappy with your year.
But most teams aren’t Penn women’s lacrosse.
A year ago, the Quakers bowed out of the postseason in a Round of 32 upset loss to Navy, marking the first season since 2013 that the dynasty didn’t win at least one NCAA Tournament game. Fast forward 10 months, though, and one silver lining becomes clear: as devastating as last May’s result was, that sting only pushed this year’s Quakers to become even better.
“It definitely gave us a spark before we even needed a spark; it was an unexpected loss that was really hard to swallow,” fifth-year senior Emily Rogers-Healion said. “It made me even more thankful that I had a chance to come back and redeem us, and it gave us even more of a reason to work hard all fall.”
Heavily favored over the unranked Midshipmen despite playing without injured star junior Caroline Cummings, No. 7 Penn jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the first half. But unranked Navy completely flipped the contest in an 8-1 run spanning both halves to take a 10-6 lead.
Then-rookies Gabby Rosenzweig and Erin Barry led a frenetic late comeback to cut the lead to 11-10, but that would be the final mark, giving Navy its first-ever win over a top-20 team.
“It might have been exciting for fans; I don’t think it was that exciting for us,” coach Karin Corbett said. “We wanna compete for national championships, and that was definitely too early [to be eliminated], so I think all of that has fueled what our goals are for this year.”
It might have looked like the upset of the decade at the time, but only weeks later, the lacrosse world found out that Navy was no fluke.
After celebrating their thriller at Penn Park, the Midshipmen’s Cinderella run was only just getting started. Navy ended up making it all the way to the Final Four, even upsetting No. 2 UNC in the quarterfinals. Penn was the only team to even hold Navy under 15 goals in the tournament.
To the Quakers, this Navy run only added a further burn; they could’ve been making headlines nationwide instead.
“I was in bed watching that game, because I had just gotten surgery that day. And watching that … we didn’t reach our potential, and that put a fire in our bellies to really work hard this season,” Cummings said. “It could’ve been us going all the way to the Final Four. We completely could’ve ridden that power. But we’re just gonna use that to fire us up for this year.”
The Red and Blue are backing up those words, and then some, in 2018.
The No. 6 Quakers hold a stellar 8-1 record so far, with the only loss coming to defending national champion Maryland. Add in Cummings’ return and freshman Zoe Belodeau’s explosion to a team that already returned 93 percent of its scoring from last season has led to a juggernaut on the offensive end. Rosenzweig has stood out in particular, as she is currently on pace to shatter Nina Corcoran’s school single-season points record.
On the other side of the ball, sophomore Mikaila Cheeseman has filled the goal in place of 2017 graduate Britt Brown without missing a beat, ranking seventh nationally in save percentage.
“We have a really good chance to go really far in the postseason this year; this year feels different just because we have so much depth everywhere,” senior midfielder Alex Condon said. “All of our attacking core is scoring goals, making contributions, and we just have more firepower than we did last year.”
Combine that stacked personnel with a team driven by the pain of last year’s early exit, and it’s no surprise the Red and Blue have so thoroughly dominated their competition so far. This is a team with the goal of titles — Ivy League and beyond — and it has no plans to forget the struggles it’s faced on the way there.
“You always remember the losses,” Corbett said. “You always have to move on, but they can always be there in the back of our heads. Remember how we felt that day, and we don’t wanna feel that way again.”
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