Coming into this season, Penn women’s lacrosse had a pretty good idea of what its offense would look like with the top six point-scorers returning from last year’s team returning.
What was much less clear was who would be filling the void left behind by 2017 second team All-Ivy goalkeeper Britt Brown.
With junior Maggie Smith and sophomore Mikaila Cheeseman both showing promise, the pair battled with one another throughout the offseason to take the starting role, and that friendly but competitive fight didn't even conclude by the start of the regular season.
For the first few games, the pair had both been playing exactly one half of each game. It wasn’t until after the Quakers’ third game of the season against Rutgers that coach Karin Corbett designated Cheeseman as the regular starter.
And while it was Cheeseman’s seven-save performance in the second half of Penn's 19-9 win over the Scarlet Knights that finally won her the job, Corbett’s decision was based off over a year of watching Cheeseman develop from when she started at Penn as a freshman.
“I think in the Rutgers game, Mikaila had some great saves, some really, really tough saves, and she was making a lot of the changes that we’ve been talking about for a year and a half,” Corbett said. “You could see them in that game, just her attacking of that ball, and so we felt really confident with what we saw of her.”
While Cheeseman has also come to feel more confident in her ability to perform, she acknowledged that she felt a little shakier stepping into her role at the start of the season — largely due to the high bar Brown set last season.
After a stellar junior year in 2016, Brown was even more impressive last season, finishing third in the country in save percentage. She also showed a penchant for turning in her best performances when the stakes were highest. While the Quakers ultimately lost the game, her 14 saves against Princeton last May set a new Ivy League Tournament record.
“I think it’s really natural to feel that pressure, especially with someone so incredible like Britt,” Cheeseman said. “I was definitely nervous at the beginning, but I think since then, I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself, a lot of necessary confidence to just realize that I’m my own person and I have my own standards.”
And since taking over as the full-time starter, Cheeseman has showed that her standards are pretty high as well. She has already turned in four performances with double-digit saves, and her overall save percentage currently ranks seventh in the nation.
But as good as those numbers are, Cheeseman has her mind set on improvement.
“Our goal is to win a national championship, and so every day, we’re just trying to get better,” Cheeseman said.
“We’re not just going to be okay with the success we’ve have had. We’re going to learn from our mistakes and just try to get better.”